"The Age of the Saints"
It is thought that the foundations for the Welsh church had already been laid in late Roman Britain and "The Age of the Saints" refers to the 5th and 6th century "Celtic Saints" who journeyed along the western seaways between Brittany, Cornwall, Wales and Ireland spreading the Word, it is often described as the golden age of Celtic Christianity. Over 400 inscribed tombstones and crosses have been found from all parts of Wales, with dates ranging from the 5th century and they can be seen in churchyards, or even built into the fabric of the church itself. The earliest examples are quite plain, and generally served as tombstones or grave-markers. Later monuments include the "Samson Cross" at Llantwit, and the fine pillar crosses at Carew and Nevern.
The Age of Saints began in Wales with Dyfrig (Saint Dubricus), a bishop at Ariconium in the kingdom of Ergyng in the middle of the 5th century,who kept Christianity alive in Wales at a time when Roman introduced Christianity was waning in England and paganism was revived. Dyrfig was followed by Illtud, an abbot, who established a school in Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major), which drew scholars from across the Celtic world: Ireland, Brittany and Cornwall. Gildas, author of "De Excidio Britanniae", one of the few historical records we have of Britain at this time, was a scholar at Llanilltud Fawr. In the early sixth century, many of the Welsh Saints retreated from society and settled in isolated areas to lead lives of prayer and communion with God and unlike the Irish missionaries, made very little attempt to convert the pagan Anglo Saxons. Christianity only reached the English with the coming of St Augustine to Canterbury in 597, on a mission to bring Christianity to Britain As a papal-appointed archbishop, Augustine expected obedience from the bishops of Wales, but they rejected his claims and also refused to conform to Roman practices on matters such as the system for calculating the date of Easter. Over the following century, most of the churches in the Celtic-speaking lands came to accept the Roman Easter, Wales was the only substantial territory still refusing to conform. and when the English historian Bede was writing his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731, he claimed that the Welsh had possessed no desire to Christianize the pagan English and for the most part have a natural hatred for the English and uphold their own bad customs against the true Easter of the Catholic Church. This is possibly the reason for Bede's hostility to the Welsh.
The Celtic saints of Wales were often men or women of noble rank, including kings, princes, and chieftains, who chose to renounce privilege and live the monastic life, they appear as indivduals of concience in a violent unpredictable age, polar opposites of aggressive kingdom expansionism and they offered a peaceful non violent place of sanctuary. In Wales sanctity was locally conferred and none of the medieval Welsh saints appears to have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Of the thousand or so parishes of Wales, the names of up to a half begin with Llan. It means an enclosure and was originally applied to a consecrated Christian burial ground rather than to a building, some of the llannau are dedicated to the Celtic saints hence we have Landdewi, Llandeilo, Llangadog, Llanbadarn, Llanfeuno and Llandysilio, while others are dedicated to figures of Christianity such as Mary, Peter and Michael (Llanfair, Llanbedr, Llanfihangel).
A Timeline for Welsh saints and significant events
c.229 Saint Mellon (Mellionius) Born. Born in Cardiola (Cardiff), the son of local Welsh nobility. He was sent to Rome to accompany the tax due from the province and whilst there he was converted to Christianity by Pope Stephen 1. He eventually became the first Bishop of Rouen and performed many miracles including an excorcism where he cast out devils in their true form - monkeys!! He died in 311 and is buried in St Gervais Church, Rouen. His feast day is 22 October.
c.388 Saint Elen She is said to have been a daughter of the Romano-British ruler Octavius and the wife of Magnus Maximus (Macsen), Emperor in Britain, Gaul and Spain, and together with her sons, Cystennin and Publicus, she is said to have introduced into Wales the Celtic form of monasticism from Gaul.
Elen's story is told in The Dream of Macsen Wledig, one of the tales associated with the Mabinogion. She is remembered for having Macsen build roads across the country so that the soldiers could more easily defend it from attackers, the great Roman road, Sarn Helen running from Caernarfon to south Wales and many other Roman roads in Wales are named after her, and she is thus acknowledged as the patron saint of British roadbuilders and the protectress of travellers.
She is patron of the churches of Llanelan (Gower) and at Penisa'r-waun nr (Caernarvon). Her feast day is 22nd May.
Around 429, shortly after the Romans had withdrawn from Britain, a Gaulish assembly of bishops chose Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, to visit Britain, to combat the threat of Pelagianism (the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid),which had become prevalent in the British Church, it was named after Pelagius, who had been declared a heritic and his teaching condemed by the Roman Church. Pope Celastine I was concerned that the British church would not break away from the teachings of divine grace. Germanus and Lupus confronted the Pelagians, who were described as being 'conspicuous for riches, brilliant in dress and surrounded by a fawning multitude'. Germanus was said to have defeated them using his superior rhetoric.
Germanus then led the native Britons to a victory against a Pict and Saxon army, at a mountainous site near a river at Mold (North Wales). After baptising his troops he ordered them all to cry 'Alleluia!' The sound apparently so terrified the invaders that they fled before battle could be brought.
c.440 Saint Materiana Born. She was the eldest daughter of King Vortimer and after her father's death ruled over Gwent with her husband Prince Ynyr. She is patron of the churches of Minster and Tintagel in Cornwall, and a church in Trawsfynydd nr Dolgellau. Her feast day is 9th April.
c. 450 Saint Gwynllyw (also Saint Gwynllyw Milwr or Gwynllyw Farfog, known in English in a corrupted form as Woolos the Warrior ) He was King of Gwynllwg and was an active and merciless warrior who in one raid accompanied by 300 men abducted Gwladys, the beautiful daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog, and then with whom had a son, the famous Saint Cadoc. To celebrate his son's birth Gwynllyw went on another raid stealing cattle from Caerwent.
Once grown Cadoc was deeply religious and according to some sources it was his example that persuaded Gwynllyw to abandon his life of violence and piracy during which his ships had caused terror across the Bristol Channel and seek forgiveness for his sins. King Gwynllyw then had a dream in which an angel spoke to him and he saw a vision of a white ox with a black spot on its high forehead. Gwynllyw went forth and when he saw the same ox as in his dream he founded a hermitage there on what is now Stow Hill in Newport. Gwynllyw said of the spot: "There is no retreat in the world such as in this space which I am destined now to inhabit. Happy therefore is the place, happier then is he who inhabits it.". Gwladys accompanied Gwynllyw into a hermits life and for a while they lived together on Stow Hill, fasting, eating a vegetarian diet, and bathing in the cold waters of the Usk to prove their piety. Following his death his hermit cell became an important shrine and a church was built there, which is now St Woolos Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Monmouth.
