Christmas Place Names
Since Christianity came to Wales so early, and Christmas has therefore been celebrated here for almost 1700 years, it’s no surprise that the feast has had an effect on the place names of the country.
Due to the nonconformist tendency to name their chapels after places mentioned in the Bible, the majority of these Christmas place names are the names of chapels. This is the reason there are so many places called Bethlehem or Nazareth in Wales, both individual chapels, and villages named after their chapel, such as Bethlehem in the parish of Llangadog, Carmarthenshire. The List of Historic Place Names includes 35 places throughout Wales called Bethlehem, most of them being chapels. It also contains a field called Park Bethlehem in 1841, in the village of Pwll-trap, Carmarthenshire. The field is next to Capel Bethlehem, and most likely belonged to the chapel.
There’s also another field called Bethlehem outside Caergwrle in Flintshire. This time there’s no chapel called Bethlehem in the area, but the field borders on Bedlam Lane, which is most likely a corruption of Bethlehem, as in the case of the famous London asylum, originally names the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. We also have an interesting example of a farm name from Caernarfonshire, Glan-Bethlehem in Llanllechid parish. The farm is across the road from Capel Bethlehem.
Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his family came from Nazareth, and so that place has also left its mark on the Welsh landscape, giving us 17 places called Nazareth or Nasareth. Once again, most of them are chapels.
The word Nadolig (Christmas in Welsh), also appears amongst the country’s place names, with Castell Nadolig in Penbryn, Ceredigion, being probably the most well-known. Castell Nadolig is a hillfort overlooking Cardigan Bay which is believed to have been an important centre in the last centuries before the Roman conquest. Iwan Wmffre noted in Place Names of Cardiganshire that the names is recorded as ‘Kastell yn Dolig’ in a 1571/2 manuscript, and the Gogerddan Estate Records give it the modern form in 1594.
For more information on this site, please see an earlier blog by Dr Toby Driver, which discusses the pair of pre-Christian divination spoons discovered in the nineteenth century.
There are two other places with the name ‘Nadolig’, a farm called Castell-nadolig in Orllwyn Teifi, Ceredigion, and a field in Pentrefoelas called ‘Pant Nadolig.’
We also have some English language place names on a Christmas theme, such as Holy Nativity Church in Penarth, built as an Anglican mission church in 1893-4 and Christmas Wood near Myddfai, Carmarthenshire.
For further details of all place names in Wales, explore our List of Historic Place Names https://historicplacenames.rcahmw.gov.uk/. It provides a fascinating insight into the land-use, archaeology and history of Wales!
Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda from everyone at the Royal Commission.
By Dr James January-McCann, Place Names Officer