Monks, Murder and Manuscripts

Henry Gastineau (1791-1876) was a London landscape painter of Huguenot origins. After serving an apprenticeship to an engraver, Gastineau then found employment as a water colourist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Despite his popularity as an artist, Gastineau relied heavily on teaching, both privately and at various schools, and this income was further supplemented by the regular contribution of views specifically for the print trade, including drawings for topographical publications such as Jones & Co.'s Wales Illustrated.

 Bangor Iscoed, Flintshire Gastineau, Henry, 1830. Wales illustrated, in a series of views, comprising the picturesque scenery, towns, castles, seats of nobility and gentry, antiquities &c.

Bangor Iscoed

Flintshire1. Gastineau, Henry, 1830. Wales illustrated, in a series of views, comprising the picturesque scenery, towns, castles, seats of nobility and gentry, antiquities &c. London: Jones & Co (ODS 00492)‌Gastineau’s images in Wales Illustrated are very traditional in style, depicting the well-known beauty-spots, castles and grand houses of the country and, like so many others, tapping in to the fashionable desire for images of the picturesque.

‌Gastineau’s images in Wales Illustrated are very traditional in style, depicting the well-known beauty-spots, castles and grand houses of the country and, like so many others, tapping in to the fashionable desire for images of the picturesque.

The text which accompanies this image relates the fate of the Monks of Bangor Iscoed which came at the hands of ‘Saxon pagan infidels’. The seminary at Bangor Iscoed is said to have been founded by Lucius prior to 180AD and converted in to a monastery c.530AD. According to Gastineau, the monastery housed over two thousand four hundred monks and was celebrated for its valuable library and the number of its learned men1. The peace and ecclesiastical scholarship at Bangor Iscoed was brought to a brutal and bloody end when, while the monks were in the act of prayer,“The massacreing (sic.) sword, that levels all distinctions, was already unsheathed, and the unoffending monks were doomed to feel its exterminating effects…twelve hundred, or upwards, fell victims to their patriotism and piety. […] The remainder of the religious community, after the slaughter of their brethren, at the battle of Chester, fled, and their house was either demolished, or became dilapidated by neglect and time”1.

Less than twenty-five years after the publication of Wales Illustrated, George Borrow travelled through Wales alone, on foot, after a family holiday in Llangollen in 1854. Borrow’s celebrated book Wild Wales: The People, Language and Scenery, is his account of his travels; though a very personal account, infused with the opinionated but compelling personality of its narrator, Wild Wales has come to be regarded as a valuable source of information about the social and geographical history of the country at that time.

Petrus de Capua. Distinctiones Theologicae. England, 13th.

Page from the Distinctiones Theologicae ‘sprinkled with Monk’s Blood’  Petrus De Capua, 13th Century. Distinctiones Theologicae. England (TP2)

By Chapter ninety-five of his book, Borrow had reached Lampeter where he made a visit to the College of Saint David where he was shown ‘the grand curiosity’ of the Library, namely: “a manuscript Codex containing a Latin synopsis of Scripture which once belonged to the monks of Bangor Is Coed. It bears the marks of blood with which it was sprinkled when the monks were massacred by the heathen Saxons…”

(Borrow, George, 1984. Wild Wales: The People, Language and Scenery. London: Century).

Fortunately the story is wholly apocryphal and the apparent connection between the slaughter at the monastery, the rich contents of its library and the red staining on the pages of the Lampeter manuscript are purely coincidental. AlthoughDistinctiones Theologicae is the oldest identified manuscript in the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, its production having been assigned to the early thirteenth century, the massacre of the monks at Bangor-Is-Coed (Bangor on Dee) took place in 615, some six hundred years before the manuscript was made. However, it is traditional not to always let the facts get in the way of a good story and the Monk’s Blood Manuscript remains one of the most notorious and evocative  items in the Library’s collections to this day.