His cult grew and a series of miracles were attributed to him, including the destruction of a Viking fleet at sea after they plundered the church which was full of rich offerings made to the saint, even the defeat of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings was attributed to the vengeance of Saint Gwynllyw because Harold and his troops had plundered Gwynllyw's church while attacking the nearby kingdom of Gwent. He is the patron saint of Welsh pirates and the city of Newport, his feast day is 29th March.
c.450 Saint Elian Tradition holds that he came to Anglesey by sea from Rome, landing at Porth yr Yehen, where he built the church of Llanelian, which is named after him. One folk tale says he forbade the keeping of greyhounds after one killed a doe in his care. His Feast day is 13th Jan.
c.465 Saint Dyfrig (Dubricus) Born.
He was born in Madley (Then in Wales, now in Herefordshire, England), at a time when Christianity was waning in England and paganism was revived. He became bishop of Ariconium in the kingdom of Ergyng and is said to have been made Archbishop of Wales by Saint Germanus of Auxerre. He is credited with keeping Christianity alive in South East Wales. His monastic centre was at Henllan (nr Ross on Wye), and he founded large teaching monasteries at Llanfrother and Moccas, and a bishopric at St Constantine's Church in Goodrich. Churches that are dedicated to him in Wales are the Church of Wales churches at Gwenddwr, Breconshire and Llanvaches in Newport, and the Catholic Church at Treforest.
He was the illegitimate son of Efrddyl, the daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng, legend tells us that Peibio was horrified to discover that his unmarried daughter was pregnant and the shame led him to have the poor girl executed for adultery. She was tied up in a sack and cast into the River Wye but, miraculously, she always returned safely to the bank. So Peibio had her burnt on a funerary pyre at Madley, in Herefordshire. However, when he returned, next day, to recover her body, the King found Efrddyl sitting upon a huge stone, amongst the ashes, clutching Dyfrig, her new-born baby boy. Upon seeing Peibio, Dyfrig reached out to the King and kissed him on the cheek. The scales of his leprosy immediately fell away and King Peibio found himself cured the disease. His heart melted and he welcomed them both back to the Royal Court.
He became the teacher of many well-known Welsh saints, including Teilo and Samson, and attended the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi in 545, where he is said to have resigned his see in favour of Saint David. He retired to Bardsey Island where he died and was buried before his body was transferred to Llandaff Cathedral in 1120. His feast day is 14th November.
c.475 Saint Non (Nonita) Born. Non was daughter of Lord Cynyr Ceinfarfog of Caer Goch in Pembrokeshire and she became a nun at nearby Ty Gwyn (Whitesands Bay). She was raped by Prince Sandde of Ceredigion "unhappily seized and exposed to the sacrilegious violence of one of the princes of the country" and went into hiding and ended up giving birth at Caerfai, on the coast just south of Mynyw (St. Davids), in the middle of a violent storm. During the birth, Non pressed her fingers so hard into a boulder beside her that she left their impression in the rock, but the baby boy was born in a sea of brilliant light and the boulder was split in two by a dramatic lightning strike! Non named her son Dewi (St. David) and he became the greatest saint in all of Britain. A chapel was built where Dewi was born and its ruins can still be seen there today. St. Non's Well, sporting her statue, is nearby.
Non brought Dewi up at Henfeynyw near Aberaeron and together they founded a nunnery at Llanon nearby. In later years, she moved to Cornwall to be near her sister, St Wenna, and she founded a monastery at Altarnun. Non eventually retired to Brittany and settled in Dirinon in Finistère, where she founded another monastery. Her feast day is 3rd March.
c.485 Saint Sadwrn Farchog (the Knight) Born. A native of Brittany and a brother of Illtud. Originally a soldier, but gave up his military career to follow his brother's religious mission in South Wales. He founded the church of Llansadwrn in Carmarthenshire and lived as a hermit on Anglesey, where he died, the church of Llansadwrn in Anglsey stands on the site of his cell, he also appears on a tomb in Beaumaris Church as a bearded knight in armour holding a pilgrim's staff and raising his hand in benediction. The English recognise him as St Giles, the saint who brought Christianity to England and his feast day is 29th November.
486 Saint Samson Born. Samson was the grandson of Meurig ap Tewdrig, King of Glamorgan and Gwent. he was educated by St Illtud at the Abbey of Llanilltud Fawr, where he was ordained a deacon and then a priest, but he fell out with Illtud's nephews and decided to move to the monastery on Caldey Island, where he became abbot after the death of Saint Pyr, who was killed when he fell down a well while drunk, afterwards, Samson who abstained from alcohol, considerably reformed the discipline of the enclave. He then travelled extensively carrying out his missionary work, firstly to Ireland, where he is said to have founded or revived a monastery, then to Cornwall, where he was consecrated a Bishop and appointed an abbot, then to the Scilly Isles where one of the islands was named after him and finally to Brittany where he founded the monasteries at Dol (Brittany) and Pental (Normandy). He is regarded as one of the foremost evangelizers of the era and has long been venerated with enthusiasm in Wales and Brittany and In the 930s King Aethelstan of England acquired a number of his relics - including an arm and his crozier and proudly displayed them in Milton Abbey (Dorset). His feast day is 28th July.
c487 Saint David Born. There are no definate dates for David, he is thought to have been born c.487 and died 1st March in 589.
David's mother was Non was a nun at Ty Gwyn (Whitesands Bay). She was raped by Prince Sandde of Ceredigion and went into hiding and ended up giving birth at Caerfai, on the coast just south of Mynyw (St. Davids), in the middle of a violent storm. Non named her son, Dewidd, but he was commonly called Dewi. David is an English version taken from the Latin, Davidus. It is reported that even from the womb David performed miracles, as during her pregnancy, Non entered a certain church to listen the preaching of the local priest, who was immediately struck dumb, unable to continue whilst in David's presence.
