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Ys The Last Pagan: 2012/13


the last pagan

10ft by 4ft
Marble dust, paint pigment, bitumen, gold leaf and organic found material from holy Island, Devon and Cornwall

The diptych above is the first in this series of paintings and prints that will connect Poetry and Myth to the abstract. The title ‘Ys the last pagan’ refers to the Celtic Myth of ‘King Gradlon’ and his daughter ‘Dahut’. The poetry comes from the 7th century poem ‘Dreaming of the Rood’.

Hope you enjoy

Exhibited at the Belford Gallery June/August 2010


According to some versions of the legend, Ys was built below sea level by Gradlon (Gralon in Breton), King of Cornouaille (Kerne in Breton), upon the request of his daughter Dahut (also called Ahes), who loved the sea.

In others, Ys was founded more than 2000 years before Gradlon’s reign in a then-dry location off the current coast of the Bay of Douarnenez, but the Breton coast had slowly given way to the sea so that Ys was under it at each high tide when Gradlon’s reign began.

To protect Ys from inundation, a dike was built with a gate that was opened for ships during low tide. The one key that opened the gate was held by the king. Ys was the most beautiful and impressive city in the world, but quickly became a city of sin under the influence of Dahut. She organized orgies and had the habit of killing her lovers when morning broke. Saint Winwaloe decried the corruption of Ys and warned of God’s wrath and punishment, but was ignored by Dahut and the populace.

One day, a knight dressed in red came to Ys. Dahut asked him to come with her, and one night, he agreed. A storm broke out in the middle of the night and the waves could be heard smashing against the gate and the bronze walls. Dahut said to the knight: “Let the storm rage. The gates of the city are strong, and it is King Gradlon, my father, who owns the only key, attached to his neck.” The knight replied: “Your father the king sleeps. You can now easily take his key.” Dahut stole the key from her father and gave it to the knight, who was none other than the devil. The devil, or, in another version of the story, a wine-besotted Dahut herself, then opened the gate.

Because the gate was open during storm and at high tide, a wave as high as a mountain collapsed on Ys. King Gradlon and his daughter climbed on Morvarc’h, his magical horse. Saint Winwaloe approached them and told Gradlon: “Push back the demon sitting behind you!” Gradlon initially refused, but he finally gave in and pushed his daughter into the sea. The sea swallowed Dahut, who became a mermaid or morgen.

Gradlon took refuge in Quimper, which became his new capital. An equestrian statue of Gradlon was made, and it is still around today, between the spires of the Cathedral of Saint Corentin in Quimper. It is said that the bells of the churches of Ys can still be heard in the sea calm. A legend says that when Paris will be swallowed, the city of Ys will rise up from under the waves: Pa vo beuzet Paris, Ec’h adsavo Ker Is (Par-Is meaning, in Breton, “similar to Ys” ) This history is also sometimes viewed as the victory of Christianity -as Gradlon was converted by Saint Winwaloe- over Druidism. (Dahut and most inhabitants of Ys were worshippers of Celtic gods). However, a Breton folktale asserts that Gradlon met, spoke with and consoled the last Druid in Brittany, and oversaw his pagan burial, before building a chapel in his sacred grove.

Comment:The diptych painting above ‘Ys the last pagan’ has imbedded within the language Ogam, which tells part of the tale ‘Dreaming of the Rood’ as seen on the ‘Ruthwell Cross’. The idea behind the artworks is to show the whole script of Ogam on the ‘Ruthwell Cross’, within three paintings, but only when all are together.

As the ‘Ruthwell Cross’ was smashed by Presbyterian iconoclasts in 1664, and left in the churchyard until restored by Hennry Duncan in 1818. The three paintings will be separated after there first showing. Thus acting as a signpost ‘you could say’, to the many diverse religions of the ‘now’ that are separated by their religious texts and thoughts.

The combination of paintings that will have the script (imbedded) will be the diptych above, and two others yet to be completed. The Ogam script on the paintings is depicted below, as its seen on the ‘Ruthwell cross’.

