The Great Return
by Arthur Machen
1. The Rumour of the Marvellous
2. Odours of Paradive
3. A Secret in a Secret Place
4. The Ringing of the Bell
5. The Rose of Fire
6. Olwen's Dream
7. The Mass of The Sangraal
There are strange things lost and forgotten in obscure corners of the
newspaper. I often think that the most extraordinary item of
intelligence that I have read in print appeared a few years ago in the
London press. It came from a well-known and most respected news agency;
I imagine it was in all the papers. It was astounding.
The circumstances necessary—not to the understanding of this
paragraph, for that is out of the question—but, we will say, to the
understanding of the events which made it possible, are these.
We had invaded Tibet, and there had been trouble in the hierarchy
of that country, and a personage known as the Tashi Lama had taken
refuge with us in India. He went on pilgrimage from one Buddhist
shrine to another, and came at last to a holy mountain of Buddhism, the
name of which I have forgotten. And thus the morning paper:
His Holiness the Tashi Lama then ascended the Mountain and was
That was all. And from that day to this I have never heard a word
of explanation or comment on this amazing statement.
There was no more, it seemed, to be said. "Reuter," apparently,
thought he had made his simple statement of the facts of the case, had
thereby done his duty, and so it all ended. Nobody, so far as I know,
ever wrote to any paper asking what Reuter meant by it, or what the
Tashi Lama meant by it. I suppose the fact was that nobody cared
twopence about the matter; and so this strange event—if there were
any such event—was exhibited to us for a moment, and the lantern show
revolved to other spectacles.
This is an extreme instance of the manner in which the marvelous is
flashed out to us and then withdrawn behind its black veils and
concealments; but I have known of other cases. Now and again, at
intervals of a few years, there appear in the newspapers strange stones
of the strange doings of what are technically called "poltergeists."
Some house, often a lonely farm, is suddenly subjected to an infernal
bombardment. Great stones crash through the windows, thunder down the
chimneys, impelled by no visible hand. The plates and cups and saucers
are whirled from the dresser into the middle of the kitchen, no one
can say how or by what agency. Upstairs the big bedstead and an old
chest or two are heard bounding on the floor as if in a mad ballet. Now
and then such doings as these excite a whole neighbourhood; sometimes
a London paper sends a man down to make an investigation. He writes
half a column of description on the Monday, a couple of paragraphs on
the Tuesday, and then returns to town. Nothing has been explained, the
matter vanishes away; and nobody cares. The tale trickles for a day or
two through the press, and then instantly disappears, like an
Australian stream, into the bowels of darkness. It is possible, I
suppose, that this singular incuriousness as to marvellous events and
reports is not wholly unaccountable. It may be that the events in
question are, as it were, psychic accidents and misadventures. They
are not meant to happen, or, rather, to be manifested. They belong to
the world on the other side of the dark curtain; and it is only by
some queer mischance that a corner of that curtain is twitched aside
for an instant. Then—for an instant— we see; but the personages whom
Mr. Kipling calls the Lords of Life and Death take care that we do not
see too much. Our business is with things higher and things lower,
with things different, anyhow; and on the whole we are not suffered to
distract ourselves with that which does not really concern us. The
transfiguration of the Lama and the tricks of the poltergeist are
evidently no affairs of ours; we raise an uninterested eyebrow and
pass on—to poetry or to statistics.
* * * Be it noted; I am not professing any fervent personal belief
in the reports to which I have alluded. For all I know, the Lama, in
spite of Reuter, was not transfigured, and the poltergeist, in spite
of the late Mr. Andrew Lang, may in reality be only mischievous Polly,
the servant girl at the farm. And to go farther: I do not know that I
should be justified in putting either of these cases of the marvellous
in line with a chance paragraph that caught my eye last summer; for
this had not, on the face of it at all events, anything wildly out of
the common. Indeed, I dare say that I should not have read it, should
not have seen it, if it had not contained the name of a place which I
had once visited, which had then moved me in an odd manner that I could
not understand. Indeed, I am sure that this particular paragraph
deserves to stand alone, for even if the poltergeist be a real
poltergeist, it merely reveals the psychic whimsicality of some region
that is not our region. There were better things and more relevant
things behind the few lines dealing with Llantrisant, the little town
by the sea in Arfonshire.
Not on the surface, I must say, for the cutting—I have preserved
it—reads as follows:
Llantrisant.—The season promises very favourably: temperature of
the sea yesterday at noon. 65 deg. Remarkable occurrences are supposed
to have taken place during the recent Revival. The lights have not
been observed lately. The Crown. The Fisherman's Rest.
The style was odd certainly; knowing a little of newspapers, I
could see that the figure called, I think, 'tmesis," or "cutting," had
been generously employed; the exuberances of the local correspondent
had been pruned by a Fleet Street expert. And these poor men are often
hurried; but what did those "lights" mean? What strange matters had
the vehement blue pencil blotted out and brought to naught? That was
my first thought, and then, thinking still of Llantrisant and how I had
first discovered it and found it strange, I read the paragraph again,
and was saddened almost to see, as I thought, the obvious explanation.
I had forgotten for the moment that it was war-time, that scares and
rumours and terrors about traitorous signals and flashing lights were
current everywhere by land and sea; someone, no doubt, had been
watching innocent farmhouse windows and thoughtless fan-lights of
lodging-houses; these were the "lights" that had not been observed
I found out afterwards that the Llantrisant correspondent had no
treasonous lights in his mind, but something very different. Still;
what do we know? He may have been mistaken, 'the great rose of fire"
that came over the deep may have been the port light of a
coasting-ship. Did it shine at last from the old chapel on the
headland? Possibly; or possibly it was the doctor's lamp at Sarnau,
some miles away. I have had wonderful opportunities lately of analysing
the marvels of lying, conscious and unconscious: and indeed almost
incredible feats in this way can be performed. If I incline to the
less likely explanation of the "lights" at Llantrisant, it is merely
because this explanation seems to me to be altogether congruous with
the "remarkable occurrences" of the newspaper paragraph.
After all, if rumour and gossip and hearsay are crazy things to be
utterly neglected and laid aside; on the other hand, evidence is
evidence, and when a couple of reputable surgeons assert, as they do
assert in the case of Olwen Phillips, Croeswen, Llantrisant, that there
has been a "kind of resurrection of the body," it is merely foolish to
say that these things don't happen. The girl was a mass of
tuberculosis, she was within a few hours of death; she is now full of
life. And so, I do not believe that the rose of fire was merely a
ship's light, magnified and transformed by dreaming Welsh sailors.
But now I am going forward too fast. I have not dated the
paragraph, so I cannot give the exact day of its appearance, but I
think it was somewhere between the second and third week of June. I
cut it out partly because it was about Llantrisant, partly because of
the "remarkable occurrences.
I have an appetite for these matters, though I also have this
misfortune, that I require evidence before I am ready to credit them,
and I have a sort of lingering hope that some day I shall be able to
elaborate some scheme or theory of such things.
But in the meantime, as a temporary measure, I hold what I call the
doctrine of the jig-saw puzzle. That is: this remarkable occurrence,
and that, and the other may be, and usually are, of no significance.
Coincidence and chance and unsearchable causes will now and again make
clouds that are undeniable fiery dragons, and potatoes that resemble
eminent statesmen exactly and minutely in every feature, and rocks
that are like eagles and lions. All this is nothing; it is when you
get your set of odd shapes and find that they fit into one another, and
at last that they are but parts of a large design; it is then that
research grows interesting and indeed amazing, it is then that one
queer form confirms the other, that the whole plan displayed justifies,
corroborates, explains each separate piece.
So; it was within a week or ten days after I had read the paragraph
about Llantrisant and had cut it out that I got a letter from a friend
who was taking an early holiday in those regions.
