Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mistletoe disappearing

Rustlers kissing mistletoe goodbye - icWales

KISSES under the mistletoe could be rare in Wales this Christmas because rustlers are killing off what's left of the threatened festive plant, conservationists warned yesterday.

Mistletoe used to be widespread throughout Monmouthshire, and was fairly common in Torfaen and Newport, especially in orchards, hedgerows and ancient trees.

But due to its rising commercial value, mistletoe is being stolen and sold at markets to unwitting members of the public.

It is being lost through too-aggressive pruning from the host trees it grows on and is being killed off together when old hedgerows and orchards are ripped out.

Gemma Bode, Gwent Wildlife Trust conservation manager, said, "There are cases of 'mistletoe rustling', and once the whole plant has been removed from its host tree it won't grow back again because of its quite complex life cycle.

"But the real culprit is loss of habitat - old orchards.

"Apple trees are the plant's favourite hosts and we have lost a lot of old orchards either due to individual landowners clearing them, seeing no value to them anymore, or to make way for new houses and roads. We are not sure how much mistletoe is affected by its annual 'cut'.

"But if people have mistletoe on trees they should obviously not take the whole plant but just little cuttings.

"We want people to appreciate how mistletoe got on to the tree and the fact that it is becoming less common now."

Good crops of mistletoe can still be found in parts of Monmouthshire and the trust stresses it doesn't want people to stop taking cuttings but to be sure they do not take the whole plant.

Mistletoe is not usually harmful to the plants on which it grows and its berries are an important source of winter food for thrushes and other birds.

The trust is urging land-owners and farmers to work with their local authority and ecologist, to help protect mistletoe from the threats it faces. Mistletoe berries help birds survive the winters when other food is scarce.

The Druids believed that mistletoe could perform miracles, from providing fertility to humans and animals to healing diseases and protecting people from witchcraft.

They would cut mistletoe off oak trees in a special ceremony after the winter solstice.

The correct mistletoe etiquette is for a man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there is no more kissing underneath that sprig.

Cherish mistletoe or kiss it goodbye

Mistletoe comes into our homes once a year at Christmas, and has its own day, December 1, to celebrate one of our most unusual plants. Here Steven Rogers, conservation officer with Gwent Wildlife Trust, considers the unusual role this plant plays in our lives and the threats it now faces

MISTLETOE is one of Britain's best-known, but least understood plants and at Christmas time we all look forward to, or brace ourselves for "a kiss under the mistletoe". But, it's at this time of year that mistletoe is most under threat.

Mistletoe used to be very common throughout the old county of Monmouthshire, and was fairly common in Torfaen and Newport, especially in orchards, hedgerows and ancient trees.

However, due to its commercial value, mistletoe is "rustled" - that is stolen - and sold to unwitting members of the public.

But, it's not only at Christmas time that mistletoe is threatened. It is also being lost through pruning from the trees where it grows, trees containing mistletoe may be cut down on building sites or for new roads, and the removal of farm hedgerows and orchards has also led to it being less widespread.

Mistletoe is not usually harmful to the plants on which it grows and its berries are an important source of winter food for thrushes and other birds.

So, if you are lucky enough to have mistletoe on your land, do not cut it from your trees or hedges (although, a small amount for Christmas will be OK).

And, if friends and neighbours have it on their land, tell them it's precious and should be looked after.

Most importantly of all, report the presence of mistletoe to the ecologist at your local authority. They can then offer advice on how you can help protect it from the threats it faces.

Mistletoe got its name in the second century from the Anglo Saxon Mistle (=dung) and Tan (=twig). It is a parasitic plant of trees, particularly hardwoods like oak and apple, and it is easy to spot in winter because its leaves stay green all year round.

The latin name Viscum album refers to the berries which are white (album) and these contain a sticky viscous fluid (Viscum).

It spreads via birds, especially flocks of winter thrushes, who eat the berries and in turn deposit their seed-rich droppings as they move from tree to tree. The birds also help spread the seed by wiping their beaks on the tree bark to clean off the sticky seeds after they've eaten.

Mistletoe is familiar to everyone at Christmas time, but it also has a history deeply embedded in ancient lore.

The Druids believed that it could perform miracles, from providing fertility to humans and animals to healing diseases and protecting people from witchcraft. They would cut mistletoe off oak trees in a special ceremony following the winter solstice.

