Listen to an Introduction:
fter the battle of Arfderydd, the erstwhile lands of Guenddolou became a political vacuum and the High Chief of Strathclyde, who was an ardent Christian, realised the potential opportunity to Christianise this stronghold of paganism would strengthen his influence in the area. He sent to Wales asking St Mungo’s (aka Kentigern) to return and lead a missionary crusade.
The two men met at Hoddom beside the river Annan where the site became the seat of Mungo’s first Episcopalian see. The Welsh name for the settlement is unrecorded but the nearby name of Ecclefechan derives from Eccles meaning a “church” and bachan meaning “little”. In other words there was a little church beside the old Roman highway to the north, which suggests it may have been an outstation for a bigger church nearby,
The site has not been fully excavated. At the least, it would have comprised a small oratory with a cemetery and one or two rudimentary buildings within a circular turf or stone walled enclosure. Alternatively, it may have been something much more spectacular. Mungo would not have arrived unaccompanied from Wales. His community there had numbered nearly a thousand monks and it is likely that a good number would have come with him to build the new foundation and to work as missionaries. So the settlement could have been quite extensive.
The church and burial ground occupy a small knoll in an otherwise level field. The church was on the top of the knoll. The obvious place to address a large crowd would be from such a natural raised ground. If Mungo did so, it could establish it as a consecrated spot. This might then be marked with a wooden cross and later by tall sculptured stone crosses, three of which have been located in the burial ground
Excavations to date have revealed a stone building dating from before 600AD, as well as the remains of an important early eighth or possibly late 7th century Angle (Northumbrian) monastery.
Hoddom is halfway between Lochmaben and Clochmaben (9 miles and 12 miles distant respectively).
One of Mungo’s first acts was to perform an exorcism to cast out the ancient pagan spirits…
Whereupon with exceeding speed an immense multitude of phantoms, horrible in nature and appearance, coming out of that crowd fled away in the sight of all and a great terror fell on those who beheld them… He showed that idols were dumb, the vain inventions of men, fitter for the fire than for worship.
A mile and a half downstream is St Bridget’s Well. This is exactly the midpoint between Lochmaben and Clochmaben. As described earlier, the Christian St Bridget largely took over the role of the pagan Mabon. Is this perhaps an ancient Mabon site with Hoddom chosen as bigger and better for the monastery but close enough to suppress the pagan tradition?
If, when Mungo arrived, the pagan cult of Maponus was still active with Merlin as its leading druid, this could explain why Mungo and Rydderch Hael were so intent to hunt him down
The earliest written references, dating probably from the 9th century, refer to it as Hodda Helm. Helm is an Anglish word for “water meadow”. Hodda may well be a personal name i.e “Hodda’s water-meadow”. Or it might derive from a Friesian word for woodland i.e. “water meadow in the woodland”. The Mungo community may have been absorbed by the Angle invaders or they may simply have fled to escape the invaders.
How to get here
Hoddom. Return to Gretna and join the M74 north and continue on to exit at Ecclefechan (Junction 19). In the centre of the village turn right on to the B725 to Hoddom. on the east side of the bridge over the Annan at Hoddom there is a small gate leading down into the field on the left. Follow the path along the side of the river until after about 300 yards you see an abandoned graveyard slightly to your left.
Places to Visit and Things to Do
Little did anyone know that the boy born here in 1795 would go on to become one of the most prolific writers and social commentators of the 19th century.
This family friendly museum houses a permanent exhibition on the history of Annan and the surrounding area.
Hoddom Castle, built by Sir John Maxwell as a military base and HQ to support his duties as Warden of the Scottish West March. Repentance Tower, a fortified watchtower is on a nearby hill. [photo: Mike & Kirsty Grundy]
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Buy the Book by Robin Crichton
The History behind the Legend
This is the true story behind the legend of Merlin. Born of a royal family to a life of privilege and luxury, his place in society was ordained until he lost everything in a bloodbath of pillage and genocide. Forced to live on the run he survived as an outlaw hiding out in a cave, living off what the forest could provide.
It is the story of the clash between Christianity and traditional belief – a duel between St Mungo the priest and Merlin the pagan, played out against a webs of late 6th century political intrigue and the strife of a land tearing itself apart.
Until now, our Early Dark Age heritage has been largely ignored by historians because of the lack of cross-checkable written data. This book combines history, archaeology, etymology, topography, botany and folk memory in a giant jigsaw. With nearly 150 colour illustrations and maps, the book is accompanied by a gazetteer of 28 Dark Age sites. It presents the evidence, suggests various interpretations and invites the reader to be the historical detective.
For further information: contact Robin Crichton – Email firstname.lastname@example.org