"You will be interested," he wrote, "to hear that they have taken
to ritualistic practices at Llantrisant. I went into the church the
other day, and instead of smelling like a damp vault as usual, it was
positively reeking with incense."
I knew better than that. The old parson was a firm Evangelical; he
would rather have burnt sulphur in his church than incense any day. So
I could not make out this report at all; and went down to Arfon a few
weeks later determined to investigate this and any other remarkable
occurrence at Llantrisant.
I went down to Arfon in the very heat and bloom and fragrance of the
wonderful summer that they were enjoying there. In London there was no
such weather: it rather seemed as if the horror and fury of the war
had mounted to the very skies and were there reigning. In the mornings
the sun burnt down upon the city with a heat that scorched and
consumed; but then clouds heavy and horrible would roll together from
all quarters of the heavens, and early in the afternoon the air would
darken, and a storm of thunder and lightning, and furious, hissing rain
would fall upon the streets. Indeed, the torment of the world was in
the London weather. The city wore a terrible vesture; within our
hearts was dread; without we were clothed in black clouds and angry
It is certain that I cannot show in any words the utter peace of
that Welsh coast to which I came; one sees, I think, in such a change
a figure of the passage from the disquiets and the fears of earth to
the peace of paradise. A land that seemed to be in a holy, happy dream,
a sea that changed all the while from olivine to emerald, from emerald
to sapphire, from sapphire to amethyst, that washed in white foam at
the bases of the firm, grey rocks, and about the huge crimson bastions
that hid the western bays and inlets of the waters; to this land I
came, and to hollows that were purple and odorous with wild thyme,
wonderful with many tiny, exquisite flowers. There was benediction in
centaury, pardon in eyebright, joy in lady's slipper; and so the weary
eyes were refreshed, looking now at the little flowers and the happy
bees about them, now on the magic mirror of the deep, changing from
marvel to marvel with the passing of the great white clouds, with the
brightening of the sun. And the ears, torn with jangle and racket and
idle, empty noise, were soothed and comforted by the ineffable,
unutterable, unceasing murmur, as the tides swarm to and fro, uttering
mighty, hollow voices in the caverns of the rocks.
For three or four days I rested in the sun and smelt the savour of
the blossoms and of the salt water, and then, refreshed, I remembered
that there was something queer about Llantrisant that I might as well
investigate. It was no great thing that I thought to find, for, it will
be remembered, I had ruled out the apparent oddity of the
reporter's—or commissioner's?—reference to lights, on the ground
that he must have been referring to some local panic about signalling
to the enemy; who had certainly torpedoed a ship or two off Lundy in
the Bristol Channel. All that I had to go upon was the reference to
the "remarkable occurrences at some revival, and then that letter of
Jackson's which spoke of Llantrisant church as "reeking" with incense,
a wholly incredible and impossible state of things. Why, old Mr.
Evans, the rector, looked upon coloured stoles as the very robe of
Satan and his angels, as things dear to the heart of the Pope of Rome.
But as to incense As I have already familiarly observed, I knew
But as a hard matter of fact, this may be worth noting: when I went
over to Llantrisant on Monday, August 9th, I visited the church, and
it was still fragrant and exquisite with the odour of rare gums that
had fumed there.
Now I happened to have a slight acquaintance with the rector. He
was a most courteous and delightful old man, and on my last visit he
had come across me in the churchyard, as I was admiring the very fine
Celtic cross that stands there. Besides the beauty of the interlaced
ornament there is an inscription in Ogham on one of the edges,
concerning which the learned dispute; it is altogether one of the more
famous crosses of Celtdom. Mr. Evans, I say, seeing me looking at the
cross, came up and began to give me, the stranger, a résumé—somewhat
of a shaky and uncertain résumé, I found afterwards—of the various
debates and questions that had arisen as to the exact meaning of the
inscription, and I was amused to detect an evident but underlying
belief of his own: that the supposed Ogham characters were, in fact,
due to boys'
mischief and weather and the passing of the ages. But then I
happened to put a question as to the sort of stone of which the cross
was made, and the rector brightened amazingly. He began to talk
geology, and, I think, demonstrated that the cross or the material for
it must have been brought to Llantrisant from the southwest coast of
Ireland. This struck me as interesting, because it was curious
evidence of the migrations of the Celtic saints, whom the rector, I was
delighted to find, looked upon as good Protestants, though shaky on
the subject of crosses; and so, with concessions on my part, we got on
very well. Thus, with all this to the good, I was emboldened to call
found him altered. Not that he was aged; indeed, he was rather made
young, with a singular brightening upon his face, and something of joy
upon it that I had not seen before, that I have seen on very few faces
of men. We talked of the war, of course, since that is not to be
avoided; of the farming prospects of the country; of general things,
till I ventured to remark that I had been in the church, and had been
surprised to find it perfumed with incense.
"You have made some alterations in the service since I was here
last? You use incense now?"
The old man looked at me strangely, and hesitated.
"No," he said, 'there has been no change. I use no incense in the
church. I should not venture to do so."
"But," I was beginning, "the whole church is as if High Mass had
just been sung there, and—"
He cut me short, and there was a certain grave solemnity in his
manner that struck me almost with awe.
"I know you are a railer," he said, and the phrase coming from this
mild old gentleman astonished me unutterably. "You are a railer and a
bitter railer; I have read articles that you have written, and I know
your contempt and your hatred for those you call Protestants in your
derision; though your grandfather, the vicar of Caerleon-on-Usk,
called himself Protestant and was proud of it, and your
great-grand-uncle Hezekiah, ffeiriad coch yr Castletown—the Red
Priest of Castletown—was a great man with the Methodists in his day,
and the people flocked by their thousands when he administered the
Sacrament. I was born and brought up in Glamorganshire, and old men
have wept as they told me of the weeping and contrition that there was
when the Red Priest broke the Bread and raised the Cup. But you are a
railer, and see nothing but the outside and the show. You are not
worthy of this mystery that has been done here."
I went out from his presence rebuked indeed, and justly rebuked;
but rather amazed. It is curiously true that the Welsh are still one
people, one family almost, in a manner that the English cannot
understand, but I had never thought that this old clergyman would have
known anything of my ancestry or their doings. And as for my articles
and suchlike, I knew that the country clergy sometimes read, but I had
fancied my pronouncements sufficiently obscure, even in London, much
more in Arfon.
But so it happened, and so I had no explanation from the rector of
Llantrisant of the strange circumstance, that his church was full of
incense and odours of paradise.
I went up and down the ways of Llantrisant wondering, and came to
the harbour, which is a little place, with little quays where some
small coasting trade still lingers. A brigantine was at anchor here,
and very lazily in the sunshine they were loading it with anthracite;
for it is one of the oddities of Llantrisant that there is a small
colliery in the heart of the wood on the hillside. I crossed a
causeway which parts the outer harbour from the inner harbour, and
settled down on a rock beach hidden under a leafy hill. The tide was
going out, and some children were playing on the wet sand, while two
ladies—their mothers, I suppose—talked together as they sat
comfortably on their rugs at a little distance from me.
At first they talked of the war, and I made myself deaf, for of
that talk one gets enough, and more than enough, in London. Then there
was a period of silence, and the conversation had passed to quite a
different topic when I caught 'the thread of it again. I was sitting on
the further side of a big rock, and I do not think that the two ladies
had noticed my approach. However, though they spoke of strange things,
they spoke of nothing which made it necessary for me to announce my
'And, after all," one of them was saying, "what is it all about? I
can't make out what is come to the people.".This speaker was a
Welshwoman; I recognized the clear, overemphasized consonants, and a
faint suggestion of an accent. Her friend came from the Midlands, and
it turned out that they had only known each other for a few days.
