The movement of livestock across the Irish Sea is a recurrent theme in the history of crossings between Ireland and Wales, as is the crossing of the Irish Sea by saints in the early medieval period. I was recently reminded of this in an image that I came across online in the course of my research into the imagery of Welsh saints.
The image was on a commercial stock photography site, and is labelled, ‘Saint David the beekeeper stained glass window. A Victorian stained glass window depicting Saint David blessing a hive of bees as they are about to be shipped to Ireland by Domhnog.’
The image is tightly cropped and shows a bishop blessing a beehive in a wheelbarrow, being pushed by a monk, with a sailing boat in the background.
The scene itself clearly refers to an episode in the eleventh-century Latin Life of St David, in which a disciple of David, Modhomhnóg, was the beekeeper, and the saint’s connection with bees is paralleled in a much earlier Irish text, the Martyrology of Aonghas. Taking his leave of David to travel to his native Ireland, the bees followed Modhomhnóg, and he endeavoured to bring them back to St Davids, but each time he left the community at St Davids, the bees swarmed after him. Finally, David blessed the bees and they sailed away with Modhomhnóg to Ireland, never to return. This appears to be the scene depicted in the window, which is not Victorian, but almost certainly twentieth century, or just possibly more recent.
Unfortunately, there is nothing on the site to say where the window is and there is no way of contacting the photographer to find out whether the little scene is part of a larger window with other scenes or figures.
Can anyone help locate the window?
I have not come across it in my travels to hundreds of churches across Wales researching stained glass, so perhaps the window is located in a church in Ireland, where the medieval cult of Modhomhnóg (Modomnóc, Domhnog, or, in its Latin form, Dominic) was much stronger.
Modhomhnóg is associated with Ossory, where he was consecrated bishop, and with Tybroughney (Tibberaghny), formerly in the western part of the kingdom of Ossory and now in the south of County Kilkenny, as well as Ennisnag, also in County Kilkenny. Modhomhnóg is associated with Bremore, near the town of Balbriggan (County Dublin), and there another saint, Molaga of Aghacross, restrained the bees that Modhomhnóg was unable to control. The church at Bremore (Llan-Beach-Aire) was known as ‘the Church of the Beekeeper’. Perhaps the window can be found at or near one of these places, or elsewhere in the diocese of Ossory, providing a link with St Davids and the patron saint of Wales across the sea in Pembrokeshire. Or maybe the window is in Wales and remembers a disciple of David more famous across the Irish Sea, whose bees enriched Ireland ‘with a great abundance of honey’.
Dr Martin Crampin, project researcher at Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies.
Update 23 March 2021
Grateful thanks to Matt Wheeler, Curator for the Irish Heritage Trust at Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford, for discovering the location of this scene. It is neither in Wales nor Ireland, but the window was in fact made for the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Swanage in Dorset. His discovery reminds us that the connections between Wales and Ireland bring all kinds of histories and links to the fore, and that research often takes unexpected turns!