The Grave of Gelert
Just south of Snowdon, in the grey-stoned village of
Beddgelert set among the wild mountains of Wales, is the Grave of
Gelert. Here, in a beautiful meadow below Cerrig Llan, is a large
stone slab lying on its side with two upright slabs which owes
its fame to the legend of Prince Llewelyn ap Iorwerth and his
Llewelyn (1173-1240 CE) was very fond of hunting and in the
summer he lived in a hunting lodge at the foot of Mt.Snowdon.
Although he had many dogs, his favorite was the brave Gelert,
his great Irish Wolfhound, not only a dog fearless in the hunt,
but a loyal friend and companion at the fireside.
One fateful day on the hunt, Gelert refused to accompany his
master further, but instead he ran howling back to the Lodge.
When Llewellyn returned he was met by his dog, bounding to meet
him, but splashed with blood around his muzzle. On entering his
living quarters, Llewellyn found a scene of confusion with rooms
disordered and articles scattered in heaps. Now Llewelyn had a
son, barely a year old, and as the prince recalled how Gelert and
his little boy used to play together, a terrible thought came to
his mind !
He rushed to the nursery only to find the the cradle was
overturned, the bed clothes bloody and though he looked
frantically for his son, the child could not be found.
Turning to Gelert, whose muzzle was still wet with blood,
Llewelyn came into a great rage and cried, "Thou hast killed my
only son!", and drew his sword and drove it into the heart of the
Then - as all was silent but for the steady drip of blood onto
the stone flag floor, the wail of a baby could be heard. On
searching further Llewellen found his son safe and well, lying
next to the body of a large grey wolf.
It was plain to see what had happened !
Gelert had killed the wolf whilst defending the baby from
attack. Overcome with grief at his hasty action, Llewellyn buried
Gelert with all honour and raised a memorial over his grave.
From then on the settlement was known as Beddgelert, meaning
"Gelert's Grave" and this is the traditional tale still told
Where do these tales come from ? It's possible that the
village of Beddgelert received its name from an Irish Wolf Hound
given to Llewellyn as a gift by his father-in-law, King John of
Irish Wolfhounds were known and admired in Rome as early as
391 C.E. when the first mention of the breed was written by the
Roman Consul Quintus Aurelius, who had received seven of them as
a gift which "all Rome viewed with wonder."
The story of a dog slain in error after killing a wolf seems
to have been attached to Llewellyn about 1793-4 by a local
inn-keeper. A common enough occurrence along the same lines of
hotels and taverns placing signs like "Ye Olde Inne" to attract
more custom. William Spencer visited Beddgelert and, on hearing
the tale, wrote his popular ballad about the faithful Gelert and
so the story grew into the speech and hearsay of Wales
However, the legend behind all this folklore is extremely old,
though the animals involved originally were neither wolves nor
A mongoose who saved a Brahmin's son from a snake is found in
the Indian Panchatantra. It was written in Sanskrit sometime in
the third century C.E and later translated into Persian and
Arabic. We find it in the Book of Sindibad and thence our own
The mongoose wasn't known in the Arab world, so it became a
weasel, and then a dog. The snake remained. A version of this
story reached Wales and was recorded in the 14th century in the
Red Book of Hergest.
In Welsh folktales the snake is replaced by a wolf probably
because it was a more likely attacker and already had a fearsome
So in this tale we see how time, folklore and story-telling
around the fire has fused together traditions from many sources
and created them into a legend still honoured at Gelert's
Susanna Duffy is a Civil Celebrant, grief counselor and
mythologist. She creates ceremonies and Rites of Passage for
individual and civic functions, and specialises in celebrations
for women. http://celebrant.yarralink.com
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