Theirs was a friendship of the beach and of bathing; such friendships
are common at small seaside places.
"There is certainly something odd about the people here. I have
never been to Llantrisant before, you know; indeed, this is the first
time we've been in Wales for our holidays, and knowing nothing about
the ways of the people and not being accustomed to hear Welsh spoken, I
thought, perhaps, it must be my imagination. But you think there
really is something a little queer?"
"I can tell you this: that I have been in two minds whether I
should not write to my husband and ask him to take me and the children
away. You know where I am at Mrs. Morgan's, and the Morgans'
sitting-room is just the other side of the passage, and sometimes they
leave the door open, so that I can hear what they say quite plainly.
And you see I understand the Welsh, though they don't know it. And I
hear them saying the most alarming things!"
"What sort of things?"
"Well, indeed, it sounds like some kind of a religious service, but
it's not Church of England, I know that. Old Morgan begins it, and the
wife and children answer. Something like: 'Blessed be God for the
messengers of Paradise.' 'Blessed be His Name for Paradise in the meat
and in the drink.' 'Thanksgiving for the old offering.' 'Thanksgiving
for the appearance of the old altar.'
'Praise for the joy of the ancient garden.' 'Praise for the return
of those that have been long absent.' And all that sort of thing. It
is nothing but madness."
"Depend upon it," said the lady from the Midlands, "there's no real
harm in it. They're Dissenters; some new sect, I dare say. You know
some Dissenters are very queer in their ways."
"All that is like no Dissenters that I have ever known in all my
life whatever," replied the Welsh lady somewhat vehemently, with a
very distinct intonation of the land. "And have you heard them speak
of the bright light that shone at midnight from the church?"
Now here was I altogether at a loss and quite bewildered. The children
broke into the conversation of the two ladies and cut it short, just
as the midnight lights from the church came on the field, and when the
little girls and boys went back again to the sands whooping, the tide
of talk had turned, and Mrs. Harland and Mrs. Williams were quite safe
and at home with Janey's measles, and a wonderful treatment for
infantile ear-ache, as exemplified in the case of Trevor.
There was no more to be got out of them, evidently, so I left the
beach, crossed the harbour causeway, and drank beer at the Fisherman's
Rest till it was time to climb up two miles of deep lane and catch the
train for Penvro, where I was staying. And I went up the lane, as I
say, in a kind of amazement; and not so much, I think, because of
evidences and hints of things strange to the senses, such as the
savour of incense where no incense had smoked for three hundred and
fifty years and more, or the story of bright light shining from the
dark, closed church at dead of night, as because of that sentence of
thanksgiving "for paradise in meat and in drink."
For the sun went down and the evening fell as I climbed the long
hill through the deep woods and the high meadows, and the scent of all
the green things rose from the earth and from the heart of the wood,
and at a turn of the lane far below was the misty glimmer of the still
sea, and from far below its deep murmur sounded as it washed on the
little hidden, enclosed bay where Llantrisant stands. And I thought,
if there be paradise in meat and in drink, so much the more is there
paradise in the scent of the green leaves at evening and in the
appearance of the sea and in the redness of the sky; and there came to
me a certain vision of a real world about us all the while, of a
language that was only secret because we would not take the trouble to
listen to it and discern it.
It was almost dark when I got to the station, and here were the few
feeble oil lamps lit, glimmering in that lonely land, where the way is
long from farm to farm. The train came on its way, and I got into it;
and just as we moved from the station I noticed a group under one of
those dim lamps. A woman and her child had got out, and they were
being welcomed by a man who had been waiting for them. I had not
noticed his face as I stood on the platform, but now I saw it as he
pointed down the hill towards Llantrisant, and I think I was almost
He was a young man, a farmer's son, I would say, dressed in rough
brown clothes, and as different from old Mr. Evans, the rector, as one
man might be from another. But on his face, as I saw it in the
lamp-light, there was the like brightening that I had seen on the face
of the rector. It was an illuminated face, glowing with an ineffable
joy, and I thought it rather gave light to the platform lamp than
received light from it. The woman and her child, I inferred, were
strangers to the place, and had come to pay a visit to the young man s
family. They had looked about them in bewilderment, half alarmed,
before they saw him; and then his face was radiant in their sight, and
it was easy to see that all their troubles were ended and over. A
wayside station and a darkening country; and it was as if they were
welcomed by shining, immortal gladness—even into paradise.
But though there seemed in a sense light all about my ways, I was
myself still quite bewildered. I could see, indeed, that something
strange had happened or was happening in the little town hidden under
the hill, but there was so far no clue to the mystery, or rather, the
clue had been offered to me, and I had not taken it, I had not even
known that it was there; since we do not so much as see what we have
determined, without judging, to be incredible, even though it be held
up before our eyes. The dialogue that the Welsh Mrs. Williams had
reported to her English friend might have set me on the right way; but
the right way was outside all my limits of possibility, outside the
circle of my thought. The palaeontologist might see monstrous,
significant marks in the slime of a river bank, but he would never
draw the conclusions that his own peculiar science would seem to
suggest to him; he would choose any explanation rather than the
obvious, since the obvious would also be the outrageous—according to
our established habit of thought, which we deem final.
* * * The next day I took all these strange things with me for
consideration to a certain place that I knew of not far from Penvro. I
was now in the early stages of the jig-saw process, or rather I had
only a few pieces before me, and—to continue the figure—my
difficulty was this: that though the markings on each piece seemed to
have design and significance, yet I could not make the wildest guess
as to the nature of the whole picture, of which these were the parts. I
had clearly seen that there was a great secret; I had seen that on the
face of the young farmer on the platform of Llantrisant station; and
in my mind there was all the while the picture of him going down the
dark, steep, winding lane that led to the town and the sea, going down
through the heart of the wood, with light about him.
But there was bewilderment in the thought of this, and in the
endeavour to match it with the perfumed church and the scraps of talk
that I had heard and the rumour of midnight brightness; and though
Penvro is by no means populous, I thought I would go to a certain
solitary place called the Old Camp Head, which looks towards Cornwall
and to the great deeps that roll beyond Cornwall to the far ends of
the world; a place where fragments of dreams—they seemed such
then—might, perhaps, be gathered into the clearness of vision.
It was some years since I had been to the Head, and I had gone on
that last time and on a former visit by the cliffs, a rough and
difficult path. Now I chose a landward way, which the county map
seemed to justify, though doubtfully, as regarded the last part of the
journey. So, I went inland and climbed the hot summer by-roads, till I
came at last to a lane which gradually turned turfy and grass-grown,
and then on high ground, ceased to be. It left me at a gate in a hedge
of old thorns; and across the field beyond there seemed to be some
faint indications of a track. One would judge that sometimes men did
pass by that way, but not often.
It was high ground but not within sight of the sea. But the breath
of the sea blew about the hedge of thorns, and came with a keen savour
to the nostrils. The ground sloped gently from the gate and then rose
again to a ridge, where a white farmhouse stood all alone. I passed by
this farmhouse, threading an uncertain way, followed a hedgerow
doubtfully; and saw suddenly before me the Old Camp, and beyond it the
sapphire plain of waters and the mist where sea and sky met. Steep
from my feet the hill fell away, a land of gorse-blossom, red-gold and
mellow, of glorious purple heather. It fell into a hollow that went
down, shining with rich green bracken, to the glimmering sea; and
before me, and beyond the hollow rose a height of turf, bastioned at
the summit with the awful, age-old walls of the Old Camp; green,
rounded circumvallations, wall within wall, tremendous, with their
myriad years upon them.
Within these smoothed, green mounds, looking across the shining and
changing of the waters in the happy sunlight, I took out the bread and
cheese and beer that I had carried in a bag, and ate and drank, and
lit my pipe, and set myself to think over the enigmas of Llantrisant.