The poem on the ‘Ruthwell Cross’ is called ‘Dreaming of the Rood and was thought to be written in the 7th century by an unknown poet. In the script the poet dreams that he encounters a beautiful tree. It is the ‘Rood’, or Cross, on which Jesus Christ was crucified. He said it was gloriously decorated with gold and gems, but the poet can’t discern the ancient wounds upon its structure. The Rood’ tells the poet how it had been forced to be the instrument of Christ’s death, describing how it, too, experienced the nails and spear thrusts along with the savior.
The rood goes on to explain that the cross was once an instrument of torture and death, and is now the dazzling sign of mankind’s redemption. It charges the poet to tell of his vision to all men, so that they too might be redeemed of sin.

(Only part of the verse is carved onto the Ruthwell cross)

The ‘Ruthwell Cross’ can be found on the road that passes between Annan and Collin, which is well signposted. The door of the church is left open much of the time and when closed, a notice will direct visitors to a house where the keys may be obtained. 
Address: Ruthwell Kirk, Ruthwell Village, Dumfriesshire
From Carlisle, take the M6 North and then the A74 to Gretna. Follow the A75 to Annan then the B724 to Ruthwell.
From Dumfries, take the A75 towards Annan and take the B724 turn off to Clarencefield & Ruthwell.


The script on the Ruthwell Cross reads.

God almighty stripped himself, when he wished to climb the cross bold before all men.

To bow I dared not, but had to stand firm. Christ was on the cross.

But then quick ones came from afar, nobles, all together.

I beheld it all. I was hard hit with grief; I bowed to warriors’ hands.

Wounded with spears, they laid him, limb-weary. At his body’s head they stood.

There they looked to heaven’s Lord.

Here is the whole transcribed version of the 7th century Poem, ‘Dream of the Rood’, from Ogam to Latin to English.

(Writer unknown)

Lo! I will tell of the best of dreams, what I dreamed in the middle of the night, after the speech-bearers were in bed. It seemed to me that I saw a very wondrous tree lifted into the air, enveloped by light, the brightest of trees. That beacon was all covered with gold. Gems stood beautiful at the surface of the earth, there were five also up on the central joint of the cross.

All those fair through eternal decree gazed [on] the angel of the Lord.  [It] was certainly not a wicked person’s gallows there, but holy spirits, men over the earth, and all this famous creation gazed on him. Wondrous was that tree of victory, and I stained with sins wounded sorely with defects, I saw the tree of glory, honored with garments, shining joyously, adorned with gold. Gems had splendidly covered the Lords tree.

I was able, however, to perceive through the gold, the ancient hostility of wretched ones, [that] it first began 20 to bleed on the right side. I was all troubled with grief, I was afraid in the presence of that beautiful sight. I saw that noble beacon change its coverings and color; sometimes it was drenched with moisture, soaked with the flow of blood, sometimes adorned with treasure.

Nevertheless, I, lying a long time there, gazed troubled at the Saviors tree, until I heard it speak. The most excellent tree then began to speak the words: It was years ago (that, I still remember), that I was cut down from the edge of the forest, removed from my foundation. Strong enemies seized me there, they made me into a spectacle for themselves, commanded me to lift up their criminals.

Men carried me there on their shoulders, until they set me on a hill; many enemies secured me there. Then I saw mankind’s Lord hasten with great zeal, that he wished to climb upon me.

There, I did not dare break to pieces or bow down against the Lords words, when I saw the surface of the earth tremble. I was able to destroy all the enemies, nevertheless, I stood firmly.

The young hero stripped himself then (that was God Almighty), strong and resolute. He ascended onto the high gallows brave in the sight of many there he wished to release mankind.

I trembled when the man embraced me. However, I dared not bow down to the earth, fall to the surface of the earth, but I had to stand fast.

I was raised [as a] cross. I lifted up the mighty king, the lord of the heavens; I dared not bend down. They pierced me with dark nails. On me, the scars are visible, open malicious wounds. I did not dare injure any of them.

They mocked both of us, together. I was all drenched with blood, covered from the man’s side, after he had sent forth his spirit.