Priests gave out the mistletoe sprigs to the people, who believed they would then be kept safe from evil spirits and storms.

They also saw it as a sexual symbol, because of the consistency and colour of the berry juice.

So, why do we kiss under the mistletoe? This tradition could have come from either the Viking association of the plant with Frigga, the goddess of love, or from the ancient belief that mistletoe enhances fertility.

The correct mistletoe etiquette is for a man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there is no more kissing underneath that plant. It was believed that an unmarried woman not kissed under the mistletoe would remain single for another year.

Mistletoe also has reputed medicinal powers traced back to the fifth century BC.

It has been used to treat hypertension and osteoarthritis. Together with blackthorn it was used to strengthen the "tired", weakened heart. It was also used for attacks of dizziness, epileptic states and as an ointment for sores and festering wounds.

More recently, laboratory studies have suggested that mistletoe may enhance the activity of the immune system so that it releases more of the chemicals that damage cancer cells.

But, it is also a poison and eating mistletoe can cause severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea, and in some cases can be fatal.

So, mistletoe is valuable to us for many reasons: it provides the opportunity for a kiss at Christmas, it's a traditional, but diminishing part of the countryside, its berries help birds survive the winters when other food is scarce and it may prove to be a very important medicine

If you have lots of mistletoe on your land or in your area, your local authority ecologist would like to know. If you would like to know more about how to protect mistletoe, Gwent Wildlife Trust or your local authority biodiversity officer can provide you with a leaflet that covers all the facts. Alternatively, you can visit our website at

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dozens of UFOs reported over Wales - icWales

Dozens of UFOs reported over Wales - icWales

DOZENS of UFOs that the Ministry of Defence cannot explain have been sighted in Wales in the past three years, the release of confidential papers has revealed.

The MoD confirmed that a green, circular object seen hovering in one position over Mumbles in January 2002 was classed as a UFO.

And another bright object seen hovering over West Swansea in January of this year is also being put down as a UFO.

However, Julie Monk of the Ministry of Defence's Directorate of Air Staff made it clear a UFO classification simply meant no rational explanation for a sighting could be found, not that it was extra-terrestrial in origin.

MoD figures show 28 reports of UFO sightings in Wales in the past three years cannot be explained.

The close encounters include a black object hovering over Rhyl, a flying disc over Newport and a spinning craft with legs spotted in the skies above Rhondda.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that there were seven sightings in 2002, eight in 2003, four in 2004 and nine so far this year.

Whitehall-based Mrs Monk said, "The MoD examines any reports of UFOs it receives solely to establish whether what was seen might have some defence significance.

"That is, whether there is any evidence the UK's airspace might have been compromised by an unauthorised aircraft.

"Unless there is evidence of a potential threat to the UK from some external source, and to date no UFO report has revealed such evidence, we do not attempt to identify the precise nature of each sighting."

Mrs Monk said rational explanations could be found for such sightings but it would be "an inappropriate use of defence resources" to go into great depth on each report.

Instead, a number of the reports are simply classed as UFOs and a database of sightings in Wales has now been built up from 2002 onwards.

Because of the large number of reports before 2002, the MoD says the cost of examining, logging and placing them all on a database would be too expensive.

The MoD holds reports of UFOs in Wales going back 25 years.

Cardiff-based UFO researcher Chris Fowler said, "There are credible sightings of unidentified objects in the sky.

"Either these are our craft, which means we've got technology far more powerful than the ones most of us know about, or else they're somebody else's. I don't know more than that."

There have been a number of UFO watching groups in Wales including the Welsh Federation of Independent Ufologists.

The strangest report given to the federation involved a family travelling by car to the Great Orme on November 10, 1997.

They could not account for several "lost" hours when they suddenly became aware of resuming their journey, according to investigator Margaret Fry.

She was told of their account by a friend of the family.

Margaret says the couple and their children where driving on the Bodfair/Landernog road when they found their car engulfed by a purple triangular craft.

The next thing they remember is the purple craft had gone.

She said, "But they could not account for considerable hours of time lost.

"The father was having trouble afterwards with a top molar tooth and he had to go to the dentist.

"A black unknown object fell out while he was at the dentist ... but he had no fillings."

There was a raft of "cigar- shaped object" sightings in Pembrokeshire in the 1970s which prompted an RAF inquiry.

And in January 1974 there were reports a spacecraft "as big as the Albert Hall" landed in the Berwyn Mountains.