He was raised in Non's convent during his early childhood and by all accounts Non nurtured David carefully in the Christian faith and many of his fine qualities of character are attributed to her early influence. He began his education in a monastery called Hen Fynyw (nr Aberaeron) and then studied under the monk St. Paulinus (the disciple of St. Germanus of Auxerre) probably at Whitland, where he was a star pupil and even cured Paulinus of his blindness. He stayed there for at least ten years, but is also said to have studied under St Illtud at Llanilltud Fawr . He was soon ordained a priest and began to travel the country, evangelising as he went, he founded 12 monasteries and more than 50 churches from Pembrokeshire to Herefordshire. He is reported as visiting the court of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng also curing him of blindness. It is claimed that David ate only bread and herbs - probably watercress and drank only water, he became to be known as Dewi Dyfyrwr (David the Waterman) and sometimes, as a self-imposed penance, he would stand up to his neck in a lake of cold water, reciting Scripture. In spite of his extreme ascetic lifestyle and meager diet we are told that he was of a lovable, of a happy disposition, tall and physically strong.
David then undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with Saints Teilo and Padarn, where they are said to have been consecrated bishops. On his return he founded the monastery of Mynyw (St. Davids). An Irish chieftain, named Bwya, living at nearby Castell Penlan, was not best pleased at this invasion of monks and plotted to drive them out. His wife sent her maidservants to bathe naked in the River Alun and tempt David and his followers, but the clerics were far from impressed. Misfortune soon befell the Irish couple and David was able to settle down without further harassment. The monastery was known as centre of learning, attracting many pupils from many different areas and from many walks of life for example King Constantine of Cornwall became a monk at Mynyw, as did St. Aeddan from Ireland, who later founded the monastery of Ferns. David's order at Mynyw was known for the extreme asceticism of its rule, reputedly based on that of Egyptian monks. The Rule was strict: the brothers ate only one meal a day of bread with vegetables and salt, and they drank only water. They were a silent order and their days were filled with prayer and hard manual labour and no plough was permitted to work the fields, they also kept bees and practiced a ministry of hospitality, caring for many pilgrims and travellers who needed lodgings. David followed an even more rigorous discipline than his brother monks. Long after vespers, when others had retired to bed, he would often pray alone all through the night.
Saint David and the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi
Upon his return to Wales, in 545 David attended the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi, which is perhaps the most well-known event in David's life. Originally synods were meetings of bishops, for the purpose of church administration in the areas of teaching (faith and morals) or governance (church discipline or law), it is thought the Synod of Brefi which was held at Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion was called in order to condemn Pelagianism. The synod was reportedly attended by a thousand members and David had initially not intended to attend but Dyfrig Bishop of Ergyng (and said to be Archbishop of Wales), on the advice of St Paulinus persuaded him. When Dyfrig addressed the crowd, so intense was their excitement, that his voice could hardly be heard, so he called on David to speak in his place and when David stood up to speak, according to legend "the ground rose up until everyone could see and hear David, and a white dove settled upon his shoulder". It is said that Dyfrig was so impressed in the eloquent way in which David spoke, that he resigned his Archbishopric in Davids Favour. A second synod, at which David presided was the Synod of Victory, which was summoned in 569 and supposedly defeated the Pelagian heresy in Britain.
David is buried on the grounds of his monastery in Pembrokeshire where the Cathedral of St. David now stands and his last words to his followers were in a sermon on the Sunday before he died: "Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us." "Do the little things" ('Gwnewch y pethau bychain') is today a very well-known phrase in Welsh, and has proved an inspiration to many.
c.490 Saint Padarn Born. A native of Brittany's Bretagne region, Padarn journeyed to the British Isles, and settled in Wales as a monk. He founded a monastery at Llanbadarn Fawr near present day Aberystwyth, becoming its first bishop and serving for twenty-one years as a man of much prayer and self-denial. He is also said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome and also to Jerusalem with St David and St Teilo, gaining the gift of tongues on the way. Padarn finally returned to Vannes in Brittany where he founded a monastery.
One story relating to his time in Wales involves Maelgwn Gwynedd, King of Gwynedd. Maelgwn heard that Padarn, had a large store of gold at Llanbadarn, so devised a plan to trick him out of it. He sent some Royal messengers to the Bishop with sacks of moss and pebbles. Pretending this was the content of the Royal treasury they asked Padarn to retain it in safe keeping while Maelgwn and his armies went off to war. Months later, the messengers returned to collect their sacks but, of course, found them filled with grass and stones. Padarn was immediately dragged before the king and accused of theft. Upon refusing to replace the treasure, the Bishop was forced to undergo a trial by ordeal. Both he and his accusers were obliged to plunge their arms into a pot of boiling water. After a period of healing time, their wounds were examined. The messengers' arms were still raw and painful, but Padarn's burns were completely healed. The saint was thus declared an innocent man, and Maelgwn was forced to admit his deceitful plot. As penance, the King gave Padarn a grant of all the land between the Clorach and the Rheidol. His feast day is 16th April.
c.494 Saint Seiriol (the fair) Born. Seiriol was of Royal birth, his father was King Owain Danwyn of Rhos and his brothers, King Cynlas of Rhos and King Einion of Llyn.
According to legend, he and Saint Cybi were good friends, and would meet regularly at the Clorach wells near Llanerchymedd on Anglesey, the direction of the way Seiriol walked to the meeting meant he had his back to the sun, thus, he was known as Seiriol Wyn (Seiriol the Fair). He initially lived in small hermits cell at Penmon, but his two brothers decided this humble residence was far too lowly for their Royal brother and founded an important monastery around his cell. Thus, Seiriol became the first Abbot of Penmon Priory. His hermitage and holy-well can still be seen there today. In old age, Seiriol retired to Ynys Lannog (Priestholm), just off the coast from Penmon. It became known as Ynys Seiriol in his honour, though it is now better known as Puffin Island. His feast day is 1st February.
497 Saint Cadoc (Cadog) Born. Cadoc was the son of Gwynllyw, ruler of the Kingdom of Gwynllwg and Gwladys daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog, he was given over to the care of the Irish monk Tathai of Caerwent reputedly when the monk came to demand the return of his cow, which Gwynllyw had stolen. In adulthood Cadoc refused to take charge of his father's army, "preferring to fight for Christ", he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem and was reportedly distressed that the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi was held during one of these absences.
