Welsh Government
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Historical manuscripts together for the first time

In an unique event at the National Library in Aberystwyth as the Culture and Sport Minister, John Griffiths officially opened an exhibition that brings together four iconic manuscripts for the first time in history.

Known as the Four Ancient Books of Wales, they were written in the 13th and 14th centuries and their contents deal with much of Wales’ early legends and literature.

According to the Minister, seeing the four books in one place is an opportunity that no-one should miss:

“We often talk about historical, unmissable events but this is undoubtedly one of those. This exhibition is a major achievement for the National Library, giving the people of Wales and beyond the chance to see, in one place, the books that many say are the backbone of Welsh culture and identity. I was delighted to be able to see them first hand and then discuss with local school children their importance to our life in Wales. It was a pleasure to hear that these medieval manuscripts still have the power to inspire the young people of today. I would encourage anyone to visit the Library to witness a piece of history.”

The four books are Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin, Llyfr Taliesin, Llyfr Aneirin and Llyfr Coch Hergest. While the first three now reside at the National Library (with Llyfr Aneirin on loan from Cardiff City Council), Llyfr Coch Hergest, the largest of its kind from the period is kept normally at Oxford University so this is the first time ever that all four can be viewed together.

Aled Jones, National Library of Wales Chief Executive and Librarian, says that while the focus will be on the four books, there are other treasures on view during the coming months:

“We are extremely excited about giving people the opportunity to view these iconic artefacts together for the first time. To enhance the experience of new visitors between now and March next year we are putting together a programme of events and activities to coincide with this exhibition. Thanks to financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this includes an opportunity to see a new version of the Boston manuscript of Hywel Dda’s laws and the Hendregadredd manuscript, which contains Dafydd ap Gwilym’s original handwriting.”

According to Maredudd ap Huw, the National Library’s Manuscript Librarian, the importance of the books is reflected in the fact that within their covers are references to our most common and well known myths and legends:

“Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin is one of the most important reference points for the Arthurian legends and the legend of Merlin. However it seems that the manuscript was written by an impoverished monk transcribing his favourite poems at different times in his life, and doing so on rough parchment paper, not the more sophisticated material used by wealthier scribes. In contrast Llyfr Aneirin contains what is thought to be Wales’s first recorded lullaby, Pais Dinogad. The varied contents of these documents are what makes them such fascinating historical records.” 

During his time at the Library the Minister met with Talybont schoolchildren who were on an educational fact finding visit to the Library and then went on to visit the Welsh Books Council headquarters and distribution centre.

The exhibition is at the National Library until 15 March 2014.

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