Last year, Alison Moore, 26, took footage of a floating disc in the sky above her Trehafod, Rhondda, home.

Although astronomer Mark Griffiths said "it could have been Venus" he said the incident deserved further investigation.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Wicca in Wales

Professionals spell the end for hag-ridden witchcraft - icWales

THOUSANDS of children - and adults - across Wales will be dressing up for Hallowe'en.

But minus the stereotype of cloaks and pointy hats, Wales still has modern-day covens of witches.

They meet in forest clearings to worship pagan gods and goddesses and have been described in a TV series exploring Wales' links with the Otherworld.

Anglesey is revealed as a hotbed of paganism where witches regularly meet to call on the spirits of the earth, using symbolic props like broomsticks, daggers and cauldrons.

And followers like Kris Hughes, who holds down a professional job by day, have spoken of turning their backs on Christianity to find new fulfilment in the world of the Wicca.

The series Blas Y Cynfyd (A Taste of the Ancient World) has explored the myths and realities behind our images of witches - as evil, satanic crones who put their alleged powers to no good.

Mr Hughes, a high priest of a group of witches on Anglesey, formerly studied in Bible College but found it unfulfilling.

He has been involved in paganism for 15 years and says, "I now live as a pagan - it is my life. It was the answer to the black hole in my mind. The church could not fill it.

"To be honest I have never been so happy."

He says his beliefs revolve around cause and consequence, and adds, "We have to take responsibility in our lives, in the way we treat everything, even plants and animals."

He is seen leading a group of chanting followers, mostly women, as well as demonstrating paraphernalia like knives and chalices.

But it is a long way from when witches were burnt at the stake by church and state - although some institutions such as St David's College still refused to take part in the filming.

The image of the witch has undergone transformations over the centuries, from the wretched old hags of Shakespeare's Macbeth to the sparky Hermione in the Harry Potter books.

Eirlys Gruffydd, author of Gwrachod Cymru (Witches of Wales), said, "The traditional idea is of a witch as a haggard old lady with her crooked nose and her boils, who hates everyone and damns and curses.

"But she can also be a white witch who used potions for positive outcomes.

"Historically, witches always walked a fine line between holding the respect and the fear of the common people. They needed their skills with herbs but they also feared their powers."

The programme was produced by Michael Bayley Hughes, for Teleg TV, who said learning about witchcraft was fascinating but strange to imagine in his native Wales.

"I was familiar with witchcraft in Africa and South America but it was an eye-opener to film witches on my home island of Anglesey," he said.

"I have heard that there are around 13 covens on Anglesey alone. They still suffer a lot of prejudice. I did not know what to expect and was nervous.

"But Kris explained everything and I think we were fair in representing his beliefs.

"It is easy to be reactionary but it is what they believe; so why is that any different from Christianity?"

Blas y Cynfyd, Sundays, 10pm, S4C

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Celtica to close

The seed of an idea that never germinated

Mid Wales is to lose one of its ambitious tourist attractions after its funding was pulled this week. Rhodri Clark explains why he always thought the project was doomed

THE decision by Powys County Council to close Celtica in Machynlleth is a shame. There was the seed of a great idea in Celtica, but sadly it never germinated.

The venture was announced by some excited men in suits at a press conference more than a decade ago. I covered the event for the Western Mail and remember puncturing the euphoria with a question about the number of original Celtic artefacts to be displayed at the new centre, pictured right. None, was the answer.

The promoters set great store by the fact that Celtica was designed by the man responsible for the successful Jorvik Viking centre in York. But at Jorvik the hi-tech gadgetry is the icing on an historic cake, not the cake itself.

Visitors take a slow funfair-type ride around the actual foundations of Viking buildings, learning as they go about Viking history and the story of the foundations' discovery and conservation. At the end there's a fascinating museum packed with (hornless) helmets, coins and games found at the site.

The officials behind the Celtica concept, mainly councillors and officers of Montgomeryshire District Council, chose not to see the difference.

After the press conference, where I also had the temerity to ask if Machynlleth had enough tourists to make Celtica viable, I was asked to provide positive coverage, as if the headline would make or break it.

I visited Celtica soon after it opened in 1995, with what I hope was an open mind. Visitors walked from room to room to see dioramas of different aspects of Celtic life. At the end there was a video, which included footage of children at the Urdd Eisteddfod and views from an aircraft swooping over Snowdonia, to the rather banal backing of Dafydd Iwan singing Ry'n ni yma o hyd (We're still here).

