Written in stone

In this blog, Ifor Williams, volunteer at Hen Eglwys Llanfaglan, focuses on an ancient inscribed stone at the church,
and explores what it can tell us about languages still spoken across the UK today.

Eglwys Sant Baglan, Llanfaglan is an important site in the early history of these islands. The church as we see today was built within an earlier enclosure dating back to the early Iron Age, a Celtic site.

Within the walls of Hen Eglwys Llanfaglan, as it’s known locally, is an inscribed stone dating to the late-fifth, early-sixth century. The stone has been re-used as a lintel over the south door. Originally, it stood upright and read Anatemori Fili Lovernii. This translates to Lovernii the son of Anatemori, and it’s thought that it marked the burial place of Lovernii.

Many have written about this as a Latin inscription. However, there is only one Latin word here, and that’s fili, which means son.

Lovernii and Anatemori are Latinised forms two Brythonic personal names Anatemarios and Lovernius, Anate is Enaid (soul) and Mori is mawr, (large), giving the name Enaidfawr.

The second name Lovernii is still in use today in Breton (louarn) and in Cornish (lowarn). In both of these languages, this means fox. In Cymraeg this is llwynog.

Brief background to the languages

Initially there was a group of Celtic languages spoken on these islands that evolved into Brythonic (P Celtic) and Godelic (Q Celtic). Brythonic was spoken where Wales, Cornwall, England and southern Scotland are today. This was the language the Romans heard when they arrived here. And traces of this language survive in place-names.

Welsh, Cornish and Breton all evolved from Brythonic. Pictish, once spoken in Scotland, also evolved from this language but unfortunately, this language has died out. Cumbraek, is a modern reconstruction of the lost language of Cumbric, once spoken in throughout the north of England and south of Scotland.

Welsh, Cornish and Breton are in daily use today, Latin had some influence on Brythonic that has been passed on to the other languages. From the Goidelic group, we have Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic, languages which are still in daily use.

Please bear in mind there is a lot more to these languages; it is worth having a look at the ‘Celtic Linguistic’ Facebook page where Celtic Linguistic scholars discuss these languages.

The stone

Some years ago, I opened the church for a geologist to the inspect the stone; I was informed that it is a basic/andesitic crystal tuff (Ordovician) - a local stone.

Following further research, I was told by a friend, who did his thesis on local geology, that there are two possible local sites where this stone came from. One is Twtil (SH482630) in Caernarfon, the rocky outcrop in the town, where there is evidence of quarrying over the years or Clogwyn Melyn (SH484535) above the village of Pen y Groes in Dyffryn Nantlle.

Both these sites are only a few kilometres away from the church.

There is another a similar inscription, Lovernacii, at Sant Enfail church, in Merthyr near Caerfyrddin.

If you are interested in hearing these languages, here’s a list of some broadcasters in these languages, all available either on Freeview/Freesat, via apps, or online:

If you know of any more, please do let us know.