A rare chance to see Wales’ very own Iliad and Odyssey

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

WHEN the poems that form The Book of Taliesin were first composed, the Welsh language was spoken far beyond today’s border.

Prior to the insurgence of the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Chester, you would have heard a form of old Welsh being spoken in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Northumberland, even as far north as Edinburgh.

The Book of Taliesin is to Wales, what the Odyssey and Iliad are to Greece.

It is a collection of the oldest known Welsh poems, recounting historic legends and battles that were passed down through oral tradition until they were recorded in a unique volume in the 1300s.

Our Homer was Taliesin, a dark age poet who was active towards the end of the sixth century, and composed in the Cumbric dialect of the north.

Earlier this week, experts from the National Library of wales in Aberystwyth brought The Book of Taliesin, along with some of Wales’ most historic volumes to the new gallery two at Wrexham Museum.

Although some of the volumes including the ancient book of poetry have now returned to their temperature controlled storage, fine facsimile editions sit in their place in a special exhibition of Welsh treasures in Wrexham which runs for the next six months.

Meredudd apHuw, manuscripts librarian at Aberystwyth, explained: “This whole gallery has been created as a way of bringing some of our most important treasures from Aberystwyth and Cardiff to the north.

“We thought we should kick start things by bringing some of the greatest treasures we have.

“We have The Book of Taliesin, The White Book of Rhydderch and Yn Y Llyvyr Hwn from 1546, the first printed volume in Welsh which was ordered by Sir John Price, an administrator under Henry VIII and a relative of Thomas Cromwell, as a reflection of his greater love for his native Wales.”

The White Book of Rhydderch is our earliest book of prose and is so-called because it was ordered by a nobleman named Rhydderch who lived near the Abbey of Strata Florida.

He commissioned the monks to produce this volume which, according to Meredudd, he probably wouldn’t have even been able to read.

“To own a book like this would have been like owning a Ferrari today,” Meredudd added. Alongside these unique works, the exhibition also features a number of other important items from around Wales.

There is a work by Iolo Morganwg, influential Welsh antiquarian, poet and collector who is credited with the foundation of the Gorsedd of the Bards which we will see at the Eisteddfod in a few weeks time.

Those of us who studied Welsh history will undoubtedly recognise a copy of William Morgan’s famous Welsh Bible of 1588. Also among these prized exhibits is the original score for Mae hen wlad fy nhadau, the Welsh national anthem.

Gallery two in the revamped Wrexham Museum has been laid out specifically to house treasures from the National Museum of Wales and National Library, giving residents in the north the chance to view these items without having to travel far.

Wrexham museum curator Jonathan Gammond said: “I believe it’s the only gallery in Wales that combines the collections of both the national museum and national library.

Having access to both those collections allows us to pick items that complement each other to better tell a story.

“With the current exhibition, we wanted to celebrate Wrexham’s involvement in Welsh heritage and that heritage in general. To do this we have brought in objects from all over the country.”

The current exhibition in gallery two at Wrexham Museum runs until December 10.

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