Visitors to The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth will have a rare opportunity to see the silver harp of the Caerwys Eisteddfod, Wales’s earliest surviving eisteddfodic trophy, for the next six months.
Today (Friday), Lord Elis-Thomas, the Welsh Government Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, will open the doors of a new exhibition showcasing treasures from the private collection of Lord Mostyn of Mostyn Hall, Flintshire, side-by-side with precious manuscripts that were purchased for the national library a century ago, a month after the Armistice of 1918.
The heads of the Mostyn family were commissioned in 1523 and 1567 to arrange two important eisteddfodau, which were held at Caerwys in Flintshire.
Ostensibly a contest between poets and musicians, the real reason for the gatherings was to differentiate between genuine bards and entertainers on the one hand and vagabonds and wandering beggars on the other. Maintenance of law and order was at the forefront of such cultural planning.
Bardic legislature, the so-called ‘Statute of Gruffudd ap Cynan’, which regulated the conduct of these gatherings, stated that the best harper of the festival was to be awarded a silver ornament in the form of a harp, which was likely to have been placed upon his instrument.
In 1523, it was Rhisiart ap Hywel of Mostyn who had the honour ‘to give the badge of the silver harp to the best harper of North Wales, as by privilege of his ancestors’. In 1567, it was his grandson, William Mostyn, who ‘had the gift and bestowing of the silver harp’.
The silver harp was thereafter kept at Mostyn Hall and is now being loaned to the national library by the present Lord Mostyn. This is the earliest surviving Welsh eisteddfodic trophy and is the earliest relic that can be associated with any eisteddfod.
The harp forms part of a multi-faceted exhibition celebrating the centenary of the national library’s acquisition of the first part of its collection of manuscripts from Mostyn Hall.
Among other treasures shown are:
- The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd, ‘soldier of Calais’, which has recently been awarded UNESCO status as one of the UK’s most significant cultural treasures;
- an extraordinary medical handbook created around 1488 by poet Gutun Owain at the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis, near Llangollen;
- a collection of poems by Tomos Prys of Plas Iolyn, a former privateer who died in 1634. He is traditionally regarded as one of the first to smoke tobacco in public in the city of London.
Pedr ap Llwyd, the library’s director, deputy chief executive and librarian, said:
“This is a rare opportunity to see one of Wales’ foremost cultural relics. The silver harp rarely leaves the private and secure confines of Mostyn Hall, which is not open to the public.
“The citizens of Wales are urged to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit an eisteddfodic treasure that is, after all, older than any surviving crown, chair or item of bardic regalia.”
Lord Elis-Thomas said:
“This is an excellent opportunity for us to celebrate the role this important collection played in the development of the national library when the first manuscripts were purchases from the Mostyn family 100 ago by what was a very new institution.
“I’d urge people to visit the national library to see this new exhibition which is full of cultural treasures with a fascinating story to tell.”
The Centennial Exhibition of Mostyn Manuscripts can be seen at the national library until December 8. It contains manuscripts, early books and a selection of landscape paintings by Moses Griffith, a Flintshire-based artist, the bicentenary of whose death falls in 2019.
A full programme of events has been arranged for the exhibition season, including public lectures, tours and an academic conference arranged by Bangor University.