• Graham Watkins

Saint Chwyfan’s Cross.

A legend inspired by the ancient cross near Whitford.


In 793, a band of heavily armed men landed from boats and destroyed the great abbey at Lindisfarne, killing most of the monks. The Viking invasion of Britain had begun. More attacks followed as the Viking longboats travelled around the coast looking for plunder. Medieval chroniclers described the hoards of violent men, roaming and killing, as rapacious ‘wolves among sheep’. Before long, the strange looking craft appeared in the Dee estuary; the Vikings had come to Wales.

Saint Chwyfan’s Cross near Whitford.
Saint Chwyfan’s Cross.

'We have no one to protect us. What can we do?' cried the people. They went to St. Chwyfan and asked him to intercede.

'We are Christian people. Surely god will help us,' they said. The saint, who was their spiritual leader, retreated to a quiet field and prayed to God for guidance. Chwyfan believed in divine miracles but he was also a practical man. When he returned, he called the people together.

'When the Vikings come we must be ready,' said the saint.

'How can we be ready? We don’t know when they will come. We cannot fight them. They will rape our women, kill us all and plunder everything we possess,' replied the frightened people. St. Chwyfan listened for a while and when the crowd had fallen silent he spoke again.

'We must build a lookout tower high on a hill and keep a watch on the sea. That is where the Vikings will come from,' said the saint.

The people went to Garreg Hill and built a stone tower that gave good views of any approaching ships. They cut wood and stacked it into a giant warning beacon, to be lit when the Vikings were seen. Sentries stood watch day and night, ready to warn of attack.

'Keep men in church steeples to watch for the blaze and ring the bells in alarm,' ordered St. Chwyfan.

'Our women and children, what shall we do to protect them?' asked the people.

'On seeing the beacon alight and hearing the church bells ringing everyone must run and hide. The forest will conceal us all and keep us safe until the Vikings depart,' replied the saint.

'What of our treasures, our gold our silver and our pewter?' asked the people.

'Bring me your treasure and together we’ll hide it where no Viking dare look,' answered St. Chwyfan. The people from the villages gathered together their valuables and loaded them on carts. There was so much gold, silver and pewter that it took six oxen to pull each load.

'Follow me,' commanded the saint and led the people to the quiet field where he had prayed for guidance.

'Dig here,' said the saint and pointed to a spot. The men dug a great hole and buried the treasure. As they covered the treasure, they took a large stone and stood it upright to mark where the fortune was buried.

'No one must ever speak of this place,' said Saint Chwyfan and led the group in solemn prayer.

'What if the Vikings find the treasure?' asked a troubled man as they were walking home.

'Have no fear and keep your faith with God,' replied the saint and smiled knowingly.

Late one afternoon, the Vikings came. They rushed ashore with fearful yells and weapons at the ready, but there was no one to be found. The warning beacon had been lit, the church bells rung and, as they had been told, all the people had run deep into the forest and hidden. The Vikings couldn’t find anyone. They ran from village to village searching for victims but the houses were deserted. When no one could be found, the Vikings shouted angrily. The Vikings searched for treasure to steal but nothing was to be found.

'Where is the gold and silver?' yelled the Vikings to each other. The Vikings searched in vain until they found an upright stone that had recently been moved.

'What’s underneath this rock?' they wondered and began to dig. Big, black clouds began to gather while the Vikings dug and then there was a clap of thunder, so close and loud, it startled the Viking raiders. Heavy rain began to fall turning the ground to mud.

'Ignore the noise. It’s just a storm,' cried the Viking leader. A bolt of lightning hit the earth, near the standing stone. A second followed and a third. With each lightning bolt, the ground shook violently throwing the Vikings off their feet. Fearing for their lives, the Vikings threw down their spades, ran back to their ships and set sail in search of easier treasure to steal.

Once the Viking raiders had gone and the coast was clear, the people emerged and went to thank the saint. They went back to the standing stone and carved a beautiful cross on it as an offering, thanking God for the strange storm that had saved their treasure.

Years later, when the threat of Viking raiders was long gone, the people returned to dig up their treasure. As they approached the stone cross with shovels, black storm clouds began to gather above their heads. Heavy rain started to fall. Then, there was a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning struck the ground just near the standing stone, followed by a second and a third. The people threw down their spades and ran away, all thoughts of treasure gone. No one dared go back to claim their share.

It is said, that the treasure buried underneath Maen Achwyfaen is still there today, protected by the thunderbolts that St. Chwyfan invoked more than 1200 years ago.