The Physicians of Myddfai

The Physicians of Myddfai were herbalists in the twelfth century, which was a time of influx of new ideas and learning that inspired and gave momentum to the Gothic era. Contrary to the prevalent view that the medieval times were a time of darkness, it was in fact a period of immense cultural importance, with the first universities being founded and monastic schools established. A range of new knowledge became available through translation, including medical texts.

Myddfai was one such centre that flowered as a consequence of this new knowledge. In about 1177 AD the Welsh prince Lord Rhys (1132 – 1197) ruler of the kingdom known as Deheubarth in South Wales was instrumental in sponsoring the monasteries of Talley and Strata Florida. As the name of the latter – meaning the “Layers of Flowers” – suggests, these abbeys also flourished as schools and hospitals of herbal medicine.

Rhiwallon being the most able practitioner became the eminent personal physician to Lord Rhys at Dinefwr. Rhiwallon was assisted by his three sons, Cadwgan, Griffith and Einon. In return, they were rewarded with land around Myddfai.

 “Lord Rhys maintained their rights and privileges in all integrity and honour was met.”

It is at these monasteries that the Physicians of Myddfai would have acquired a lot of their practical skills of herbal medicine. The scholasticism of the monks too would have encouraged writing their recipes down. This they did, “As a record of their skill lest no one should be found with the skill they were.” However, as Pughe states, “it is unlikely that their materia medica came from that era.” Most likely it was an accumulation of knowledge from the preceding centuries of herbal usage by the tribes and villages of South Wales.

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