In the year 616, Aethelfrith, King of Northumbria, defeated a Welsh army at the Battle of Chester and slaughtered the monks, at nearby Bangor-Is-Coed, who had been praying for his defeat. This mutilated manuscript, stained with what appears to be blood, is said to have been discovered there amid piles of human bones.
Unfortunately, this dramatic legend cannot be true. The manuscript is a copy of the Distinctiones Theologicae, a collection of short articles on theological subjects composed by the Italian scholar Peter of Capua, which cannot have been written before the end of the 12th century.
It was given to St David's College in 1836 by the retired surgeon Thomas Phillips, who eventually donated more than 22,000 books and manuscripts. These had to be shipped from London to Carmarthen and then carted the remaining 23 miles along rough roads to Lampeter. Thanks to this donation, St David's library became the most important collection of books and manuscripts in England and Wales outside Oxbridge.
What was St David's is now being merged with Trinity University College to form what will shortly become the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Tests are yet to reveal whether the striking pale red marks are really blood.
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