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St. Afrella alias Arilda
(Born c.AD 448)
(Latin: Abrelda; English: April)

St. Afrella was doubly the aunt of St. Samson, the famous Bishop of Dol in Brittany. She was the sister of his mother, St. Anna of Oxenhall (Glos), and her husband, Umbraphel, was the brother of Samson's father, Amon Ddu (the Black). Afrella & Umbraphel had three sons before Samson's birth. The eldest was St. Maglor, another was the Bishop's companion, Henwg. Next to nothing is known of Afrella, although she appears in the reliable 'Life' of her nephew written in the early 7th century. Not even her parentage is recorded. She was supposedly the daughter of a high-ranking official at the Royal Court of Gwent, although her sister is probably to be identified with the daughter of King Vortimer Fendigaid (the Blessed) of Gwerthefyriwg (an early name for that same kingdom).

When Samson persuaded his parents to give up their worldly life and retire to the cloister, Afrella & Umbraphel decided to do the same. Amwn & Umbraphel accompanied Samson to the monastery on Ynys Byr (Caldey Island), while their two wives appear to have made foundations in the eastern portion of their old homeland of Gwent (now Gloucestershire). Peter C. Bartrum suggests that Afrella might be the little known St. Arilda and this would seem a likely identification.

St. Arilda has dedications at Oldbury-on-Severn & Oldbury-on-the-Hill in Gloucestershire. She is recorded as a 'virgin and martyr' with a feast day on 20th July and the 16th century travel-journalist, John Leland, tells us that she was "martyred at Kington by Thornbury . by one Muncius, a tyrant who cut off her head because she would not consent to lie with him". Her late 13th century hymn, still used at Oldbury-on-the-Severn, tells us that she three times fought the power of such sins.

Kington (in Oldbury-on-Severn parish) is the site of St. Arilda's Well which stains the surrounding stones red, according to local tradition because her blood is still present in the water (it is actually a form of red algae). Presumably, this is where she lived and died, her body later being transferred to the hill-top parish church. Oldbury-on-Severn has a circular churchyard indicating its ancient, possibly pagan, origins. It has been a well-known marine navigation marker for centuries and Roman remains have been uncovered there.

Some time after the Norman Conquest, Arilda's body was translated to St. Peter's Abbey in Gloucester (now the Cathedral). She was enshrined in the crypt and attracted many pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, all the relics in the crypt were gathered together and buried in one of the adjoining side-chapels; and, in the early 20th century, they were transferred to an unmarked grave in the Cathedral precincts.

A few minor memorials to Arilda still survive in Gloucester Cathedral. The central niche on the extreme south edge of the reredos of the Lady Chapel once held a statue of St Arilda, and the mason's aide-memoire can still be seen scratched into the stone there. Rushforth has also suggested that she appears, with St. Lawrence, in the ancient glass in the east window of the same chapel.

 

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