And I had scarcely done so when, a good deal to my annoyance, a man
came climbing up over the green ridges, and took up his stand close
by, and stared out to sea. He nodded to me, and began with "Fine
weather for the harvest" in the approved manner, and so sat down and
engaged me in a net of talk. He was of Wales, it seemed, but from a
different part of the country, and was staying for a few days with
relations—at the white farmhouse which I had passed on my way. His
tale of nothing flowed on to his pleasure and my pain, till he fell
suddenly on Llantrisant and its doings.
I listened then with wonder, and here is his tale condensed. Though
it must be clearly understood that the man's evidence was only
second-hand; he had heard it from his cousin, the farmer.
So, to be brief, it appeared that there had been a long feud at
Llantrisant between a local solicitor, Lewis Prothero (we will say),
and a farmer named James. There had been a quarrel about some trifle,
which had grown more and more bitter as the two parties forgot the
merits of the original dispute, and by some means or other, which I
could not well understand, the lawyer had got the small freeholder
"under his thumb." James, I think, had given a bill of sale in a bad
season, and Prothero had bought it up; and the end was that the farmer
was turned out of the old house, and was lodging in a cottage. People
said he would have to take a place on his own farm as a labourer; he
went about in dreadful misery, piteous to see. It was thought by some
that he might very well murder the lawyer, if he met him.
They did meet, in the middle of the market-place at Llantrisant one
Saturday in June. The farmer was a little black man, and he gave a
shout of rage, and the people were rushing at him to keep him off
"And then," said my informant, "I will tell you what happened. This
lawyer, as they tell me, he is a great big brawny fellow, with a big
jaw and a wide mouth, and a red face and red whiskers.
And there he was in his black coat and his high hard hat, and all
his money at his back, as you may say. And, indeed, he did fall down
on his knees in the dust there in the street in front of Philip James,
and every one could see that terror was upon him. And he did beg Philip
James's pardon, and beg of him to have mercy, and he did implore him
by God and man and the saints of paradise. And my cousin, John
Jenkins, Penmawr, he do tell me that the tears were falling from Lewis
Prothero's eyes like the rain. And he put his hand into his pocket and
drew out the deed of Pantyreos, Philip James's old farm that was, and
did give him the farm back and a hundred pounds for the stock that was
on it, and two hundred pounds, all in potes of the bank, for amendment
"And then, from what they do tell me, all the people did go mad,
crying and weeping and calling out all manner of things at the top of
their voices. And at last nothing would do but they must all go up to
the churchyard, and there Philip James and Lewis Prothero they swear
friendship to one another for a long age before the old cross, and
everyone sings praises. And my cousin he do declare to me that there
were men standing in that crowd that he did never see before in
Llantrisant in all his life, and his heart was shaken within him as if
it had been in a whirlwind."
I had listened to all this in silence. I said then:
"What does your cousin mean by that? Men that he had never seen in
Llantrisant? What men?"
"The people," he said very slowly, "call them the Fishermen."
And suddenly there came into my mind the Rich Fisherman who in the
old legend guards the holy mystery of the Graal.
So far I have not told the story of the things of Llantrisant, but
rather the story of how I stumbled upon them and among them, perplexed
and wholly astray, seeking, but yet not knowing at all what I sought;
bewildered now and again by circumstances which seemed to me wholly
inexplicable; devoid, not so much of the key to the enigma, but of the
key to the nature of the enigma. You cannot begin to solve a puzzle
till you know what the puzzle is about. "Yards divided by minutes,"
said the mathematical master to me long ago, "will give neither pigs,
sheep, nor oxen." He was right; though his manner on this and on all
other occasions was highly offensive. This is enough of the personal
process, as I may call it; and here follows the story of what happened
at Llantrisant last summer, the story as I pieced it together at last.
It all began. it appears, on a hot day, early in last June; so far
as I can meke out, on the first Saturday in the month. There was a
deaf old woman, a Mrs. Parry, who lived by herself in a lonely cottage
a mile or so from the town. She came into the marketplace early on the
Saturday morning in a state of some excitement, and as soon as she had
taken up her usual place on the pavement by the churchyard, with her
ducks and eggs and a few very early potatoes, she began to tell her
neighbours about her having heard the sound of a great bell. The good
women on each side smiled at one another behind Mrs. Parry's back, for
one had to bawl into her ear before she could make out what one meant;
and Mrs. Williams, Penycoed, bent over and yelled: "What bell should
that be, Mrs. Parry? There's no church near you up at Penrhiw. Do you
hear what nonsense she talks?" said Mrs. Williams in a low voice, to
Mrs. Morgan. "As if she could hear any bell, whatever."
"What makes you talk nonsense yourself?" said Mrs. Parry, to the
amazement of the two women. "I can hear a bell as well as you, Mrs.
Williams, and as well as your whispers either."
And there is the fact, which is not to be disputed; though the
deductions from it may be open to endless disputations; this old woman
who had been all but stone deaf for twenty years—the defect had
always been in her family—could suddenly hear on this June morning as
well as anybody else. And her two old friends stared at her, and it
was some time before they had appeased her indignation, and induced
her to talk about the bell.
It had happened in the early morning, which was very misty. She had
been gathering sage in her garden, high on a round hill looking over
the sea. And there came in her ears a sort of throbbing and singing
and trembling, "as if there were music coming out of the earth," and
then something seemed to break in her head, and all the birds began to
sing and make melody together, and the leaves of the poplars round the
garden fluttered in the breeze that rose from the sea, and the cock
crowed far off at Twyn, and the dog barked down in Kemeys Valley. But
above all these sounds, unheard for so many years, there thrilled the
deep and chanting note of the bell, "like the bell and a man's voice
singing at once."
They stared again at her and at one another. "Where did it sound
from?" asked one. "It came sailing across the sea," answered Mrs.
Parry quite composedly, "and I did hear it coming nearer and nearer to
"Well, indeed," said Mrs. Morgan, "it was a ship's bell then,
though I can't make out why they would be ringing like that."
"It was not ringing on any ship, Mrs. Morgan," said Mrs. Parry.
"Then where do you think it was ringing?"
"Ym mharadwys," replied Mrs. Parry. Now that means "in paradise,"
and the two others changed the conversation quickly. They thought that
Mrs. Parry had got back her hearing suddenly—such things did happen
now and then—and that the shock had made her "a bit queer."
And this explanation would no doubt have stood its ground, if it
had not been for other experiences. Indeed, the local doctor (who had
treated Mrs. Parry for a dozen years, not for her deafness, which he
took to be hopeless and beyond cure, but for a tiresome and recurrent
winter cough), sent an account of the case to a colleague at Bristol,
suppressing, naturally enough, the reference to paradise. The Bristol
physician gave it as his opinion that the symptoms were absolutely
what might have been expected. "You have here, in all probability," he
wrote, "the sudden breaking down of an old obstruction in the aural
passage, and I should quite expect this process to be accompanied by
tinnitus of a pronounced and even violent character."
* * * But for the other experiences? As the morning wore on and
drew to noon, high market, and to the utmost brightness of that summer
day, all the stalls and the streets were full of rumours and of awed
faces. Now from one lonely farm, now from another, men and women came
and told the story of how they had listened in the early morning with
thrilling hearts to the thrilling music of a bell that was like no
bell ever heard before. And it seemed that many people in the town had
been roused, they knew not how, from sleep; waking up, as one of them
said, as if bells were ringing and the organ playing, and a choir of
sweet voices singing all together: "There were such melodies and songs
that my heart was full of joy."
