Thursday, March 01, 2018

Discovering Merlin's Castle


I have found the location of Merlin's castle on an ancient medieval map created by a a Benedictine monk in the 13th Century. Unfortunately, while I was busy packing up my bullwhip, fedora, satchel and leather jacket, I remembered that my discovery wasn't exactly new. My search for the Holy Grail has therefore been postponed once again.

The Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge is currently holding an exhibition called Worlds Real and Imagined. The exhibition looks at early depictions of the world in the library's medieval manuscripts collection and oldest printed books. The exhibition includes Mather Paris' map of Scotland, Northern England and Wales. On which can be found Merlin's town.

If you can get to Cambridge then you can view the manuscripts and books yourself in the Wilkins Room of the Parker Library. If you can't get to Cambridge in person then don't worry as you can actually view the texts in far closer detail online. The Stanford library's curated feature on Worlds Real and Imagined includes digitized versions of all the manuscripts and books in the exhibition, which can be examined using the Mirador image viewer.

Among the maps in the exhibition is Matthew Paris' map showing the journey from London to the Holy Land (from the Chronica Maiora), Gerald of Wales' simple map of the British Isles (from Topographia Hiberniae) and a map of the Holy Land (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville). My favorite map in the collection is Matthew Paris' map of Northern England, Wales and Scotland (the Midlands and the South of England appear to have been lost).

This is one of four maps of Great Britain drawn by the 13th-century monk historian Matthew Paris. The map shows Hadrian's Wall, with Scotland lying to the north. The map also depicts Wales, where you can find Caermardin or Merlin's town (in some versions of the Arthurian legend Merlin was born in a cave outside Carmarthen).


You can find the reference to Merlin in the bottom left-hand corner of the map. The Welsh town now called Carmarthen is labelled on Maththew Paris' map as 'caermerdin id est civitas Merlini'. Translated from Latin this says 'Caermerdin, i.e. the city of Merlin'.

The etymology of the Welsh town of Carmarthen at a stretch could derive from 'caer Myrddin' meaning Merlin's castle. However the etymology of Carmarthen is more generally believed to have derived from the Roman name for the town Moridunum, meaning 'sea fort'. It has been suggested that Myrddin (Merlin) got his name from the town (Caermyrddin) - in other words rather than the town having been named after Merlin, Merlin actually derived his name from the town.

You can read more about King Arthur's connections to Wales and Merlin's connections to Carmarthen in Visit Wales's Discover King Arthur’s Wales.
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