The Chapel Rock Campaign
So, let me tell you about the Chapel Rock of Beachley in the year of our Lord 1220.
The Rock, a tiny island, sits at the confluence of the Severn and the Wye, a little apart from the village of Beachley on the Bristol Channel. That village marks the southern end of Offa’s Dyke, the wall the Mercians built against the Welsh half a millennium ago. Beachley is among the lands of the Bath Abbey, under the episcopal jurisdiction of the See of Bath. There is a great church at Bath, the cathedral chapter of the diocese, and some two score Benedictine monks are sworn there.
The bishop of Bath, the Englishman Jocelin Tortesmains, is a great man of state. He is justiciar of southwestern England, and signatory to the Magna Carta. His brother, Hugh, is bishop of Lincoln. His estate is lavish, and he is fond of the hunt. His attention, however, mostly lies with his home city of Wells. Bath sees little of him, and the administration of the abbey is left to its prior.
A short distance up the River Wye lies the town of Chepstow, the greatest port of Wales. It massive castle is held by William Marshal the Younger, 2nd Earl Pembroke, and eldest son of the famous knight who built it into the citadel it is today.
South across the Channel is the English city of Bristol, and a mighty port as well. It is to the river Avon as Chepstow is to the Wye. Where Chepstow exports the products of the forests of Wye, Bristol exports woolen cloth and wheat. Both import wine from Gascony and Bordeaux, along with Spanish sherry and Toledo steel.
When Christianity had first come to the Isles, in the days before Cunedda, a daughter of the Lord of Gwynedd retired to the stones that are now called Chapel Rock. There she built a cell, and lived as an ascetic until she was murdered by seaborne Saxon raiders tugging at the tattered threads of Rome’s frontiers. This was the martyrdom of Saint Tecla of Gwynedd, forgotten by Rome but remembered by the Welsh for her miracles in the curing of leprosy. Her holy well still provides this cure in the village of Llandegla-yn-Iâl in Gwynedd, claimed by some as the place of her birth.
Some centuries later, at about the time when Offa was raising his wall, a chapel was also raised above Tecla’s cell, and at its peak a light was placed to guard the ships in the Channel there against the tide-hidden stones below. This chapel was dedicated to Saint Twrog, who famously threw down a stone from a mountaintop, and thereby sealed away an altar to the false gods.
So, Chapel Rock is a meeting point. Here is where the waters of the Avon, Severn, Usk and Wye meet the sea. Here is where England meets Wales, and from here reaches out to the whole world.