And a little past noon some fishermen who had been out all night
returned, and brought a wonderful story into the town of what they had
heard in the mist; and one of them said he had seen something go by at
a little distance from his boat. "It was all golden and bright," he
said, "and there was glory about it." Another fisherman declared:
"There was a song upon the water that was like heaven."
And here I would say in parenthesis that on returning to town I
sought out a very old friend of mine, a man who has devoted a lifetime
to strange and esoteric studies. I thought that I had a tale that
would interest him profoundly, but I found that he heard me with a good
deal of indifference. And at this very point of the sailors' stories I
remember saying. "Now what do you make of that? Don't you think it's
extremely curious?" He replied: "I hardly think so. Possibly the
sailors were lying; possibly it happened as they say. Well; that sort
of thing has always been happening." I gave my friend's opinion; I
make no comment on it.
Let it be noted that there was something remarkable as to the
manner in which the sound of the bell was heard—or supposed to be
heard. There are, no doubt, mysteries in sounds as in all else;
indeed, I am informed that during one of the horrible outrages that
have been perpetrated on London during this autumn there was an
instance of a great block of workmen's dwellings in which the only
person who heard the crash of a particular bomb falling was an old deaf
woman, who had been fast asleep till the moment of the explosion. This
is strange enough of a sound that was entirely in the natural (and
horrible) order; and so it was at Llantrisant, where the sound was
either a collective auditory hallucination or a manifestation of what
is conveniently, if inaccurately, called the supernatural order.
For the thrill of the bell did not reach to all ears—or hearts.
Deaf Mrs. Parry heard it in her lonely cottage garden, high above the
misty sea; but then, in a farm on the other or western side of
Llantrisant, a little child, scarcely three years old, was the only one
out of a household of ten people who heard anything. He called out in
stammering baby Welsh something that sounded like "Clychau fawr,
clychau fawr"—the great bells, the great bells—and his mother
wondered what he was talking about. Of the crews of half a dozen
trawlers that were swinging from side to side in the mist, not more
than four men had any tale to tell. And so it was that for an hour or
two the men who had heard nothing suspected his neighbour, who had
heard marvels, of lying; and it was some time before the mass of
evidence coming from all manners of diverse and remote quarters
convinced the people that there was a true story here. A might suspect
B, his neighbour, of making up a tale; but when C, from some place on
the hills five miles away, and D, the fisherman on the waters, each
had a like report, then it was clear that something had happened.
And even then, as they told me, the signs to be seen upon the
people were stranger than the tales told by them and among them. It
has struck me that many people in reading some of the phrases that I
have reported will dismiss them with laughter as very poor and
fantastic inventions; fishermen, they will say, do not speak of "a
song like heaven" or of 'a glory about it." And I dare say this would
be a just enough criticism if I were reporting English fishermen; but,
odd though it may be, Wales has not yet lost the last shreds of the
grand manner. And let it be remembered also that in most cases such
phrases are translated from another language, that is, from the Welsh.
So, they come trailing, let us say, fragments of the cloud of glory
in their common speech; and so, on this Saturday, they began to
display, uneasily enough in many cases, their consciousness that the
things that were reported were of their ancient right and former
custom. The comparison is not quite fair; but conceive Hardy's old
Durbeyfield suddenly waking from long slumber to find himself in a
noble thirteenth-century hall, waited on by kneeling pages, smiled on
by sweet ladies in silken cotehardies.
So by evening time there had come to the old people the recollection
of stories that their fathers had told them as they sat round the
hearth of winter nights, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago; stories of
the wonderful bell of Teilo Sant, that had sailed across the glassy
seas from Syon, that was called a portion of paradise, "and the sound
of its ringing was like the perpetual choir of the angels."
Such things were remembered by the old and told to the young that
evening, in the streets of the town and in the deep lanes that climbed
far hills. The sun went down to the mountain red with fire like a
burnt offering, the sky turned violet, the sea was purple, as one told
another of the wonder that had returned to the land after long ages.
It was during the next nine days, counting from that Saturday early in
June—the first Saturday in June, as I believe—that Llantrisant and
all the regions about became possessed either by an extraordinary set
of hallucinations or by a visitation of great marvels.
This is not the place to strike the balance between the two
possibilities. The evidence is, no doubt, readily available; the
matter is open to systematic investigation.
But this may be said: The ordinary man, in the ordinary passages of
his life, accepts in the main the evidence of his senses, and is
entirely right in doing so. He says that he sees a cow, that he sees a
stone wall, and that the cow and the stone wall are "there." This is
very well for all the practical purposes of life, but I believe that
the metaphysicians are by no means so easily satisfied as to the
reality of the stone wall and the cow. Perhaps they might allow that
both objects are "there" in the sense that one's reflection is in a
glass; there is an actuality, but is there a reality external to
oneself? In any event, it is solidly agreed that, supposing a real
existence, this much is certain—it is not in the least like our
conception of it. The ant and the microscope will quickly convince us
that we do not see things as they really are, even supposing that we
see them at all. If we could "see" the real cow she would appear
utterly incredible, as incredible as the things I am to relate.
Now, there is nothing that I know much more unconvincing than the
stories of the red light on the sea. Several sailors, men on small
coasting ships, who were working up or down the Channel on the
Saturday night, spoke of "seeing" the red light, and it must be said
that there is a very tolerable agreement in their tales. All make the
time as between midnight of the Saturday and one o'clock on the Sunday
morning. Two of those sailormen are precise as to the time of the
apparition; they fix it by elaborate calculations of their own as
occurring at 12.20 a m. And the story? A red light, a burning spark
seen far away in the darkness, taken at the first moment of seeing for
a signal, and probably an enemy signal. Then it approached at a
tremendous speed, and one man said he took it be the port light of
some new kind of navy motor boat which was developing a rate hitherto
unheard of, a hundred or a hundred and fifty knots an hour. And then,
in the third instant of the sight, it was clear that this was no
earthly speed. At first a red spark in the farthest distance; then a
rushing lamp; and then, as if in an incredible point of time, it
swelled into a vast rose of fire that filled all the sea and all the
sky and hid the stars and possessed the land. "I thought the end of
the world had come," one of the sailors said.
And then, an instant more, and it was gone from them, and four of
them say that there was a red spark on Chapel Head, where the old grey
chapel of St. Teilo stands, high above the water, in a cleft of the
And thus the sailors; and thus their tales are incredible; but they
are not incredible. I believe that men of the highest eminence in
physical science have testified to the occurrence of phenomena every
whit as marvellous, to things as absolutely opposed to all natural
order, as we conceive it; and it may be said that nobody minds them.
"That sort of thing has always been happening," as my friend remarked
to me. But the men, whether or no the fire had ever been without them,
there was no doubt that it was now within them, for it burned in their
eyes. They were purged as if they had passed through the Furnace of
the Sages governed with Wisdom that the alchemists know. They spoke
without much difficulty of what they had seen, or had seemed to see,
with their eyes, but hardly at all of what their hearts had known when
for a moment the glory of the fiery rose had been about them.
For some weeks, afterwards, they were still, as it were, amazed;
almost, I would say, incredulous. If there had been nothing more than
the splendid and fiery appearance, showing and vanishing, I do believe
that they themselves would have discredited their own senses and denied
the truth of their own tales. And one does not dare to say whether
they would not have been right. Men like Sir William Crookes and Sir
Oliver Lodge are certainly to be heard with respect, and they bear
witness to all manner of apparent eversions of laws which we, or most
of us, consider far more deeply founded than the ancient hills. They
may be justified; but in our hearts we doubt. We cannot wholly believe
in inner sincerity that the solid table did rise, without mechanical
reason or cause, into the air, and so defy that which we name the "law
of gravitation." I know what may be said on the other side, I know
that there is not true question of "law" in the case; that the law of
gravitation really means just this: that I have never seen a table
rising without mechanical aid, or an apple, detached from the bough,
soaring to the skies instead of falling to the ground. The so-called
law is just the sum of common observation and nothing more; yet I say,
in our hearts we do not believe that the tables rise; much less do we
believe in the rose of fire that for a moment swallowed up the skies
and seas and shores of the Welsh coast last June.