Some of the information at the diorama stage was interesting . But overall I was left with a sense that Celtica was too focused on Welsh identity, rather than putting Wales in its international historic context.

The most interesting exhibit in Celtica was a book fixed to a shelf, which did explain about Celts internationally. But visitors weren't paying the admission fee to read a book.

Celtica might have worked had it either been in an area of mass tourism or held some genuine Celtic treasures, which would have enticed people off the beaten track.

There was great potential in the concept of a centre devoted to Celtic culture and history. It could have featured interactive displays showing how Celtic artists used symbolism, perhaps with a facility for kids and big kids to compile their own Celtic images on a computer.

There could have been displays to show how Celts across Europe influenced modern-day European and other languages, place names and cultures.

Imaginative features on the contribution of the Celtic diaspora to the US and other countries could have pulled in the expats, including perhaps the lucrative Irish-American trade.

I can't say, "I told you so" now that Celtica is to close in March 2006. I didn't expect it to last this long.

Its longevity is not down to success, however. It needed 90,000 visitors in its first year, rising to 110,000, but the most it ever received in a year was 34,000. It has always operated at a loss.

The main lesson to be drawn from the venture is that local authorities aren't very good at establishing tourism and leisure attractions. Montgomeryshire isn't the only culprit. Huge debts were run up in the mid-1990s on ill-conceived upgrades to the seafronts at Rhyl and Prestatyn, for example.

To see how it can be done, you only need to take the short trip to Corris, where an entrepreneur has set up a tour of an abandoned slate mine.

Instead of telling the history of slate mining, King Arthur's Labyrinth presents bits of the Arthurian legends in an unusual, entertaining way. The kids love it, and it's a fair bet the Americans do, too.

King Arthur's Labyrinth was made on a shoestring, compared with the millions spent on Celtica, but the concept was sound and every penny is made to work.

Friday, July 8, 2005

icNorthWales - Ancient UFOs on a deadly mission

icNorthWales - Ancient UFOs on a deadly mission

Jul 7 2005

Wales Of The Unexpected With Richard Holland, Daily Post

UFO sightings are the stuff of science fiction and as such it would be a reasonable assumption that they are modern phenomena. But this is not necessarily the case.

In Welsh folklore, for example, there are examples of "tan-we", strange lights which would come down from the heavens and land near houses where people were doomed to die.

Once strongly believed in in Wales were Corpse Candles (Cannwyllau Corff), supernatural lights said to appear in the homes of the dying or be seen floating down country lanes at night, making their way to the parish burial ground along the same route subsequently taken by a funeral.

One year the area around Barmouth became famous for mysterious lights in the sky - what today we might call UFOs, but which the inhabitants back then considered death omens. The Barmouth lights achieved a lot more attention than the usual stories because they coincided with a major religious revival.

In 1905 national newspaper reporters descended on the seaside town - cynically, no doubt, expecting to write about a bunch of superstitious peasants in the back of beyond. But many returned to London impressed with the UFO-like phenomena described by reliable witnesses.

Of these, there are two well-attested accounts of sightings of mysterious lights which, in both cases, appeared to predict a death.

In the first a party of people walking on the south side of the Mawddach estuary saw a strange light at the ferry house of Penrhyn. One description has it that the light appeared to be inside the cottage and shining through the windows; the other that it shone outside the house and was similar in appearance to the glow of a bonfire. At any rate, the light had vanished by the time they reached the ferry house.

When they returned to Barmouth, they learnt people there had seen the light, too. A few nights afterwards, the man who lived at the cottage fell into the estuary at high tide while stepping off a boat, and drowned.

The second incident took place that same winter. Lights were seen dancing in the air by people on both banks of the estuary. At Borthwyn or Borthwnog - depending on which account you read - many people gathered to watch the lights.

After a while all but one of them disappeared. This one descended to a little bay where some boats were moored, and some men in a sloop which was anchored there also saw it. The light hovered over one particular boat and then vanished. Days later the man to whom that boat belonged drowned in Barmouth harbour.

* Please send your stories to: Richard Holland, Wales of the Unexpected, 2 Alyn Bank Cottages, Llong, Mold, Flintshire CH7 4JR. If you would like a reply, please include an SAE. E-mail

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

UFO fan Chris digs up real-life X-Files - icWales

UFO fan Chris digs up real-life X-Files - icWales

The truth is out there - perhaps lurking in a detached house in Rumney, Cardiff.

