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St. Derfel Gadarn (the Mighty)

see Lives of the British Saints

Wooden horse effigy (called Ceffyl Derfel, part of a set that included a statue of St. Derfel in full armor)

St. Derfel the Mighty according to legend was a survivor of the Battle of Camlan (Camlann) 537 AD. He like so many other warriors, including King Arthur, became a saint in his later years.

The church of St. Derfel is located in Llandderfel, a township in the Bala district, Merioneth, Gwynedd, Wales, UK and a parish in the St. Asaph diocese. The township lies on the river Dee, near the town of Bala and Bala Lake.

St. Derfel was a nephew of King Arthur via three of his sisters Gwenonwy, Anna, and Afrella, all of whom married sons of Hywel Mawr, a legendary Brythonic king of Brittany who was the grandfather of St. Derfel. His father was Hywel Mawr and his mother was Alma Pomeia. His brothers were St. Dwyfael, St. Arthmael, St. Dwywai and possibly St. Tudwal and St. Leonore. (See Arthur Genealogy.) It was their cousin, Cadfan, also King Arthur's nephew via his sisters, who founded the church on Bardsey Island (the Isle of Avalon) where Arthur was taken after the Battle of Camlan (Camlann). It was Cadfan and the sisters who healed Arthur although he was mortally wounded.

St. Derfel was immensely popular and, on his Saint's Day of April 5, he was part of an Easter celebration. People would bring their cows, oxen, and horses to be blessed. His statue was placed in the slot and his horse on the staff and carried in a procession to Bryn Sant, the great gathering point. The children would ride it like the horse in a merry-go-round.

In an ironic twist, there was a local prophecy that had claimed that it would take a whole forest to burn the statue. On May 22, 1538 the church reformers of Henry VIII, who had taken the statue, used it to burn a recalcitrant Franciscan friar because he had opposed Henry VIII’s takeover of the Catholic Church. His name was John Forrest, confessor to Catherine of Aragon. The horse and the staff, which had fortunately had been left behind, was still intact and had a prominent position inside the church, until the Rural Dean had his head cut off in 1730 to allow space for a reading seat.

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