Twenty years ago, I entered Jesus College, Oxford as a student of Celtic Studies. My course director was Professor D. Ellis Evans, a scholarly giant, ambassador of Welsh culture, and one-time Vice-President of the National Library of Wales.
It was Professor Evans who first led me to the contents of the Red Book of Hergest, one of Jesus College’s most valuable treasures, and one of the greatest – in terms of size and importance – of medieval Welsh manuscripts. It is in the Red Book that one finds the stanzas of Llywarch Hen, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s eulogy by Gruffudd ap yr Ynad Coch, the earliest text of the Physicians of Myddfai, and the only copy of the Dream of Rhonabwy.
The Red Book also contains our remarkable native tales known as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, recorded for his patron in the handwriting of Hywel Fychan.
It was in Oxford that I was introduced to the contents of the Red Book, but visitors to the National Library of Wales during the next six months will be able to enjoy the same privilege without leaving Wales. At the end of this week, the Red Book of Hergest – one of Wales’s greatest treasures – will travel from Oxford to Aberystwyth for our new 4 Books exhibition. This will be the manuscript’s second visit to Wales since it went into exile in 1701.
From a note of joy, we turn to sadness: the day after the Red Book’s journey, the funeral of Professor Ellis Evans will be held in Oxford. May he rest in peace.
Maredudd ap Huw