Meddygon Myddfai – The Physicians of Myddfai were pioneers of modern medicine through herbalism in the twelfth century. Contrary to the prevalent view that medieval times were ‘The Dark Ages’, they were in fact when the first universities were being founded and monastic schools established.
A range of new knowledge was becoming available; including medical texts. Myddfai was one such centre. The Welsh prince Lord Rhys (1132 – 1197); ruler of the kingdom known as Deheubarth in South Wales, sponsored the monasteries of Talley and Strata Florida around 1177 AD. These abbeys were schools and hospitals of herbal medicine.
Talley was founded in the 1180s by Rhys ap Gruffydd (‘The Lord Rhys’, native ruler of the south Wales kingdom of Deheubarth) for the monks of the Premonstratensian order. As the Premonstratensians are not monks but canons regular, their work often involves preaching and the exercising of pastoral ministry. They frequently serve in parishes close to their abbeys or priories).
Strata Florida (Abaty Ystrad Fflur) is a former Cistercian abbey founded in 1164. Strats Florida is a Latinisation of the Welsh Ystrad Fflur; ‘Valley of Flowers’. The Welsh word ystrad is synonymous with strath and dale. While fflur (“flower”) is also the name of the nearby river. The princely Dinefwr family of Deheubarth transferred their patronage to Strata Florida in the early C12th, and interred many of their family members there.
It is at these monasteries that the Physicians of Myddfai would have acquired a lot of their practical skills of herbal medicine. The scholasticism of the monks too would have encouraged writing their recipes down.
Rhiwallon being the most able practitioner became the eminent personal physician to Lord Rhys at Dinefwr. Together with his three sons; Cadwgan, Griffith and Einon they were rewarded with land around Myddfai. In addition they were also awarded the emminent accolade Meddygon Myddfai – The Physicians of Myddfai.
The parish of Myddfai is in modern day Carmarthenshire, Wales.
The family continued to follow the profession until 1739. When John Jones, the last of the line of physicians in the direct male line, died.
Instructions for preparing herbal medicine attributed to the family have survived in the Red Book of Hergest. Which dates from the late 14th century, and in other, more recent, Welsh manuscripts. It is from this manuscript that their ‘Materia Medica‘ originated.