A South Wales UFO fan has dug up the real-life X-files thanks to a new law allowing access to Government information.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, 34-year-old Chris Fowler obtained a detailed 107-page Ministry of Defence report into a night when 70 UFO sightings were reported across Britain - including South Wales.

The sightings were taken so seriously that high-level consultations were carried out to see if it could have been top-secret trials of American stealth aircraft.

Chris, who has been interested in UFOs for many years, was delighted with his discovery. He said: 'Ninety per cent of UFO stuff is rubbish but there is a good deal that is really interesting and just cannot be explained away. Everyone should know about stuff like this as it's not enough just to dismiss it out of hand as so many people do.'

One witness, a Met officer at RAF Shrewsbury, saw an object the size of a jumbo jet projecting a narrow beam of light at the ground from a height of 400 to 500 foot over his head.

The report released to him contains maps of the sightings on March 31, 1993, police reports, correspondence, witness statements.

The author's name has been blanked out, but he wrote: 'There are a number of factors that make these sightings unusual. There is a great deal of commonality in many of the sightings and the reliability of the witnesses, a good deal of whom were police officers and military personnel. My staff have made extensive efforts to find an explanation... yet no requests for 'unauthorised activity' have been acknowledged to be received.'

A senior officer confirmed to him that it could not have been the American stealth project Aurora, which the US has never admitted to owning.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fort shows what we did for Roman army - icWales

Fort shows what we did for Roman army - icWales

Ancient Welsh history has been turned on its head by the discovery of a huge Roman fort.

Archaeologists using special equipment to scan underneath the countryside have confirmed that a 2,000-year-old settlement at Dinefwr in Carmarthenshire would have been a huge centre of Roman military might.

Spanning an area greater than two rugby pitches, it indicates controlling our ancestors was far harder work than had previously been believed.

Emma Plunkett Dillon, the National Trust in Wales's archaeologist, said, 'At Dinefwr we appear to have one of the most significant Roman archaeological landscapes in Wales preserved under the turf and invisible on the surface.

'The forts are shown to be associated with roads, a civilian settlement and a possible bathhouse and the quality is remarkable.

'The site has the potential to enhance and possibly rewrite our understanding of the Roman conquest of Wales.'

Remains were initially discovered in 2003, but only now has it been brought to light just how large the settlement is.

Two overlapping Roman forts at the site almost certainly date to the 1st century AD.

The later fort was surrounded by an impressive set of defences. The earlier fort was even bigger and could be the largest garrison fort ever found in Wales.

The forthcoming dig is part of a project to restore the landscape of Dinefwr Park and Castle.

Gwilym Hughes, of Cambria Archaeology, said, 'The discovery could transform our understanding of the Roman conquest of South-West Wales and our intention is to determine the character of the buried archaeology through this work.

'Although we can tell a lot from the geophysical survey, excavation will provide the critical dating evidence from items such as coins and pottery that may confirm when the forts were built and abandoned.'

The organisation's Dr Nikki Cook added, 'We knew about the Roman settlements in the area, but this means the idea that most of the Welsh were happy about Roman occupation does not ring true.

'They wouldn't have had such a huge military facility, with the ability to contain so many legionaries, if they didn't need them.

'Most of the population were eventually Romanised, because there were a lot of benefits to it, but it may not be until a lot later than we had thought.'

Tony Robinson and the Time Team will be filming live from the excavation on July 2 and 3 as part of their 'Big Roman Dig' week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

icNorthWales - Anybody out there

icNorthWales - Anybody out there: "
May 9 2005

By Steve Bagnall, Daily Post

MYSTERIOUS lights appearing in the night sky over North Wales were baffling experts last night.

Former DIY store manager John White is seeking answers after catching sight of the strange lights near his rural home.

He took nine hours video footage of the lights near his house in Llannefydd, near Denbigh, over the past five weeks.

But Ministry of Defence chiefs have so far failed to come up with an explanation.

Between one and three separate lights have turned up regularly.

They appear as bright spots changing colours between blue, red, orange and purple.

The unidentified flying objects sometimes pulse or shimmer and grow in size before shrinking back.

They also move silently across the night sky. The 60-year-old first noticed them midway through March.

They continued to appear. Intrigued, Mr White splashed out hundreds of pounds on video recording equipment to capture them in action.

