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The Family of Vortigern
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Modrun, granddaughter of Vortigern
Robert Vermaat

Modrun was the only child of Vortimer on record. He might of course have had more, but no other in metioned in the genealogies. Her name is surprising, as it signifies a pagan background. Yet Vortimer, who was blessed by St Germanus for restoring Christian churches (he is called Gwrthefyr 'Bendigeit'), is hardly associated with paganism. Modrun, on the other hand, was very much a saint.

Name

The name of Modrun is closely related to that of Matrona, the Roman mother goddess. Other forms of her name are Materiana, Modron, Madrun, Madryn, Fadryn and Fadrun.

Saint

The Catholic Church reveres (a) Modrun as a saint. St Madrun's day is April 9th, although a second day is October 19th, while Batrum also supplies June 9th. The Church recognises no ties to Vortigern, and identifies St Madrun or St Materiana only with "A Welsh or Cornish widow. No details of her life are extant, but some Welsh churches bear her name." Modrun has lent her name to a score of churches, spread over the West from Gwynedd, through south Wales and even into Cornwall, where the parish church of Tintagel is dedicated to St Materiana. This may point to the existance of several Modruns (more of that below).

Gwynedd

Modrun is connected to Wales in several ways, mostly though in the area of southern Gwynedd. One of these is Trawsfynydd, where she and her handmaid St. Annun, while on a pilgrimage to Bardsey Island, both had an identical dream. In this dream they were ordered to build a church, to which they complied. This church was later dedicated in their honour.

Carn Fadrun during the seasons. Winter. Carn Fadrun during the seasons. Spring. Carn Fadrun during the seasons. Summer. Carn Fadrun during the seasons. Fall.

Carn Fadrun during the seasons. Click the images to enlarge.

The other connection with Modrun is the southern Lleyn peninsula, where a Madryn Castle, a Carn Fadrun (fort - click here to enlarge the image), a Carnfadryn (village) and a Cefn Madryn are all huddled together. In this area we also find a lot of geographical names connected to her grandfather Vortigern; Nant Gwrtheyrn, Bedd Gwrtheyrn, Castel Gwrtheyrn and the unlocated Cwm Gwrtheyrn. Close to Carn Fadrun was the former township of Madrun, now represented by Plas Madrun. South of Carn Fadrun lies Garnfadryn, to the north lies Madryn castle, where once stood a statue for St Modrun.

This bring us of course to the connection we are looking for: Modrun identified as the daughter of Vortimer, and hence the granddaughter of Vortigern.

Gwent

Modrun is otherwise connected to Gwent.

According to the Bonedd y Saint, Modrun (Madrun ferch Gwrthefyr, King of this island) married Honorius, king of Gwent (Ynyr Gwent):

Bonedd y Saint, brief 44 & 45:

44. Ceido, son of Honorius of Gwent.   Keidyau m. Enyr Guent.
45. Modrun daughter of Vortimer, king of this Island, and Annun her handmaid.
(Ceido son of Ynyr Gwent and Modrun daughter of Vortimer the Blessed.
  Madrun uerch Wertheuyr urenhin Enys Brideyn ac Anhun llauuorwyn idi.
(Keidaw m. Ynyr Gwent a Madrun merch Wertheuyr Uendigeit y uam.

Although the mentioning of the handmaid Anna testifies that this entry dates to after the establishment of the foundation of the church in Lleyn, it nevertheless ties Modrun to Gwent as well. This evidence remains shaky, however, due to the lateness of the source.

We cannot be sure why Modrun was incorporated into the dynasty of Gwent. Other than speculating about a different Modrun, who was thus replaced by a more popular saintly one, it would be equally possible that the dynasty of Gwent had some traditional connection to that of Vortigern. Vortimer has never been mentioned outside the Historia Brittonum, and this link to Gwent seems to be the only one. Gwent had been inherited by Modrun's grandfather Vortigern from the dynasty of Octavius (Eudaf) through his marriage of Sevira, daughter of the usurper Magnus Maximus, who had in turn married the daughter of Octavius in the 4th century. Either the province of Gwent went through the hands of no less than three dynasties within four generations, or else we should think of a maternal line here, hence maybe the name of Modrun/'matrona'. She left her name to Gartmadrun, which included Talgarth in Brycheiniog. This is in agreement with the legacy of her father Vortimer, who is supposed to have lent his name to 'Gwrthefyriwg near Wonastow in Gwent.The fact that Ynyr's dynasty then took over in Gwent from the dynasty of Vortigern, strengthens the idea that no other son of Vortimer, if he indeed ever had any, was alive when he died.

St Ceidio/Cedwyn

Some versions of the Bonedd y Saint, as shown above, run item 45 together with item 44, which concerns Ceidio ab Ynyr Gwent, making Modrun his mother. This is most probably an error, but it may have led to the local legend that Modrun was with her grandfather Vortigern who died in the burning of his Caer Guorthigirn, which in this version was situated in Yr Eifl. This 'Castel Gwrtheyrn' can only be the Iron Age hillfort of Tre'r Ceiri. However, she escaped, carrying her baby Ceidio with her, and fled to Carn Fadrun in southern Lleyn. Popular tradition has this son found a church 2 miles to the north, at Ceidio. A late version of the Bonedd y Saint makes Modrun the mother of another saint, St Cedwyn, which is most likely a further textual corruption of Ceidio.

Clwyd

Another area is in Clwyd near Gwytherin, which Modrun acquired through the legends of St. Winefride. Modrun and her 'daughter' Tegiwg aquired the Winefride legend at some point in history. But since the historicity of both Modrun and Winefride is doubtful, we should not look too hard for a link here, apart from an interesting story about wandering saints.

Cornwall

In later years, Queen Modrun settled in Cerniw (Cornwall) with her son, St Ceidio. Together they evangelized the area around Minster near Boscastle, and it was here that St. Madrun eventually died and was buried.

More Modruns?

With the Church remembering Modrun as a "Cornish widow", and other legends about apparently the same Modrun reporting of her as a refugee in Lleyn, a Queen in Gwent as well as a saint in Cornwall, we could be forgiven to think that there were more than one. Even when we would accept that the Modrun of Gwent was the same as the Modrun of Lleyn, it would be difficult to add the Cornish one to that amalgamated person as well. Either that, or this was a truly remarkable woman who had a very eventful life! And maybe she was, but we should also look at the possiblity that we are dealing with the remnants of a pagan cult here. The Matrona/mother goddess was a very popular one during Roman times, and it may be possible that several Modrun-placenames testify of such a cult. Another pagan possibility may be the lost myth of Modron. When Christianity arrived, this had to change of course, and it may be that a "new" saint was borrowed to 'transform'the old cult places to the new religion. That did not mean that any involvement of St Modrun was called for, such transformations could take centuries. We can't ever be sure of course, but this may be one reason for Modrun giving her name to so many places.

Bibliography

  • Bartrum, P.C. (1993): A Welsh Classical Dictionary, (Cardiff).*
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth: Life of Merlin, Vita Merlini, ed. and trans. B. Clarke, (Cardiff 1973).

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