And the men who saw it would have invented fairy tales to account
for it, I say again, if it had not been for that which was within
They said, all of them and it was certain now that they spoke the
truth, that in the moment of the vision, every pain and ache and
malady in their bodies had passed away. One man had been vilely drunk
on venomous spirit, procured at Jobson's Hole down by the Cardiff
Docks. He was horribly ill; he had crawled up from his bunk for a
little fresh air; and in an instant his horrors and his deadly nausea
had left him. Another man was almost desperate with the raging
hammering pain of an abscess on a tooth; he says that when the red
flame came near he felt as if a dull, heavy blow had fallen on his
jaw, and then the pain was quite gone; he could scarcely believe that
there had been any pain there.
And they all bear witness to an extraordinary exaltation of the
senses. It is indescribable, this; for they cannot describe it. They
are amazed, again; they do not in the least profess to know what
happened; but there is no more possibility of shaking their evidence
than there is a possibility of shaking the evidence of a man who says
that water is wet and fire hot.
"I felt a bit queer afterwards," said one of them, "and I steadied
myself by the mast, and I can't tell how I felt as I touched it. I
didn't know that touching a thing like a mast could be better than a
big drink when you're thirsty, or a soft pillow when you're sleepy."
I heard other instances of this state of things, as I must vaguely
call it, since I do not know what else to call it. But I suppose we
can all agree that to the man in average health, the average impact of
the external world on his senses is a matter of indifference. The
average impact; a harsh scream, the bursting of a motor tire, any
violent assault on the aural nerves will annoy him, and he may say
"damn." Then, on the other hand, the man who is not "fit" will easily
be annoyed and irritated by someone pushing past him in a crowd, by
the ringing of a bell, by the sharp closing of a book.
But so far as I could judge from the talk of these sailors, the
average impact of the external world had become to them a fountain of
pleasure. Their nerves were on edge, but an edge to receive exquisite
sensuous impressions. The touch of the rough mast, for example; that
was a joy far greater than is the joy of fine silk to some luxurious
skins; they drank water and stared as if they had been fins gourmets
tasting an amazing wine; the creak and whine of their ship on its slow
way were as exquisite as the rhythm and song of a Bach fugue to an
amateur of music.
And then, within; these rough fellows have their quarrels and
strifes and variances and envyings like the rest of us; but that was
all over between them that had seen the rosy light; old enemies shook
hands heartily, and roared with laughter as they confessed one to
another what fools they had been.
"I can't say how it has happened or what has happened at all," said
one, "but if you have all the world and the glory of it, how can you
fight for fivepence?"
The church of Llantrisant is a typical example of a Welsh parish
church, before the evil and horrible period of "restoration."
This lower world is a palace of lies, and of all foolish lies there
is none more insane than a certain vague fable about the mediaeval
freemasons, a fable which somehow imposed itself upon the cold
intellect of Hallam the historian. The story is, in brief, that
throughout the Gothic period, at any rate, the art and craft of church
building were executed by wandering guilds of "freemasons," possessed
of various secrets of building and adornment, which they employed
wherever they went. If this nonsense were true, the Gothic of Cologne
would be as the Gothic of Colne, and the Gothic of Arles like to the
Gothic of Abingdon. It is so grotesquely untrue that almost every
county, let alone every country, has its distinctive style in Gothic
Arfon is in the west of Wales; its churches have marks and features
which distinguish them from the churches in the east of Wales.
The Llantrisant church has that primitive division between nave and
chancel which only very foolish people decline to recognize as
equivalent to the Oriental iconostasis and as the origin of the
Western rood-screen. A solid wall divided the church into two portions;
in the centre was a narrow opening with a rounded arch. through which
those who sat towards the middle of the church could see the small,
red-carpeted altar and the three roughly shaped lancet windows above
The "reading pew" was on the outer side of this wall of partition,
and here the rector did his service, the choir being grouped in seats
about him. On the inner side were the pews of certain privileged
houses of the town and district.
On the Sunday morning the people were all in their accustomed
places, not without a certain exultation in their eyes, not without a
certain expectation of they knew not what. The bells stopped ringing,
the rector, in his old-fashioned, ample surplice, entered the
reading-desk, and gave out the hymn: "My God, and is Thy table
And, as the singing began, all the people who were in the pews
within the wall came out of them and streamed through the archway into
the nave. They took what places they could find up and down the
church, and the rest of the congregation looked at them in amazement.
Nobody knew what had happened. Those whose seats were next to the
aisle tried to peer into the chancel, to see what had happened or what
was going on there. But somehow the light flamed so brightly from the
windows above the altar, those being the only windows in the chancel,
one small lancet in the south wall excepted, that no one could see
anything at all.
"It was as if a veil of gold adorned with jewels was hanging
there," one man said; and indeed there are a few odds and scraps of
old painted glass left in the eastern lancets.
But there were few in the church who did not hear now and again
voices speaking beyond the veil.
The well-to-do and dignifed personages who left their pews in the
chancel of Llantrisant church and came hurrying into the nave could
give no explanation of what they had done. They felt, they said, that
they "had to go," and to go quickly; they were driven out, as it were,
by a secret, irresistible command. But all who were present in the
church that morning were amazed, though all exulted in their hearts;
for they, like the sailors who saw the rose of fire on the waters, were
filled with a joy that was literally ineffable, since they could not
utter it or interpret it to themselves.
And they too, like the sailors, were transmuted, or the world was
transmuted for them. They experienced what the doctors call a sense of
bien être, but a bien être raised to the highest power.
Old men felt young again, eyes that had been growing dim now saw
clearly, and saw a world that was like paradise, the same world, it is
true, but a world rectified and glowing, as if an inner flame shone in
all things, and behind all things.
And the difficulty in recording this state is this, that it is so
rare an experience that no set language to express it is in existence.
A shadow of its raptures and ecstasies is found in the highest poetry;
there are phrases in ancient books telling of the Celtic saints that
dimly hint at it; some of the old Italian masters of painting had
known it, for the light of it shines in their skies and about the
battlements of their cities that are founded on magic hills. But these
are but broken hints.
It is not poetic to go to Apothcaries' Hall for similes. But for
many years I kept by me an article from the Lancet or the British
Medical Journal—I forget which—in which a doctor gave an account of
certain experiments he had conducted with a drug called the Mescal
Button, or Anhelonium Lewinii. He said that while under the influence
of the drug he had but to shut his eyes, and immediately before him
there would rise incredible Gothic cathedrals, of such majesty and
splendour and glory that no heart had ever conceived. They seemed to
surge from the depths to the very heights of heaven, their spires
swayed amongst the clouds and the stars, they were fretted with
admirable imagery. And as he gazed, he would presently become aware
that all the stones were living stones, that they were quickening and
palpitating, and then that they were glowing jewels, say. emeralds,
sapphires, rubies, opals, but of hues that the mortal eye had never
That description gives, I think, some faint notion of the nature of
the transmuted world into which these people by the sea had entered, a
world quickened and glorified and full of pleasures.
Joy and wonder were on all faces; but the deepest joy and the
greatest wonder were on the face of the rector. For he had heard
through the veil the Greek word for "holy," three times repeated.
And he, who had once been a horrified assistant at High Mass in a
foreign church, recognized the perfume of incense that filled the
place from end to end.
