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The Story of St Collen

Llangollen is named after the 7th century saint who founded the town. Llan is the Welsh word for enclosure and the name, therefore, means Collen's Enclosure. It was a common practice amongst the early Christian saints to leave their church and establish a cell in some other location in order to help spread the Christian story.

Little is known about Collen ap Gwynnawg ap Clydawg ap Cowdra ap Caradog Freichfras ap Lleyr Merim ap Einion Yrth ap Cunedda Wledig. He was Welsh by birth and of illustrious ancestry. He served for some time abroad as a soldier against Julian the Apostate and slew a Pagan champion who challenged the best man amongst the Christians. Returning to Britain he devoted himself to religion and became Abbot of Glastonbury but forsook the position for the life of a hermit. Legend says that Collen retired to a mountain, 'where he made himself a cell under the shelter of a rock, in a remote and secluded spot'. Another tale says that the area in which Collen established his enclosure was that which he could ride around on a white horse between dawn and dusk on a single day.

A curious legend is contained in the Life of St. Collen (Buchedd Collen), which is printed in a collection of Welsh verses, entitled the Greal. 'And as Collen was one day in his cell, he heard two men conversing about Gwyn ab Nudd, the Otherworld king, and saying that he was king of Annwn and of the Fairies. And Collen put his head out of his cell, and said to them, 'Hold your tongues quickly, those are but Devils.'--'Hold thou thy tongue,' said they, 'thou shalt receive a reproof from him.' And Collen shut his cell as before.

'And soon after, he heard a knocking at the door of his cell, and some one inquired if he were within. Then said Collen, 'I am; who is it that asks?’ ‘It is I, a messenger from Gwyn ab Nudd, the king of Annwn, to command thee to come and speak with him on the top of the hill at noon.’

'But Collen did not go. And the next day behold the same messenger came, ordering Collen to go and speak with the king on the top of the hill at noon.

'But Collen did not go. And the third day behold the same messenger came, ordering Collen to go and speak with the king on the top of the hill at noon. ‘And if thou dost not go, Collen, thou wilt be the worst for it.’

'Then Collen, being afraid, arose, and prepared some holy water, and put it in a flask at his side, and went to the top of the hill. And when he came there, he saw the fairest castle he had ever beheld, and around it the best appointed troops, and numbers of minstrels, and every kind of music of voice and string, and steeds with youths upon them the comeliest in the world, and maidens of elegant aspect, sprightly, light of foot, of graceful apparel, and in the bloom of youth and every magnificence becoming the court of a puissant sovereign. And he beheld a courteous man on the top of the castle, who bade him enter, saying that the king was waiting for him to come to meat. And Collen went into the castle, and when he came there, the king was sitting in a golden chair. And he welcomed Collen honourably and desired him to eat, assuring him that, besides what he saw, he should have the most luxurious of every dainty and delicacy that the mind could desire, and should be supplied with every drink and liquor that his heart could wish; and that there should be in readiness for him every luxury of courtesy and service, of banquet and of honourable entertainment, of rank and of presents: and every respect and welcome due to a man of his wisdom.

‘I will not eat the leaves of the trees,’ said Collen. ‘Didst thou ever see men of better equipment than those in red and blue?’ asked the king.

‘Their equipment is good enough,’ said Collen, ‘for such equipment as it is.’

‘What kind of equipment is that?’ said the king.

Then said Collen, ‘The red on the one part signifies burning, and the blue on the other signifies coldness.’ And with that Collen drew out his flask, and threw the holy water on their heads, whereupon they vanished from his sight, so that there was neither castle, nor troops, nor men, nor maidens, nor music, nor song, nor steeds, nor youths, nor banquet, nor the appearance of any thing whatever, but the green hillocks.'

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