Angelystor, the Old Yew Tree and the Grim Prophesy

Map of Celtic tribes of pre-Roman Britain from coin evidence

In the village of Llangernyw, in Conwy County Borough (Welsh: Bwrdeistref Sirol Conwy) in the north of Wales stands the church of St Digain. It takes its name from the fifth century Welsh Saint Digain. Digain was said to be a Prince of Dumnonia, the Celtic Kingdom of the Cornish. Digain ap Constantine was the son of King Constantine of Dumnonia. The name of this village confirms the Cornish connection for the name Llangernyw means “the church of the Cornishman”. However, ancient though the church is, it stands on a site that held spiritual meaning to the Celts long before the arrival of the Church or Christianity.

In the churchyard of the St Digain’s church stands an old Yew Tree estimated to be over 4000 years old. Yew (Taxus baccata) is a very old tree species. Renowned for its longevity, ability to survive extreme climate change and to renew itself. Yew has the unique ability to grow new trunks from the original root. It is little wonder that it was revered by the Celts. Seen by them to represent rebirth, transformation and immortality. In particular the Celts viewed the Yew as one of a number of portals to the Otherworld; that mystical land where their ancestors and gods of the pre-Christian Celtic pantheon reside.

The Yew tree growing in the churchyard of St Digain’s church in Llangernyw is one such great survivor. For the 4000 year old Llangernyw Yew is fragmented, with new trunks growing around the original one that is now just a shadow on the ground. But it is not only for longevity that the famous and spectacular Yew of Llagernyw is renowned. For folklore tells of a supernatural entity, Agelystor, who dwells under the trees ancient bough’s. According to local legend on the date of the old Celtic New Year that the ancient Celts called the festival of Samhain, 31st October (eve of Halloween or as it is known in Welsh Nos Galan Gaeaf) Angelystor appears in order to make a grim prophesy.

The Old Yew Tree

On this date Angelystor shows itself in the old medieval church and in his native Welsh gives the names of those in the parish who will die in the year ahead. It is a foolish person who seeks to scoff at this local legend. People of Llangernyw will warn them to take care not to deride the name of Angelystor. Siting the story of a tailor called Siôn ap Robert. Buoyed from alcohol he poured scorn upon the story of Angelyster. His fellow drinkers in the local pub challenged him to go to the old church and so test his resolve. Siôn ap Robert rose to the challenge.

Alone he went up to the church of St Digain. From within he heard a deep voice reciting a list of names. On that list was his own. In panic he cried out for the Angelyster to stop "Hold! Hold! I am not quite ready". But within the year poor Siôn ap Robert had died. So to all those visiting this wonderful church, with its churchyard in which stand two pagan standing stones and the spectacular ancient Yew tree. Beware not to scoff at the legend of Angelyster or take his name in vain!


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