It was on that Sunday night that Olwen Phillips of Croeswen dreamed
her wonderful dream. She was a girl of sixteen, the daughter of small
farming people, and for many months she had been doomed to certain
death. Consumption, which flourishes in that damp, warm climate, had
laid hold of her; not only her lungs but her whole system was a mass
of tuberculosis. As is common enough, she had enjoyed many fallacious
brief recoveries in the early stages of the disease, but all hope had
long been over, and now for the last few weeks she had seemed to rush
vehemently to death. The doctor had come on the Saturday morning,
bringing with him a colleague. They had both agreed that the girl's
case was in its last stages. "She cannot possibly last more than a day
or two," said the local doctor to her mother. He came again on the
Sunday morning and found his patient perceptibly worse, and soon
afterwards she sank into a heavy sleep, and her mother thought that
she would never wake from it.
The girl slept in an inner room communicating with the room
occupied by her father and mother. The door between was kept open, so
that Mrs. Phillips could hear her daughter if she called to her in the
night. And Olwen called to her mother that night, just as the dawn was
breaking. It was no faint summons from a dying bed that came to the
mother's ears, but a loud cry that rang through the house, a cry of
great gladness. Mrs. Phillips started up from sleep in wild amazement,
wondering what could have happened. And then she saw Olwen, who had not
been able to rise from her bed for many weeks past, standing in the
doorway in the faint light of the growing day. The girl called to her
mother: "Mam! mam! It is all over. I am quite well again."
Mrs. Phillips roused her husband, and they sat up in bed staring,
not knowing on earth, as they said afterwards, what had been done with
the world. Here was their poor girl wasted to a shadow, lying on her
death-bed, and the life sighing from her with every breath, and her
voice, when she last uttered it, so weak that one had to put one's ear
to her mouth. And here in a few hours she stood up before them; and
even in that faint light they could see that she was changed almost
beyond knowing. And, indeed, Mrs. Phillips said that for a moment or
two she fancied that the Germans must have come and killed them in
their sleep, and so they were all dead together. But Olwen called out
again, so the mother lit a candle and got up and went tottering across
the room, and there was Olwen all gay and plump again, smiling with
shining eyes. Her mother led her into her own room, and set down the
candle there, and felt her daughter's flesh, and burst into prayers,
and tears of wonder and delight, and thanksgivings, and held the girl
again to be sure that she was not deceived. And then Olwen told her
dream, though she thought it was not a dream.
She said she woke up in the deep darkness, and she knew the life
was fast going from her. She could not move so much as a finger, she
tried to cry out, but no sound came from her lips. She felt that in
another instant the whole world would fall from her—her heart was full
And as the last breath was passing her lips, she heard a very
faint, sweet sound, like the tinkling of a silver bell, it came from
far away, from over by Ty-newydd. She forgot her agony and listened,
and even then, she says, she felt the swirl of the world as it came
back to her. And the sound of the bell swelled and grew louder, and it
thrilled all through her body, and the life was in it. And as the bell
rang and trembled in her ears, a faint light touched the wall of her
room and reddened, till the whole room was full of rosy fire. And then
she saw standing before her bed three men in blood-coloured robes with
shining faces. And one man held a golden bell in his hand. And the
second man held up something shaped like the top of a table. It was
like a great jewel, and it was of a blue colour, and there were rivers
of silver and of gold running through it and flowing as quick streams
flow, and there were pools in it as if violets had been poured out
into water, and then it was green as the sea near the shore, and then
it was the sky at night with all the stars shining, and then the sun
and the moon came down and washed in it. And the third man held up
high above this a cup that was like a rose on fire; "there was a great
burning in it, and a dropping of blood in it, and a red cloud above
it, and I saw a great secret. And I heard a voice that sang nine
times: 'Glory and praise to the Conqueror of Death, to the Fountain of
Life immortal.' Then the red light went from the wall, and it was all
darkness, and the bell rang faint again by Capel Teilo, and then I got
up and called to you."
The doctor came on the Monday morning with the death certificate in
his pocket-book, and Olwen ran out to meet him. I have quoted his
phrase in the first chapter of this record: "A kind of resurrection of
the body." He made a most careful examination of the girl; he has
stated that he found that every trace of disease had disappeared. He
left on the Sunday morning a patient entering into the coma that
precedes death, a body condemned utterly and ready for the grave. He
met at the garden gate on the Monday morning a young woman in whom
life sprang up like a fountain, in whose body life laughed and
rejoiced as if it had been a river flowing from an unending well.
Now this is the place to ask one of those questions—there are many
such—which cannot be answered. The question is as to the continuance
of tradition; more especially as to the continuance of tradition among
the Welsh Celts of to-day. On the one hand, such waves and storms have
gone over them. The wave of the heathen Saxons went over them, then the
wave of Latin mediaevalism, then the waters of Anglicanism; last of
all the flood of their queer Calvinistic Methodism, half Puritan, half
pagan. It may well be asked whether any memory can possibly have
survived such a series of deluges. I have said that the old people of
Llantrisant had their tales of the bell of Teilo Sant; but these were
but vague and broken recollections. And then there is the name by
which the "strangers" who were seen in the marketplace were known; that
is more precise. Students of the Graal legend know that the keeper of
the Graal in the romances is the King Fisherman, or the Rich
Fisherman; students of Celtic hagiology know that it was prophesied
before the birth of Dewi (or David) that he should be "a man of
acquatic life," that another legend tells how a little child, destined
to be a saint, was discovered on a stone in the river, how through his
childhood a fish for his nourishment was found on that stone every day,
while another saint, Ilar, if I remember, was expressly known as the
Fisherman. But has the memory of all this persisted in the
church-going and chapel-going people of Wales at the present day? It
is difficult to say. There is the affair of the Healing Cup of Nant
Eos, or Tregaron Healing Cup, as it is also called. It is only a few
years ago since it was shown to a wandering harper, who treated it
lightly, and then spent a wretched night, as he said, and came back
penitently and was left alone with the sacred vessel to pray over it,
till "his mind was at rest." That was in 1887.
Then for my part—I only know modern Wales on the surface, I am
sorry to say—I remember three or four years ago speaking to my
temporary landlord of certain relics of Saint Teilo, which are
supposed to be in the keeping of a particular family in that country.
The landlord is a very jovial merry fellow, and I observed with some
astonishment that his ordinary, easy manner was completely altered as
he said, gravely, "That will be over there, up by the mountain,"
pointing vaguely to the north. And he changed the subject, as a
freemason changes the subject.
There the matter lies, and its appositeness to the story of
Llantrisant is this: that the dream of Olwen Phillips was, in fact,
the vision of the Holy Graal.
"Ffeiriadwyr Melcisidec! Ffeiriadwyr Melcisidec!" shouted the old
Calvinistic Methodist deacon with the grey beard, "Priesthood of
Melchizedek! Priesthood of Melchizedek!"
And he went on:
"The Bell that is like y glwys yr angel ym mharadwys—the joy of
the angels in paradise—is returned; the Altar that is of a colour
that no men can discern is returned, the Cup that came from Syon is
returned, the ancient Offering is restored, the Three Saints have come
back to the church of the tri sant, the Three Holy Fishermen are
amongst us, and their net is full. Gogoniant, gogofliant—glory,
Then another Methodist began to recite in Welsh a verse from
God still respects Thy sacrifice,
Its savour sweet doth always please;
The Offering smokes through earth and skies,
Diffusing life and joy and peace;
To these Thy lower courts it comes
And fills them with Divine perfumes.
The whole church was full, as the old books tell, of the odour of
the rarest spiceries. There were lights shining within the sanctuary,
through the narrow archway.
This was the beginning of the end of what befell at Llantrisant.
