In the tales
the Goddess Ffraid sailed
across the sea to Wales
on green turf,
landing at Porth y Capel.
She was fleeing from her father Dipdacws.
He had chosen me a husband—
for his ambitions, not mine!
And so one autumn night,
when the moon was full,
she bolted from her father like a hare.
Swift and sure she sprinted under silver light
across the heath and bracken.
I could hear them coming closer,
hoof beats pounding,
Closer, closer at my heels.
With her father and his men chasing behind her,
Ffraid flew towards the sea.
And when she reached the edge of land,
a steep cliff lunged before her.
There was no where left to go.
Her heart was pounding.
Her lungs were burning.
I could feel their hot breath upon me.
And then . . .
that piece of turf she stood on,
And it crackled!
And it tumbled forward off the edge of the cliff.
It carried me down on to the sea.
and in this way,
I floated free.
Ffraid drifted on the sea for many days and nights.
She drifted for so long that the dirt and sod of the turf beneath her
began to dissolve
and the cold seawater rose around her.
I would not die,
I could not die!
I chose to shimmer silver-skinned and finned.
Ffraid became a flashing silver salmon—
kelp and saltwater sprayed.
She was the joy of all things wet and wild and free—
a miracle gift of that remembered by the sea.
Many more full moons looked upon me
while I swam though winter water so gloriously cold
that shards of ice crystals
floated in it.
It felt like exultation.
And then one blinding blue
spring silver morning,
Ffraid reached the shores of Wales.
She swam among the rushes
in the River Conwy
as the water hummed and rippled
with newborn salmon
traveling from their spawning to the sea.
They called to me to swim with them,
but I declined.
They were all instinct and innocence—
not like me.
Ffraid waited until the last young salmon
slipped by with a flash of his tail.
The water was warming from the sun
and the shadows of the rushes moved slowly
across the surface above her.
And in that moment,
her silver scales began to drift away
and floated among the watercress like sparlings.
Sweet silver smelts without a single bone they were
like bright stars shining in the water.
She felt the fins slip off her limbs
and rising to the surface,
she let sweet breath fill her lungs once more.
She lifted her face toward the sun
and stepped up on to shore.
* * *
They say that Ffraid became
a Goddess Saint in Wales
the likes of Bridget.
And many tales were told
of wonders of abundance
she was known for—
Butter from ashes,
and honey from a stone.
She once fed a hungry village
the cheese in a steward’s store.
But not so much as was ever missed by him.
And though the earth became her home again,
the water still held her memory.
And when the rains pour down
I feel the sea’s alchemy in my blood
and I throw my white winnowing sheet
on the sunbeams.
Sant Ffraid Leian (St. Ffraid, the Nun) is virtually unknown now, but she was highly renowned in medieval Wales during the 7th and 8th centuries. Most of what we know about her is from a poem written in her honour over 800 years later by Iorweth Fynglwyd (c. 1480-1527), a Welsh poet. According to her legend, she traveled across the Irish Sea on a piece of turf (sod) to escape a marriage arranged by her father, the Duke Dipdacws (pron. Dubtach). She is credited for many miracles of abundance such as turning rushes into sparlings (smelt), feeding an entire village from the cheese stores of a miserly merchant, procuring honey from a stone and transforming ashes into butter. Water is clearly her element—she is associated with the rivers Cyfi and Conwy in Wales (both renowned for salmon and trout). The stones of many churches and wells are dedicated to Sant Ffraid.
Williams, Robert (1835) History and Antiquities of Aberconwy Denbigh, pp. 198-200.
Baring-Gould, Sabine and Fisher, John (1907-1913) Lives of the British Saints, 4 vols, London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, vol 1, p.288