He became the Abbot of Llancarfan nr Cowbridge, a monastery famous as a centre of learning, where Illtud spent the first period of his religious life under Cadoc's tutelage. Cadoc is also credited with the establishment of many churches in Dyfed, Cornwall, Scotland and Brittany, where he is said to have lived as a hermit with Saint Gildas. In Wales his feast day is 25th September.
c.500 Saint Tyfrudog He is said to have been part of the Christian community on Bardsey Island, at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula and reputed founder of St Tyfrydog's Church in Llandyfrydog (Anglesey), dated by some historians to 450. About 1 mile from the church, there is an upright stone about 4 feet high, which is known as "the thief of Dyfrydog". It is said to be a man turned into stone by St Tyfyrdog for stealing the church's bible, the lump near the top of the stone is said to be the sack on the man's shoulder. It is also said that the man's soul is periodically chased around the field during the night, chased by "demons with red-hot pitchforks
c.500 Saint Teilo Born. St. Teilo was a great- grandson of King Ceredig of Ceredigion and was probably born at Penally nr Tenby. From a young age, he studied under St. Paulinus of Wales at Wincdi Lantquendi (Whitland), it was here he met and befriended St David and along with fellow students Aeddan and Ysfael they travelled to Mynyw (St. Davids) where Dewi founded his famous abbey. They were at first however harassed by an Irish pirate named Bwya but they killed his cattle, burnt his fortress to the ground and ousted him.
An old tale is often told of how, while Teilo and Aeddan were reading in the cloister at Mynyw (St. Davids), they were called upon to replenish the monastery's fuel stores. Annoyed at having been drawn away from their studies, the two monks took their axes off to the woods; but found their task much easier than expected when two tame stags aided them in carrying the wood home.
Teilo is said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome, with Dewi and Padern, where all three were consecrated bishops by the Pope. Teilo succeeded St Dyfrig as Bishop of Glywysing & Gwent and probably moved the Bishop's Seat to his foundation at Llandeilo Fawr. Then in 549 the great yellow plague swept through Wales, so Teilo took his surviving community through Devon and Cornwall to Brittany, where they were greeted by in Dol and from there they moved on to region of Cornouaille, which they saved from the ravages of a winged dragon and stayed for seven years before returning to Llandeilo Fawr. After the death of St. David, Teilo became known as one of the most holy men in Wales and he was joined at Llandeilo by many disciples: Teilo died at the Abbey of Llandeilo Fawr and it is thought Saint Euddogwy brought some of his relics to Llandaff cathedral some 200 yrs later.
c.500 Saint Gildas Born. He was a cleric, historian and writer, the earliest British writer whose work is still available, he wrote the De Excidio et Conquestu Britannie (the Ruin and conquest of Britain), which contains narratives of the post-Roman history of Britain, although a religiousbook, it is the only substantial source for history of this period.
There are two main naratives for his life which agree in several aspects, and can be harmonized as follows; Gildas was born in Scotland on the banks of the Clyde, of a noble Brythonic speaking family. He was mmuch travelled, he studied in Wales under St. Iltutid, and with his companion St Samson embraced the monastic life at Llancarfan (Glamorgan). he then travelled to Ireland, where he founded monastries and churches, and then to Northern England before returning to Ireland. He is also said to have made a pilgramage to Rome, and on his return in a quest for solitude he retired to the Isle of Houat, off Brittany, where he lived a life of prayer, study and austerity, also establishing a monastery at Rhuys. He is the patron saint of Welsh Historians, and his feast day is on 29th January.
c.500 Saint Erfyl A female Welsh virgin who founded a church at Llanerfyl in Powys. Her feast day is 6th July.
c.500 Saint Caffo Born. He was the son of King Caunus of Alt Clut in Yr Hen Ogledd and brother of St Gildas and fled with St Cybi to Anglesey where he was given land by King Maelgwyn Gwynedd, on one occaison, he said to have been sent by Cybi to fetch fire from a blacksmith, he returned to Cybi carrying a red-hot coal in his clothes, which were not burnt. After leaving Cybi, Caffo was killed by shepherds in the south of Anglesey, possibly acting in retaliation for insults Caffo's brother had paid to the local ruler. The village where he was killed, Llangaffo is named after him, as is the parish church of St Caffo and he is venerated as a saint and martyr.
c.500 Saint Gurthiern Died. It is said that he was a Welsh prince who became a hermit in Brittany and founded the abbey at Kemperle. Legend says that insects once threatened to destroy the region's crops, so Gunthiern blessed some water and had it sprinkled over the fields. The insects fled, and the crops were saved. His feast day is 3rd July.
c.500 Saint Illtyd
Born in Brittany, from a military background, Illtyd began his career by crossing to Britain as a skilled warrior serving Arthur in the defence of Britain. Illtyd's warband raids Llancarfan Abbey but the monks pursue them into a bog where the earth swallows all of them except Illtyd. Cadog reminds Illtud of his religion and the humbled warrior took up the monastic life, founding the abbey at Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) where in 508, he re-established the monastery school known as Cor Tewdus which was reputedly burnt down by Irish pirates in 446, this monastic complex became a centre of learning, with students studying the Bible, philosophy, science, geometry, rhetoric, grammar and arithmetic. At its peak it reputedly had seven halls, over 400 houses and over 2000 students, which included St Patrick, Paul Aurelian, Taliesin, Gildas, Samson and St David. Illtud himself is said to have been a disciple of Germanus of Auxerre who visited Llanilltud on his mission to Britain.
There are churches dedicated to Illtud not only in Llanilltud, but also in Breconshire, Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, Dolgellau, Brittany and on the Gower. In Merthyr there are Holy Wells dedicated to him. The legendary place of his burial is Bedd Gwyl Illtud, Breconshire and his feast day is 6th November.
c.510 Saint Cwyllog Born. She was the daughter of King Caunus of Alt Clut in Yr Hen Ogledd and sister of St Gildas and fled with another brother St Caffo to Anglesey where they were given land by King Maelgwyn Gwynedd, where she founded St Cwyllog's Church in Llangwyllog, Anglesey. She is said to have been the wife of Mordred, the notorious traitor who fought and was killed by King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, after which she decided to follow a religious life. Her feast day is 7th January.
