The coast path runs a hundred yards from the church at Llanedwen, so it's no hardship to detour off for a quick rummage around the churchyard. Cloudless blue sky, sun sparkling on the deeper blue of the Menai Straits, a picture perfect backdrop of the mountain ranges of North Wales from Carneddau to Nantlle ridge, this couldn't be a nicer spot for a hill-free post-equinox walk.
Llanedwen is one of two possible locations for Maen Morddwyd, fittingly for its reputation as a wandering stone. The other is Llanidan, a couple of miles further along our route today.
Rhiannon has found lots of slightly contradictory information about the stone. The sources don't seem to agree about which church(yard) it's in, none really give a description other than the fact it's shaped "like a thigh" and all of them predate some fairly big upheavals at both sites. And they seem to agree that it went missing before all of that anyway. There seems to be a lack of engravings, woodcuts, potato prints, watercolours and etchings of the stone.
Llanedwen church has been completely rebuilt, but appears to have retained its original churchyard. Llanidan by contrast was replaced by a brand new church, with the original left to fall into disrepair, ruin and private ownership.
So I hold out little hope of finding the missing stone, but it's always worth a look. Now, I'm not claiming anything here, just reporting what I found.
Round the back of the church (the east end if you like your directions more directional), just inside the wall but not part of it, is a slim, slightly tapering stone, buried in the ground so that its top surface and the upper parts of its sides are visible above the grass.
It's the shape of a chunky human thigh, if that's what you want to see. It's a little over 2 feet long, broader and one end that the other, much like a thigh.
The church itself is locked, so there's no opportunity to investigate the interior for further thigh-shaped stones. When we get to Llanidan a little later in the day, the whole site is locked, but someone over on the portal has drawn a blank in there. So this might be the best bet we have. Or it might be nothing at all.
Is it Maen Morddwyd? No idea. I don't even know if this is the right churchyard, after all. But it's nice to do a bit of investigative nosing about, especially in such a lovely spot.
I noticed that elsewhere on the internet people say the stone was in a different church, St Nidan's in Llanidan. So I started wondering why I'd thought the church at Llanedwen. But there's definitely books that mention it. This is from 'The history of Wales' by John Jones (1824). Mr Rowland died in 1723 - he was the vicar at both Llanidan and Llanedwen, which makes for more confusion.
Near this place, on the banks of the Menai, is the greatest Cromlech in Anglesey, and supposed to be an altar on which the Druids offered to the Sun the sacrifice of human victims. The church of Llanedwen is said to have been erected in A.D. 640 - about A.D. 1440 would be nearer the truth. The Rev. Mr. Rowland, author of the Mona Antiqua, lies buried here, under a tomb-stone of Anglesey black slab, bearing a Latin inscription, written by himself.
The wandering stone, Maen Morddwyd, is secured in the wall of this church, and deprived of its locomotive impositions.
Thus "Maen Morddwyd" (concerning which there has been so many marvellous stories related) "is now well secured in the wall of the church," at Porthamel, not far from Llanidan, famed for being the place where Suetonius landed, in 61.
Here also, in the church-yard wall, the thigh stone, commonly called Maen Morddwydd, which has been so curiously and largely described by Giraldus Cambrensis, obtained a place for itself a long time ago; but of late years it was pulled off and carried away, either by some papist or other, or by some ignorant person, (its miraculous virtue not displaying itself as formerly, having entirely languished or exhausted itself by age,) with no loss indeed to the place, nor any gain to him who took it away.
The thing is, just before this excerpt, the church of St Aidan is specifically mentioned - that's the other church! But I can't work out what this document is or who wrote it? Everything is so contradictory. Pennant's Tour In Wales is from 1770 and also says the stone is at Llanidan. But did he really go there, or is he just reporting the legend? I sense the parish name vs the specific church confusion arising again.
But at least here's some straightforward folklore. Here (on page 136) in the National Library of Wales journal, there is an extra bit of the Itinerary translated. It's not included in the other translations I've seen, possibly for reasons of rudeness this time. The original latin can be seen here. It says:
If a lustful act be committed near the stone it immediately breaks into sweat. So, too, if a man and woman commit adultery there. If intercourse be had nearby no conception follows, and so the cottage that once stood there has fallen into ruin and the fateful stone alone remains.
Geraldus's 13th century Itinerary reads somewhat like the Fortean Times, it's full of bizarre stuff and you wonder if any of it was true. But the idea that an actual stone existed seems to stick. I can't see any reports of people who've actually looked for it on the church or churchyard walls. But judging by the pages on the 21st century internet, people still want it to be there.
In a note from a MS. of Mr. Rowlands, the author of Mona Antiqua, this stone is said, having long lost its virtue, to have been stolen within his memory. There was once a tradition also concerning it, that when a wish was made before it, if the wish was to come to pass, the person who expressed the wish could lift it up with ease; but, if not, then it became so heavy, that his utmost strength could not raise it. In the latter case, it required but little art to produce the effect unknown to the simple inquirer.
Maen Morddwyd means the 'thigh stone'. It is supposed to be cemented into St Edwen's church. The church was falling down so was largely rebuilt at one point - but is the stone still there? As you can see, it had an excellent reputation as a homing pigeon, so it really ought to be.
Giraldus Cambrensis (1146-1223) wrote in his "Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales":
As many things within this island are worthy of remark, I shall not think it superfluous to make mention of some of them. There is a stone here resembling a human thigh, which possesses this innate virtue, that whatever distance it may be carried, it returns, of its own accord, the following night, as has often been experienced by the inhabitants. Hugh, earl of Chester, in the reign of king Henry I., having by force occupied this island and the adjacent country, heard of the miraculous power of this stone, and, for the purpose of trial, ordered it to be fastened, with strong iron chains, to one of a larger size, and to be thrown into the sea. On the following morning, however, according to custom, it was found in its original position, on which account the earl issued a public edict, that no one, from that time, should presume to move the stone from its place. A countryman, also, to try the powers of this stone, fastened it to his thigh, which immediately became putrid, and the stone returned to its original situation.