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  • Who Are The Celtic Saints?

    Who Are The Celtic Saints? by Kathleen Jones. Cutting through the mists of Celtic myth, this historical account introduces the saints as real men and women in the pursuit of holiness. The Celtic period began with Patrick's mission to Ireland in 435 and ended with the submission of the British church to Rome in 715. This book tells the stories of the various branches of the Celtic church during this period and includes biographies of the outstanding personalities of the era. Available from:
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    Saint David - Dewi Sant

    David or Dewi Sant is the patron saint of Wales. On March 1 every year Welsh children celebrate St David's day with the girls wearing national costume. Leeks and daffodils abound. In Pembrokshire, St David's Cathedral stands in a magical location where David is supposed to have lived his 6th Century Celtic monk's life.

    David was probably one of the (if not the) most influential of the early Christians in Wales during the 'Age of Saints.' The cathedral built in his name in the 12th Century was a highly significant shrine for medieval Christians - two pilgrimages to St. Davids equaled one to Rome. But who was David?

    According to the biography of David written by Rhigyfarch (c. 1095) he had almost magical powers:

    "Saint David "then enters the synod; the company of bishops is glad, the multitude is joyful, the whole assembly exults. He is asked to preach, and does not decline the synod's decision. They bid him ascend the mount piled up with garments; and in the sight of all, a snow white dove from heaven settled on his shoulder, and remained there as long as he preached. Whilst he preached, with a loud voice, heard equally by those who were nearest and those who were furthest, the ground beneath him grew higher, rising to a hill; and'staioned on its summit, visible to all as though standing on a lofty mountain, he raised his voice until it rang like a trumpet ..."

    Afterwards, blessed and extolled by all, he is constituted archbishop of the entire British race, by the unanimous consent of the bishops, kings, princes, nobles, and those of every rank; his city is also declared the metropolis of the whole country, so that whosoever ruled it should be regarded as archbishop."

    Glanmor Williams (1974:1) demolishes this myth by saying that: "We cannot, unfortunately, believe most of the details as the saint's biographer recorded them. They come from a biography which was not written until five hundred years after the saint was dead. (the) ... work is, like most medieval saints' lives, an amalgam in which legend heavily overlies facts."

    Williams (1974: 2) goes on to observe that facts about David "are perilously slender and can be quickly summarized. We have no certain knowledge of the dates of his birth or death; but there is no doubt that he flourished in the sixth century and he may have died in the year 589. He was one of those illustrious monk-missionaries of the Celtic Age of Saints."

    Photograph from the Russell Sturgis Collection, Washington University Archives, St. Louis Missouri.

    Breton evidence

    One of the few Celtic Saints' Lives that can be precisely dated is that of St Paul of St Pol-de-Lion, near Roskoff in Brittany. The author was one Wrmonoc, a monk in the abbey of Lendevennec, also in Brittany. This Life was written in 884, three hundred years earlier than many of the traditions preserved in Welsh manuscripts. According to Wrmonoc: "The same St Paul, surnamed Aurelian, the son of a certain count named Perphirius, who held a position of high rank in the world, came from a province which in the language of the British race is called Penn Ohen."

    Later, Wrmonoc says that Paul was sent to Illtud's monastic school at Lan-Iltut (Llantwit Major, Glamorgan in Wales). There:

    "Iltut had many young men distinguished for piety and learning among his disciples, but four of them far outshone the others and by the command of the master were placed in a position of authority over them. These were: first, Saint Paul, of whose life and mighty works in the northern part of the country of Domnonia this book deals; Saint Dewi (Devius) ... also Samson, the holy bishop ... and lastly Saint Gildas."

    Williams (1974: 3) observes that this account includes the first known reference to David as "Aquaticus" or "Waterman" - an acknowledgement of the extreme asceticism with which he was associated.

    Dewi (David) was one element of an extensive collection of Welsh Legends

    Doble, in his Lives of the Welsh Saints goes into the roots of Wrmonoc's tales and argues that the Breton monk had confused at least three early clerics called Paul or Paulinus.

    An Irish connection?

    According to Williams (1974: 3), David was mentioned in two early Irish sources: "... the Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, dating from c.800, where the date of his feast is given as 1 March; and the Catalogue of Irish Saints, now thought to date from the ninth or the tenth century."

    Dr Moran, Bishop of Ossory, in his Irish Saints, identifies the Welsh Saint David with an Irish Druid. According to Moran, David's mother was an Irish Christian. David sailed across to Menevia (Pembrokeshire) and lit a fire on the shore, its smoke filling the land. Then, says Moran:

    "The owner of the district was an Irishman, named Baya, a pagan and a Druid. He was one of those successful rovers who years before had carved out territories for themselves on the Welsh coast, and continued to hold them by the sword. He was filled with horror when he saw the smoke that arose from St David's fire, and cried out to those that were with him, 'The enemy that has lit that fire shall possess this territory as far as the smoke has spread.' They resolved to slay the intruders, but their attempt was frustrated by a miracle. Seeing this, Baya made a grant of the desired site, and of the surrounding country to St David, whose monastery quickly arose."

    Evidence of the Irish presence in post-Roman Wales comes in the form of Ogham inscriptions.


    The Tribes of Britain

    by David Miles. The diverse peoples of Britain and Ireland are revealed not only by physical characteristics but also through structures and settlements, place names and dialects. Using the latest genetic and archaeological research, the author shows how different peoples traded, settled and conquered, establishing the 'tribal' and regional roots still apparent today. Its vast scope considers the impact of prehistoric peoples and Celtic tribes, Romans and Vikings, Saxons and Normans, Jews and Huguenots, as well as the increasing population movements of the last century. Available from:  

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