516 Saint Cadfan Founded the monastery on Bardsey Island in North Wales, after fleeing from the Franks in Brittany. His feast day is 1st November.
520 Saint Malo Born. Malo was born in Gwent and is said to have been baptized by Saint Brendan and to have become his favourite disciple, he accompanied him on his legendary vogage for the discovery of the "Island of the Best"(said to be North America), they are said to have set sail from Llancarfan Abbey. On their second voyage Malo became a hermit on the island of Aleth subsequently becoming its first Bishop, Aleth was later named St Malo in his honour. Indirectly, the Spanish name of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), can be traced to Saint Malo, as it is derived from the French name (Iles Malouines), after the first known settlers, mariners and fishermen from the port of Saint-Malo. He is the patron saint of pig keepers and his feast day is 15th November.
c.520 Saint Tanwg Saint Tanwg was the son of Prince Ithel Hael from Brittany, who left Brittany with St Cadfan and joined the monastery on Bardsey Island, he also founded the church of Llandanwg near Harlech. His feast day is 10th October.
c.520 Saint Peulan Peulan was a Welsh holy man, the son of Paul Hên o Fanaw (Paulinus) of Whitland(Carmarthenshire) Peulan means "little Paul", who taught Saint David. Peulan was a follower of Cybi and travelled to Anglesey with him from Cornwall, Peulan is commemorated in the dedication of the church he reportedly founded, St Peulan's Church, on Anglesey.
c.520 Saint Brioc Welshman from Ceredigion who became the first Abbot of Saint Brieuc in Brittany, after firstly travelling through Gloucestershire and Cornwall. His feast day is 1st May.
c.520 Saint Canna Born. Canna was a daughter of the Breton King Tudur Mawr, she came to Wales with her husband Sadwrn, who soon after left to become a hermit on Anglesey. She became a nun and lived at Llangan, Pembrokeshire. Her name is also associated with two suburbs of Cardiff, Canton and Pontcanna. Her feast day is 25th October.
525 Saint Cenydd Born. Cenydd was a Breton prince born of incest apparently at Lougher on the Gower Peninsula. He was born a cripple and his father Deroch ordered his son to be thrown into the river. Legend has it that a priest managed to baptise him before he was placed in an osier-woven cradle and launched into the Lliw. This stream speedily carried it down to the River Llwwchwr (River Loughor) and that swept it out to sea. A storm arose and drove the cradle, dancing on the crest of the waves, to Ynys Weryn (Worm’s Head), where it was cast up on the beach. At once a cloud of seagulls fluttered over the baby Cennydd and carried him to the top of a rock. There they stripped their breasts of feathers to make a bed for him. The birds kept constant watch over their little protégé, spreading their wings over him to shelter him from wind and rain and snow. He later became a hermit, his only companion being an untrustworthy servant whose dishonesty was revealed when he stole a spear from one of a group of robbers who had been hospitably received by his master. The servant went mad and ran away to the remote areas around St Davids, where he lived like a wild beast, until the hair of his body completely covered him. After seven years, Cennydd prayed for his restoration and the man returned to his service as a sincere penitent. In 545 Saint David cured Cenydd while travelling to the Synod of Brefi but he preferred to remain as God had created him and his disability was restored.
Cenydd's feast day is celebrated on 5th July (colloquially referred to as his 'Mapsant day', from the Welsh words 'sant' - holy, and 'mab' - son and was traditionally marked by the displaying of an effigy of a bird from a pole on the church tower, symbolising the legendary birds who cared for the infant Cenydd, and the consumption of whitepot or 'milked meat' a dish made of flour, milk, sugar and dried fruits, not unlike bread and butter pudding.
c.528 Saint Tudwal Born. He is thought to have been brought up in Lydstep (nr Tenby), he then travelled to Ireland to learn the scriptures, before becoming a hermit on what is now called Saint Tudwal's Island East off the Llyn Peninsula. Tudwal later emigrated to Brittany, settling in Lan Pabu with 72 followers, where he established a large monaster. His feast day is 1st December.
c.530 Saint Brynnach Brynach travelled from Ireland to Rome, Brittany and then Pembrokeshire via Milford Haven, where he built churches at Dinas and Newport (Pembs) and erected a monastery at Nevern where he was often visited by his friend Saint David, he is also associated with churches in Glamorgan, Breconshire and Monmouthshire, he finally left Wales for Devon, where he died was buried. During his travels he had many adventures, once sleeping in a cow shed and another time under a grey stone, he was the victim of a vicious spear attack and had the wood he was using to build a church stolen. His feast day is 7th April on which day tradition has it, that the first cuckoo in the country is said to sing every year from the top of St. Brynach's famous cross in Nevern churchyard.
c.540 Saint Baruc (Barrwg) Baruc, who was a disciple of Saint Cadoc, forgot to bring the latter's reading matter with him on a journey from the island of Flat Holm. Cadoc sent him back and he drowned in the Bristol Channel on the return journey. He was buried on Barry Island and his feast day is on 27 September.
544 Saint Aaron of Aleth Welshman Aleth became Bishop of Aleth, he lived in a monastery on Cezembre, a small island near Aleth in Brittany, his feast day is 22 June.
c.547 Saint Gwynno He was active in the Llantrisant area, whose name translates as the Parish of the Three Saints. The three saints in question are St Illtyd, St Gwynno and St Dyfodwg, with Llawynno, a chapel near Llantrisaint being dedicated to him. Llanwnog (Montgomeryshire) also claims him as its founder. His feast day is 26th October.
c.550 Saint Pyr Abbot of Caldey Island, He been described as being "an unsuitable abbot". Pyr is said to have become so drunk one night that on the way back to his cell he fell into a well and died soon after being pulled out. He was replaced as abbot by Samson, who resigned in disgust when he found that the young monks had become ungovernable due to the laxity of Pyr's rule.
c.550 Saint Elaeth (Elaeth Frenhin) A King in North England who was driven out of his territory by the Picts, and fled to Anglesey, where he became a monk in a monastery run by St Seiriol. He was also a poet and founder of St Eleth's Church in Amlwch on Anglesey. A holy well near there, known as "Ffynnon Elaeth" in Welsh, was named after him, and was regarded as having healing qualities and providing a method of divination whereby a priest would interpret the behaviour and activities of an eel kept in the well. His feast day is 10th November.
c.550 Saint Dyfodwg He was thought to be a Breton monk, a disciple of Saint Illtyd of Llantwit Major and active in the Bridgend area, he is associated with the ancient parish of Llantrisant and patron of the church of Llandyfodwg nr Gilfach Goch. Once during a persecution of the Church he is reported as being punished by having his tongue cut out, thus preventing him from spreading the word of the Gospel. His feast day is 25th June.
c.550 Saint Branoc A Welsh saint who arrived at Braunton in Devon from South Wales and established a monastery. His feast day is 26th June.
