The Story of Gelert

Gelert is the name of a legendary dog which  has become entwined with the village of Beddgelert in Gwynedd. And if you don’t  already know it, the knowledge that the name of the village has been translated  as “Gelert’s Grave” might give you some clue where this story is going.
The inscription on the tomb down by the  river tells the story in both English and Welsh.

Gelert's Tomb

“In the 13 century Llewellyn, prince of Wales, had a place in  Beddgelert.
One day he went hunting without Gelert, “The Faithful Hound”, who was  unaccountably absent.
On Llewellyn’s return the truant, smeared in blood, sprang to meet his  master.
The prince alarmed hastened to find his son, and saw the infant’s cot  empty, the bedclothes and floor covered in blood.
The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound’s side, thinking it  had killed his heir.
The dogs dying yell was answered by a child’s cry.
Llewellyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed.
But nearby lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain.
The prince filled with remorse is said to have never smiled again.
He buried Gelert here.
The spot is called Beddgelert.

It is a touching story of course and an important Welsh Folk tales.  However, things are never quite what they seem.  It is more likely to be an early  equivalent of a modern urban myth. The name of  the village for example is probably a reference to Saint Kilart or Celert,  rather than any faithful and vigilant dog.
Also the dog’s grave mound, which can be found just  south of the village, on  the footpath which follows the river Glaslyn  is more likely to be the work of the landlord of the Goat Hotel in Beddgelert  in the late eighteenth century. His name was David Pritchard and his motive was  simply to boost the tourist trade by connecting an old folk tale with the  village.
Of course this  is not unusual. This is what happened in France in the village of Rennes le  Chateau, where a hotel owner used rumours and speculation to boost his own  business and in doing so created a conspiracy industry that lead directly to  “The Da Vinci Code.”
The story of the  faithful dog appears in many different cultures .We will never know whether  they are all variants of the same story so we can never know which one came  first. Was it the Welsh story? Or was it the native American version? Or  perhaps it originated in the Alps where a shepherd kills his sheepdog which he  finds covered in blood. Naturally it had been protecting the flock from a wolf,  not indulging in a forbidden snack. In India the story involves a mongoose that  kills a snake and is wrongly punished just like Gelert, and in Malaysia the  story is about a tame bear that protects a child from a ravenous tiger and is  killed for his efforts.
Did the stories  evolve separately  in different cultures,  bringing together grief, anger and guilt in a gripping plot designed for  children? Who can tell? But certainly the story of Gelert is not unique.
It doesn’t  matter. It has been a fruitful subject for artists, poets and other writers and  if it attracts people to a beautiful part of North Wales then it really doesn’t  matter much. And certainly as a story it will run and run…

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