I endured many cruel event son that hill. I saw the Lord of Hosts severely stretched out. Darkness had covered the bright radiance of the Lords corpse with clouds a shadow went forth, dark under the sky. All of creation wept, they lamented the king’s death. Christ was on the cross.

Nevertheless, eager ones came there from afar to the prince. I beheld all that. Grievously I was afflicted with sorrow, yet I bowed to the hands of the men humble, with great zeal. There they took God Almighty, they lifted him up out of the oppressive torment. The warriors abandoned me to stand, covered with moisture; I was wounded very badly with arrows.

They laid him down there, weary-limbed; they positioned themselves at his body’s head, there they gazed at the Lord of heaven, and he, rested himself there for a while, weary after the great battle.

The men began to make a sepulcher for him in the sight of his slayer; they carved it out of bright stone; they put him, the Lord of Victories, therein. The wretched began to sing him a song of sorrow in the evening-time, and then they wanted to go again, wearily from the glorious prince. He rested there with little company.

Nevertheless, we stood in a fixed position, weeping for a good while, after the voice of the warriors went up. The corpse cooled, beautiful dwelling of the soul. Then they began to cut us all down to the earth. That was a dreadful event!

We were buried in a deep pit. However, the Lords disciples, friends, discovered me there, and adorned me [with] gold and silver.

Now you can hear, my beloved hero, what work of the evildoers that I have experienced the painful grief. The time is now come men over the earth and all this illustrious creation far and wide honor me they pray to this sign. On me, Gods son suffered a time.

Therefore, now I rise up glorious under the heavens, and I am able to heal each one of those who hold me in awe. Formerly, I was the most fierce of torments, most hateful to people, before I opened the right path of life to them, the speech-bearers.

Lo, the prince of glory, the guardian of the kingdom of the heavens, honored me over all the trees of the forest!  Just as he, Almighty God, before all men, honored his mother also, Mary herself, over all womankind. Now I command you, my beloved warrior, that you tell this vision to men, reveal in words that it is the tree of glory, on which Almighty God suffered for mankind’s many sins and Adam’s deeds of old. He tasted death there.

However, the Lord arose again to help men with his great power.

Then he ascended into the heavens. Hither again, the Lord, Himself, will set out into this world to seek mankind on the day of judgment, Almighty God and His angels with Him, since He who has power of judgment, He then will sentence each one, just as he shall have earned for himself here in this temporary life.

Nor can there be any unafraid there because of the words which the Lord shall say: He shall ask before the multitude, where the man might be, who for the name of the Lord would taste bitter death, as he did before on the cross. But then they fear, and few think of what to begin to say to Christ.

None needs to be afraid [of] of [he] who already bears on his breast the best of signs, but through the cross, each soul must seek the kingdom from the earthly way, those who intend to dwell with the Lord.

Then I prayed to the cross with friendly spirit, with great zeal, where I was alone with little company. My mind was impelled on the way hence, it experienced very many times of longing. Now this is my life’s joyous expectation that I may seek the tree of victory and honor [it] well most often of all men. The desire for that is great in my heart, and my patronage is directed to the cross. I do not have many powerful friends on earth, since they departed away hence from the joys of the world; they sought the King of Glory; now they live in the heavens with God the Father.

They dwell in glory, and each day I look forward to the time when the cross of the Lord that I previously saw here on the earth, in this temporary life, will fetch me, and will then bring me to where great bliss is, joy in the heavens, where the Lords people are seated at the feast, where perpetual joy is; then it may set me, where afterwards I might dwell in glory, with the saints to enjoy bliss well.

May the Lord be a friend to me, who suffered here on earth before on the gallows tree for men’s sins; he redeemed us and gave us life a heavenly home. Joy was restored with blessings and with bliss, for those who endured the fire there.

The Son was triumphant on that expedition, mighty and successful, when he came with the multitude, the host of souls, into Gods kingdom, the Lord Almighty. To the delight of the angels, and of all the saints, who in the heavens before dwelled in glory, when their Ruler, the Almighty God came, where his homeland was.

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