One story relating to St Brannock says that some theives captured and killed his favourite cow and chopped it up and put it in a pot of water to cook, mysteriously though, the water refused to even warm up. At this point, St Brannock discovered their evil deed and, taking the pot from the fire, he breathed life into it and miraculously revived the cow.
c.550 Saint Guirec Was a Wesh monk who established a monastery in the region of Traou-Perros in Brittany. He allegedly arrived in Brittany in a stone trough pulled by angels, landing on the small beach that now bears his name. A shrine first built in the twelfth century called L'Oratoire de Saint Guirec stands in the bay and female pilgrims have come for centuries to call upon the prayerful intercession of the saint for their seafaring husbands' safety. Young women also come to ask Guirec's prayers that they would soon find a husband, the tradition of tweeking the nose of the saint's statue is said to encourage Guirec to acquire the blessing of a marriage within one year for the young pilgrim. He is celebrated on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension of Christ into heaven. 'Ascension Day' is celebrated the fortieth day after Easter.
c.550 Saint Iestyn He is said to have been the son of Geraint ab Erbin, a ruler of Dumnonia (South West England). Iestyn,was a hermit and a follower of the Anglesey based Saint Cybi, there are two churches of the same name named after him, Llaniestyn in Gwynedd and Llaniestyn on Anglesey. His feast day is 10 October.
c.550 Saint Justinian of Ramsey Island Tradition states that he was a Breton nobleman who settled on the Ramsey Island as a hermit. He was visited by Saint David who was so impressed with his holiness that he made him Abbot of St David's Cathedral. However, Justinian became disillusioned with the poor attitude of the monks at St Davids and returned to Ramsey Island with his most loyal monks to establish a more holy spiritual community. Legend has it that he was eventually murdered by some monks fed up with his strict regime, by beheading him. Apparently he picked up his head and crossed Ramsey Sound walking on the water carrying his head in his arms, his body was buried in the small ruined chapel which still stands on the mainland at St Justinian's, his body was later transported to the shrine of Saint David in St David's Cathedral. The Anglican church at Llanstinan, near Fisguard, is also dedicated to him and his feast day is 5th December.
c.564 Saint Petroc Died. He was the son of King Glywys of Glywising and on his father's death, the people of Glywysing called for Pedroc to take on the crown of one the country's sub kingdoms, however Petroc wished to pursue a religious life and left, with several followers, to study in Ireland. Some years later, Petroc returned to Britain, landing on the shores of the River Camel in Cornwall and founded the monastries at Padstow and Bodmin, he also travelled widely through Devon, but, after thirty years he decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome by way of Brittany and on his return he travelled extensively in Wales, spending time at Ynys Enlli (Bardsey) and founding churches at St. Petroc (Dyfed), Ferwig (nr Cardigan) and Llanbedrog (Lleyn). Back in Cornwall he lived as a hermit in St. Petroc's cell, on one occasion protecting a hunted deer, hence he is often depicted with a stag. The legendary tales surrounding Petroc are exceptionally vivid and imaginative describing travels to India, taming of wolves and killing mighty serpents. He is one of the patron saints of Cornwall and his feast day is 4th June.
566 Saint Derfel Born. He was the son of Hoel, a legendary Brythonic king of Brittany, who had been exiled in Dyfed. As a young man, he apparently joined the Court of the ageing High-King Arthur and fought valiently for him at the fateful Battle of Camlann, being one of seven warriors who survived the battle by his "strength alone". He is described thus in medieval Welsh poetry ("Derfel in war, he would work his spear wondrously, steel covering is the garment, brave is the appearance."). After Camlan, The bloodshed he had seen made him turn to religion. He became a hermit at Llandderfel in Gwynedd, and later Abbot of Ynys Enlli (Bardsey), where he died and was buried.
He was venerated at the churches of Llanfihangel Llantarnam in Newport (Mon), and Llandderfel in Gwynedd, which featured a wooden image of him; . Derfel was depicted as a warrior in full armour riding a horse rather than as an ecclesiastic. The Llandderfel image was removed and dismantled by order of Thomas Cromwell during the English Reformation and used to burn a Catholic priest, John Forest, at Smithfield in London. This was held to be a fulfillment of a prophecy that the image would burn down a forest. His feast day is 5th April.
570 Saint Armel Armel was a Breton prince, born in Glamorgan. He founded the abbey of Plouarzel in Brittany . His feast day is 16 August.
c.570 Saint Peris Legend says he was one of the many children of Helig ap Glannog of the lost Land of Tyno Helig (nr Llandudno). It is said he was a 'Cardinal of Rome' who retired to the solitude of Nant Peris (Snowdonia) and the nearby village of Llanberis both of which are named after him, as is Llyn Peris, a lake between the two places. Ffynnon Peris is a well nearby in which Peris, according to tradition, kept two fish there and drank from daily. His feast day is 11th December.
575 Paul Aurelian Died. Paul was the son of a Welsh chieftain named Perphirius ("clad in purple"), from Penychen in Glamorgan. He was a pupil of Saint Illtud at Llantwit Major and a contempory of Samson and Gildas on Caldey Island, afterwards he travelled to Brittany and became first bishop of Saint Pol de Lyon. Paul was a vegetarian and his feast day is 12th March.
c.580 Tewdrig Born. St. Tewdrig was the son of King Nynniaw of Gwent's son, Llywarch. He was King of Gwent in the early 7th century, but little is known of his reign. In later life, he abdicated in favour of his son,Meurig and became a hermit at Din-Teyryn (Tintern). Soon afterward, however, around 630, the Saxons invaded Gwent. The local monasteries were particularly badly hit by their raids and so Tewdrig decided to come out of retirement and take up his sword once more to defend the church.