For it was the Sunday after that night on which Olwen Phillips had
been restored from death to life. There was not a single chapel of the
Dissenters open in the town that day. The Methodists with their
minister and their deacons and all the Nonconformists had returned on
this Sunday morning to "the old hive." One would have said, a church
of the Middle Ages, a church in Ireland to-day. Every seat—save those
in the chancel—was full, all the aisles were full, the churchyard was
full; everyone on his knees, and the old rector kneeling before the
door into the holy place.
Yet they can say but very little of what was done beyond the veil.
There was no attempt to perform the usual service; when the bells had
stopped the old deacon raised his cry, and priest and people fell down
on their knees as they thought they heard a choir within singing
"Alleluya, alleluya, alleluya." And as the bells in the tower ceased
ringing, there sounded the thrill of the bell from Shon, and the
golden veil of sunlight fell across the door into the altar, and the
heavenly voices began their melodies.
A voice like a trumpet cried from within the brightness:
Agyos, Agoys, Agyos.
And the people, as if an age-old memory stirred in them, replied:
Agyos yr Tâd, agyos yr Mab, agyos yr Yspryd Glan. Sant, sant, sant,
Drindod sant vendigeid.
Sanctus Arglwydd Dduw Sabaoth, Dominus Deus.
There was a voice that cried and sang from within the altar; most
of the people had heard some faint echo of it in the chapels; a voice
rising and falling and soaring in awful modulations that rang like the
trumpet of the Last Angel. The people beat upon their breasts, the
tears were like rain of the mountains on their cheeks; those that were
able fell down on their faces before the glory of the veil. The said
afterwards that men of the hills, twenty miles away, heard that cry and
that singing, rushing upon them on the wind, and they fell down on
their faces, and cried: "The offering is accomplished," knowing
nothing of what they said.
There were a few who saw three come out of the door of the
sanctuary, and stand for a moment on the pace before the door. These
three were in dyed vesture, red as blood. One stood before two,
looking to the west, and he rang the bell. And they say that all the
birds of the wood, and all the waters of the sea, and all the leaves
of the trees, and all the winds of the high rocks uttered their voices
with the ringing of the bell. And the second and the third; they turned
their faces one to another. The second held up the lost altar that
they once called "Sapphirus," which was like the changing of the sea
and of the sky, and like the immixture of gold and silver. And the
third heaved up high over the altar a cup that was red with burning
and the blood of the offering.
And the old rector cried aloud then before the entrance:—
Bendigeid yr Offeren yn oes oesoedd—blessed be the Offering unto
the ages of ages.
And then the Mass of the Sangraal was ended, and then began the
passing out of that land of the holy persons and holy things that had
returned to it after the long years. It seemed, indeed, to many that
the thrilling sound of the bell was in their ears for days, even for
weeks after that Sunday morning. But thenceforth neither bell nor
altar nor cup was seen by anyone; not openly, that is, but only in
dreams by day and by night. Nor did the people see strangers again in
the market of Llantrisant, nor in the lonely places where certain
persons oppressed by great affliction and sorrow had once or twice
But that time of visitation will never be forgotten by the people.
Many things happened in the nine days that have not been set down in
this record—or legend. Some of them were trifling matters, though
strange enough in other times. Thus a man in the town who had a fierce
dog that was always kept chained up found one day that the beast had
become mild and gentle.
And this is stranger: Edward Davies, of Lanafon, a farmer, was
roused from sleep one night by a queer yelping and barking in his
yard. He looked out of the window and saw his sheep-dog playing with a
big fox; they were chasing each other by turns, rolling over and over
one another, "cutting such capers as I did never see the like," as the
astonished farmer put it. And some of the people said that during this
season of wonder the corn shot up, and the grass thickened, and the
fruit was multiplied on the trees in a very marvellous manner.
More important, it seemed, was the case of Williams, the grocer;
though this may have been a purely natural deliverance. Mr. Williams
was to marry his daughter Mary to a smart young fellow from
Carmarthen, and he was in great distress over it. Not over the marriage
itself, but because things had been going very badly with him for some
time, and he could not see his way to giving anything like the wedding
entertainment that would be expected of him. The wedding was to be on
the Saturday—that was the day on which the lawyer, Lewis Prothero, and
the farmer, Philip James, were reconciled—and this John Williams,
without money or credit, could not think how shame would not be on him
for the meagerness and poverty of the wedding feast.
And then on the Tuesday came a letter from his brother, David
Williams, Australia, from whom he had not heard for fifteen years. And
David it seemed, had been making a great deal of money, and was a
bachelor, and here was with his letter a paper good for a thousand
pounds: "You may as well enjoy it now as wait till I am dead." This
was enough, indeed, one might say; but hardly an hour after the letter
had come the lady from the big house (Plas Mawr) drove up in all her
grandeur, and went into the shop and said: "Mr. Williams, your
daughter Mary has always been a very good girl, and my husband and I
feel that we must give her some little thing on her wedding, and we
hope she'll be very happy." It was a gold watch worth fifteen pounds.
And after Lady Watcyn, advances the old doctor with a dozen of port,
forty years upon it, and a long sermon on how to decant it. And the
old rector's old wife brings to the beautiful dark girl two yards of
creamy lace, like an enchantment, for her wedding veil, and tells Mary
how she wore it for her own wedding fifty years ago; and the squire,
Sir Watcyn, as if his wife had not been already with a fine gift,
calls from his horse, and brings out Williams and barks like a dog at
"Goin' to have a weddin', eh, Williams? Can't have a weddin'
without champagne, y' know; wouldn't be legal, don't y' know. So look
out for a couple of cases." So Williams tells the story of the gifts;
and certainly there was never so famous a wedding in Llantrisant
All this, of course, may have been altogether in the natural order;
the "glow," as they call it, seems more difficult to explain. For they
say that all through the nine days, and indeed after the time had
ended, there never was a man weary or sick at heart in Llantrisant, or
in the country round it. For a man felt that his work of the body or
the mind was going to be too much for his strength, then there would
come to him of a sudden a warm glow and a thrilling all over him, and
he felt as strong as a giant, and happier than he had ever been in his
life before, so that lawyer and hedger each rejoiced in the task that
was before him, as if it were sport and play.
And, much more wonderful than this or any other wonders was
forgiveness, with love to follow it. There were meetings of old
enemies in the market-place and in the street that made the people
lift up their hands and declare that it was as if one walked the
miraculous streets of Syon.
But as to the "phenomena," the occurrences for which, in ordinary
talk, we should reserve the word "miraculous"? Well, what do we know?
The question that I have already stated comes up again, as to the
possible survival of old tradition in a kind of dormant, or torpid,
semi-conscious state. In other words, did the people "see" and "hear"
what they expected to see and hear? This point, or one similar to it,
occurred in a debate between Andrew Lang and Anatole France as to the
visions of Joan of Arc. M. France stated that when Joan saw St.
Michael, she saw the traditional archangel of the religious art of her
day, but to the best of my belief Andrew Lang proved that the
visionary figure Joan described was not in the least like the
fifteenth-century conception of St. Michael. So, in the case of
Llantrisant, I have stated that there was a sort of tradition about
the holy bell of Teilo Sant; and it is, of course, barely possible that
some vague notion of the Graal cup may have reached even Welsh country
folks through Tennyson's Idylls.
But so far I see no reason to suppose that these people had ever
heard of the portable altar (called "Sapphirus" in William of
Malmesbury) or of its changing colours "that no man could discern."
And then there are the other questions of the distinction between
hallucination and the vision, of the average duration of one and the
other, and of the possibility of collective hallucination. If a number
of people all see (or think they see) the same appearances, can this be
merely hallucination. I believe there is a leading case on the matter,
which concerns a number of people seeing the same appearance on a
church wall in Ireland; but there is, of course, this difficulty, that
one may be hallucinated and communicate his impression to the others,
But at the last, what do we know?