He said: "I had just gone into the room to pick up my glasses.

"I looked through the window and I could see this light. I didn't know what it was. "I have viewed them through my binoculars. "They pulse all sorts of colours, reds, blues, greens and purples. You would also get sparks of white light.

"I contacted the police and they told me to get in touch with the Ministry of Defence. A man there took a look and he had no idea what they were.

"One night, one came down from the east and then it moved slowly across the sky, making no noise. Another night, there were three of them in a line."

Other people have come to Mr White's house to view the mysterious lights, but so far they remain baffled, he said.

"I don't know what they are. But I would like somebody to tell me," he said..

Police said they were unaware of reports of the lights.

Nick Pope, who used to run the MoD's UFO project desk, said: "When I ran the desk, 80% of all sightings were explicable, for 15% there was not enough evidence to make a judgment and 5% were unexplained. This case certainly sounds very interesting. It seems like it warrants further proper scientific investigation."

The MoD declined to comment. John White watches the unidentified flying objects from his house near Denbigh. They have been appearing for five weeks and John has recorded them, examples of which can be seen here. The Ministry of Defence has failed to come up with an explanation


Friday, April 29, 2005

Echoes of Da Vinci Code at National Library - icWales

Echoes of Da Vinci Code at National Library - icWales

IT sounds like it could be a chapter straight from the pages of the international best-seller The Da Vinci Code.

Just like Dan Brown's book, the dusty document contains long forgotten insights into the history and relationships of Jesus Christ.

Now scholars at a Welsh college believe they have unearthed their own version of the Da Vinci code with the discovery of a 400-year-old book. Entitled The Genealogy of Jesus Christ, it has spent the past 70 years locked in the dusty depths of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Peter Hogan, the warden at Llandovery College, happened on the school's lost document while trawling through archives.

He said, "I was absolutely flabbergasted.

"There isn't anybody I know who hasn't read The Da Vinci Code, and we've found the sort of thing that would have been a major part of the plot."

A spokesman for Catholic newspaper The Tablet believed the find could be extremely significant.

Philip Crispin, who writes for the national publication, said, "I think people should be excited about it because it sounds a fantastic find.

"Certainly if it is a genuine document, and not some sort of 19th century hoax, it is extremely interesting.

"Dan Brown's novel has generated a huge amount of new interest in religion and the Bible, even though a lot of his ideas were taken from earlier books."

The leather-bound, hand-written book by William Spenser has nearly 600 A3-sized pages, split into two sections. One is about, "the names, people and empires recorded in the old and New Testaments".

The other is titled "biographical reference of old Bible stories".

It is an alphabetical way to find a seemingly endless list of religious characters.

Mr Hogan said, "It has details on everybody in the Bible, who they were married to where they came from and their family trees.

"The college has always had a history of owning many interesting books, but this one had slipped through the net.

"We have a section in the library that has some of our books in but I think I'm the first warden to have looked at it in about 70 years.

"I knew we had some books squirrelled away so I went to see. I was taken right into the bowels of the building."

It was only his noticing a discrepancy in what should have been there and what was on the list, which led to the book's discovery.

The allegation at the centre of Dan Brown's novel is that the church has conspired for millennia to lie about the role of Mary Magdalene in Christ's life.

It is an idea which Mr Hogan feels has echoes in his newly discovered tome.

He said, "One name I was interested in was Mary Magdalene."

The woman some believe to be the wife of Jesus Christ is a central figure in The Da Vinci Code, which claims Catholic historians have diminished her role in the early church.

Mr Hogan revealed, "The interesting thing is that about half of what's been written about her has been crossed off.

"It may be just a co-incidence, but there's not too many other crossings-off that I can see yet."

One piece of legible text reads, "She was one of many women ministering into Christ, of their substances."

Scholars at Lampeter, Swansea and Canterbury universities refused to speculate on how much the book could be worth. It is being taken to Christie's auctioneers in London today for valuation, although Mr Hogan did not want to contemplate selling it, saying, "I'd like it kept at the National Library.

"This has to survive another three or four hundred years and I want to know it's being properly looked after.

"All I know is I've never seen anything like this before and I want it put in a safe as soon as possible."

He did admit however, "If it turns out to be ludicrously valuable we may have to think again."

The book was acquired by the founder of Llandovery College Thomas Philips in 1851. It's history before that is currently a mystery.