Together with his son, the two Kings pushed back the Saxon menace, but Tewdrig was wounded in the Battle of Pont-y-Saeson and had to be taken to Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel for treatment. An ox-cart was called to take him there but, on their journey, the oxen stopped themselves at a miraculous spring (now known as St.Tewdrig's Well). Here Tewdrig's wounds were cleansed and here he died. King Meurig built a great church on the spot and enshrined his father's saintly body there. The place became known Merthyr-Teyryn (Mathern nr Chepstow) after the Martyred King. His feast day is 1st April.
c.580 Saint Afan Afan Buallt was a bishop in the Cantref of Buallt. He was the grandson Cunedda Wledig and a cousin of Saint David and was murdered by Irish or Danish pirates on the banks of the River Chwefri, nr Cilmeri. His festival day is November 16.
The church dedicated to him at Llanafan was once a site of pilgrimages, and also the site of at least one miracle: Gerald of Wales tells us that the Anglo-Norman lord Phillip de Braose was hunting nearby and decided that the church was a suitable place for him and his dogs to spend the night which was an irreverent thing to do. When he woke at sunrise, his dogs had gone mad and he was blind and never regained his sight, but went on to fight in the Crusades, whereupon he was "immediately struck down by a blow from a sword and so ended his life with honour".
584 Saint Deiniol Died. He was the grandson of Pabo Post Prydain a King of Yr Hen Ogledd, and when the family lost their land in the North of England, they were given land by the King of Powys, Cyngen ap Cadell. Deiniol is said to have studied under St Cadoc and to have been later given land by Maelgwyn Gwynedd to found a monastery on the site where Bangor Cathedral now stands. He attended the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi in c.545 with Saint David and was also consecrated by David the same year. He is buried on Bardsey Island, and is also venerated in Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Brittany. His feast day is 11th September.
586 Saint Govan Died. It is said that Govan was an Irish Monk who travelled to Wales to seek the friends and family of the abbot who had trained him, Saint David. He was set upon by pirates, but a cliff opened up and left a fissure just big enough for him to hide in, until the pirates left. In gratitude, he decided to live on the cliff, to help warn the locals of the impending pirate attack, living off fish and water from a well, on the site of, was later built Saint Govan's Chapel in the 14th century, under which Saint Govan is said to be buried. His feast day is 26th March.
c.590 Saint Melangell
She is remembered as a Welsh virgin, the daughter of an Irish king who went to Powys to become a hermitess. Melangell is particularly known for an incident involving King Brochwel Ysgythrog of Powys. The stunning young woman had taken to the life of a hermit, living in a small cell in the Powys wilds. One day, Brochfael was out hunting a hare when the creature made for Melangell's hermitage and hid in her skirts. The dogs would not attack, and the King became so enamoured of the lady's pious beauty that he asked her to marry him. She humbly declined, so Brochfael gave her land to build a monastery instead. The land referred to is the valley near the Church of Pennant Melagell in Llangynog, Powys, where she became Abbess of a religious community of women. She is the patron saint of hares and her feast day is 27th May.
c.600 Saint Collen Born. He was a monk in Brittany, Cornwall and Wales and lived as a hermit near Glastonbury and Llangollen, which is named after him. There are stories in folklore of him twice sprinkling holywater to be rid of evil spirits, and that he slay a Welsh giantess to save the people of Llangollen. His feast day is 21st May.
601 Saint Asaph Was the son of King Sawl Penuchel from Yr Hen Ogledd. He had a hermitage in Tegeingl nr Holywell and was the second Bishop of St Asaph succeeding Kentigern alias Saint Mungo who founded the momastery there. His feast day is on May 5th. Kentigern would frequently pray standing in the icy cold river. On one occasion, he sent Asaph, who was attending him, to bring wood to burn and warm him. Asaph instead brought him live coals in his apron, and the miracle revealed to Kentigern the sanctity of his disciple.
603 Saint Dunod Abbot of Bangor on Dee, attended the meeting of Welsh Bishops with Saint Augustine of Canterbury at 'Augustine's Oak' and is the only Welsh ecclesiastic mentioned by name by Bede.
603 Saint Augustine and the meeting at Augustine's Oak
Before the withdrawal of the Roman legions Britannia had already converted to Christianity and had been in regular contact with Rome, however after the pagan Anglo Saxons invaded c449 and the subsequent expansion of their Kingdoms in England, Christianity was mainly restricted to Wales and Cornwall and the Christian church developed in relative isolation from Rome, it was centred on monasteries instead of bishoprics, it had a different calculation for the date of Easter and the style of the tonsure haircut that clerics wore was different. In 595 Pope St. Gregory the Great decided to send missionaries to Britain (known as the Gregorian mission), to try and bring the Christian Britains back into the fold and also to try and convert the pagan Anglo Saxons. He chose Augustine, a respected prior of a monastery in Rome, along with thirty monks to carry out his mission and in 597 Augustine arrived in Britain and held a meeting with the Anglo Saxon King Ethelbert, who although did not convert immediately but was impressed enough to let them continue to preach, however Ethelbert did convert later that year along with thousands during a christmas day mass , Augustine was consecrated Bishop of Cantebury, he is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church. As Augustine mission continued succesfully and more missionaries arrived from Rome, they consecrated pagan temples for Christian worship and turned pagan festivals into feast days of saints.
However Augustine failed to extend his authority to the Christians in Wales and Cornwallt and as Pope Gregory had decreed that these Christians should also submit to Augustine, in 603, Augustine and Ethelberht summoned all the British bishops to a meeting, at Augustines's oak on the border between Somerset and Gloucestershire. These bishops retired early to confer with their people, who, according to Bede, advised them to judge Augustine based upon the respect he displayed at their next meeting. When Augustine failed to rise from his seat on the entrance of the British bishops, they refused to recognise him as archbishop and the old Church chose isolation over reconciliation. But perhaps the more significant factors preventing an agreement,were the deep differences between Augustine and the British church and the fact that Augustine's efforts were sponsored by an Anlgo Saxon king, whose Kingdoms were aggressively expanding to the west.
c.610 Saint Nidan Died. He was a descendant of the celebrated warrior Urien Rheged and is thought to have been Bishop of St Seiriol's monastery at Pennon, on the eastern tip of Anglesey, he also founded Llanidan Church on Anglesey. Nidan is said to have been one of the 665 monks who travelled with St Kentigern from Llanelwy (Denbighshire) to establish Christianity in Midmar (Aberdeenshire), where there is also a church dedicated to him. His feast day is 30th September.
c.610 Saint Cynfarwy Born. He was an active Christian on Anglesey, after whom the parish of Llechgynfarwy and St Cynfarwy's Church are named. His feast day is thought to be the 7th November.
640 Saint Beuno Died. He was born at Berriew in Powys, the grandson of a prince of that realm. After education and ordination in the monastry of Bangor on Dee, he became an active missionary, going as far as Somerset, King Cadwallon, deceived Beuno about some land and in reparation, Cadwallon's cousin Gwyddaint, "gave to God and Beuno forever his township" of Clynnog Fawr on the Llyn Peninsula, where he founded an abbey. His feast day is April 20th.
640 Saint Tysilio Died. Tysilio was the second son of Brochfael Ysgythrog, King of Powys but appeared not cut out for life in the royal court, for at an early age he fled to Abbot Gwyddfarch of Meifod (nr Welshpool) to become a monk. His father, tried to dissuade him but eventually had to give way. Tysilio set up his base at a hermitage he founded at Ynys Tysilio (Church Island) in the Menai Straits and did much work on Ynys Mon (Anglesey). After seven years he returned to Meifod (near Welshpool) as Abbot, where he rebuilt the Abbey. Only about two years later however his elder brother was killed at Battle of Chester in 613 and his widow Queen Gwenwynwyn wanted to marry Tysilio and make him king of South Powys, again Tysilio fled, with a handful of followers, this time to St. Suliac in Brittany, where he founded a new monastery. He died and was buried there in 640.
Incidentally his name forms part of the longest place name in Wales; Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. His feast day is 8th November.
c.650 Saint Gelert It is believed that Gelert was a missionary, evangelizing in Llangeler (Carmarthenshire) and Beddgelert (Snowdonia), and the surrounding Gelert Valley. At some stage Gelert lived as a hermit in a cave near what is now known as the Holy Well of St Celer near Llandysul, to where pilgrims would travel for healing by Gelert. Eventually the chapel, Capel Mair was erected over the well, of which the ruins still remain. His feast day is 29th June.
c.650 Saint Gwenllwyfo Female Christian recognised as a saint. She is commemorated in the dedication of St Gwenllwyfo's Church on Anglesey. Her feast day is 30th November.
660 Saint Winefride Died. Winifred was the daughter of Tyfid ap Eiludd a local Lord in North Wales, she was educated by her uncle St Beuno in a little church he built in Abeluyc, the land he was given by her father in return for educating her.
One day, Winifred's parents and their servants were all at church, Beuno was officiating, and Winifred was left alone in the house. While they were out, Caradog, son of Prince Alaog, Lord of Pennarlag (Hawarden aliasPennard Halawg) rode by and stopped at the house to ask for a drink. He was so overcome by Winifred's beauty, that he made improper suggestions and, when rejected, moved to force himself upon her. Winifred fled to join her family at Abeluyc. The young horseman easily overtook her, however, and, in a fit of rage, cut off her head on the steps of the church. Caradog stood with his sword in his hand, unable either to stir from the spot or to repent. At all the commotion, St. Beuno came rushing outside. Distraught, he cursed the young prince for his terrible crime, who immediately dropped down dead and was whisked away by devils. Beuno informed the assembled Christians that Winifred had vowed to die a martyr to her virginity and Christianity. Then he took up her head from the ground and set it back in its rightful place. From where it had fallen, there instantly sprang up a well of pure clear water. At the same time, he commanded the congregation to pray that Winifred might be restored to life and fulfil her vow; and, when they arose from praying, she arose with them. For the rest of her life she had a red mark round her throat where it had been sliced through.
After returning from a pilgrimage, to Rome, she became a nun and addess at Gwytherin in Denbighshire. St. Winifred remained a saint of little importance until her relics were taken to a magnificent shrine in Shrewsbury Abbey in 1136 and her popular Life was written by Prior Robert of Shrewsbury only two years later and the healing spring at the traditional site of her death is now a shrine and pilgrimage site called St Winefride's Well in Holywell and is one of the most visited shrines in the whole of Wales, it is also known as the Lourdes of Wales. She is the patron saint against unwanted advances, her feast day is 3rd November.
c.700 Saint Euddogwy Died. Euddogwy came to Wales in his youth and trained at Llandeilo Abbey, eventually becoming ‘Bishop of Teilo’, the diocese based at Llandeilo Fawr, travelling to Cantebury for his consecration. He was probably the founder of the monastery at Llandaff and one legend tells that when he removed a number of relics of St. Teilo and his disciples from Llandeilo to Llandaff, the men of Llandeilo were not best pleased and ambushed his party in a rocky pass at Penallt. Through Euddogwy’s prayers, the attackers immediately became blind and unable to move. He is also said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome. Euddogwy resigned as Bishop to live in solitude at Llaneinion, near Tintern, where he died. He was supposedly buried in the monastery at Llandaff and his feast day is 2nd July.
706 Saint Decumen Died. He is said to have been born of noble parents at Rhoscrowther in Pembrokeshire, where the church is dedicated to him. He also had a chapel at nearby Pwllcrochan. Wishing to escape to a world of solitude he crossed the Bristol Channel on a hurdle of rods (possibly a coracle) with only a cow for a companion and landed at Dunster in Somerset, where he became a hermit, living from the produce of his cow. There he is said to have been killed by a pagan who cut off his head with a spade. Legend tells that the saint miraculously picked up his head, washed it, and replaced it. After this the local people assisted Decuman to build a church. He is also associated with three churches in the townlands Ballyconnick, Killag, and Killiane in County Wexford, Ireland. His feast day is 27th August.