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traditionally the valley of the river Clwyd in north Wales.
|Honored in||Eastern Orthodox Church; Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion|
|Major shrine||Glastonbury Abbey, now destroyed, or Rhuys Church, extant.|
|Attributes||monk holding a Celtic bell or writing in a book|
|Patronage||Welsh historians; bell founders|
Gildas (c. 500–570) was a 6th-century British cleric. He is one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during this period. His renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation Gildas Sapiens (Gildas the Wise). His work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which contains narratives of the post-Roman history of Britain, is the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near-contemporary. He was ordained in the Church and, in his works, favours the monastic ideal. Fragments of letters he wrote reveal that he composed a Rule for monastic life that was somewhat less austere than the Rule written by his contemporary, Saint David, and set suitable penances for its breach.
There are two Lives of Gildas: the earlier written by a monk of Rhuys in Brittany, possibly in the 9th century, the second written by Caradoc of Llancarfan, a friend and contemporary of Geoffrey of Monmouth, composed in the middle of the 12th century. Caradoc, presumably writing at Llancarfan in Wales, does not mention any connection with Brittany, and some scholars, most notably Frank Reno, think that Gildas of Britain and Gildas of Rhuys were distinct personages. In other details, however, the two Lives complement each other.
The first Life, written at Rhuys by an unnamed scribe, says that Gildas was the son of Caunus (Caw), born in the district of Alt Clut in the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic-speaking region of northern Britain. He was entrusted into the care of Saint Hildutus (Illtud) in the monastic college of Llan Illtud Fawr along with Samson of Dol and Paul Aurelian, to be educated. He later went to Iren to continue his studies. Iren is believed by most historians to mean Ireland, but Andrew Breeze argued that it is Cirencester. Having been ordained, he returned to the Hen Ogledd to preach to the unconverted. Saint Brigidda (Brigid of Kildare, died 524) asked for a token and Gildas made a bell which he sent to her. Ainmericus, High King of Ireland (Ainmuire mac Sétnai, 566-569), asked Gildas to restore church order, which he did. He went to Rome and then Ravenna. He came to Brittany and settled on the island of Rhuys, where he lived a solitary life. Later, he built a monastery there. He built an oratory on the bank of the River Blavetum (River Blavet). Ten years after leaving Britain, he wrote an epistolary book, in which he reproved five of the British kings. He died at Rhuys on 29 January, and his body, according to his wishes, was placed on a boat and allowed to drift. Three months later, on 11 May, men from Rhuys found the ship in a creek with the body of Gildas still intact. They took the body back to Rhuys and buried it there.
Caradoc of Llancarfan, influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth and his Norman patrons, and drawing on the Life of Cadoc among other sources, paints a different picture. His Life includes statements that Gildas was educated in Gaul, retired to a hermitage dedicated to the Trinity at Street near Glastonbury, and was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. Rev. John O'Hanlon in his Lives of the Saints remarked that Glastonbury appropriated more saints than Gildas.
Caradoc tells a story of how Gildas intervened between King Arthur and a certain King Melwas of the 'Summer Country' (Gwlad yr Haf, Somerset) who had abducted Guinevere and brought her to his stronghold at Glastonbury, where Arthur soon arrived to besiege him. However, the peacemaking saint persuaded Melwas to release Guinevere and the two kings made peace. This is the earliest surviving appearance of the abduction of Guinevere episode common in later literature. Caradoc also says that the brothers of Gildas rose up against Arthur, refusing to acknowledge him as their lord. Arthur pursued Huail ap Caw, the eldest brother, and killed him. Gildas was preaching in Armagh in Ireland at the time, and he was grieved by the news. Huail's enmity with Arthur was apparently a popular subject: he is mentioned as an enemy of Arthur's in the Welsh prose tale Culhwch and Olwen, written around 1100.
According to the dates in the Annales Cambriae, Gildas would have been a contemporary of King Arthur. However, his work never mentions Arthur by name.
Gildas lived for many years as a very ascetic hermit on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel. There he established his reputation for that peculiar Celtic sort of holiness that consists of extreme self-denial and isolation. At around this time, according to the Welsh, he also preached to Nonnita, the mother of St David, while she was pregnant with the saint.
Because of his visits to Ireland and the great missionary work he did there, he was responsible for the conversion of many on the island, and may be the one who introduced anchorite customs to the monks of that land.
A strongly held tradition in North Wales places the beheading of Gildas' brother Huail at Ruthin, where what is believed to be the execution stone has been preserved in the town square. Another brother of Gildas, Celyn ap Caw, was based in the north-east corner of Anglesey.
Gildas is credited with a hymn called the Lorica, or Breastplate, a prayer for deliverance from evil, which contains specimens of Hiberno-Latin. A proverb is also attributed to Gildas mab y Gaw in the Englynion y Clyweid in Llanstephan MS. 27.
In Bonedd y Saint, Gildas is recorded as having three sons and a daughter. Gwynnog ap Gildas and Noethon ap Gildas are named in the earliest tracts, together with their sister Dolgar. Another son, Tydech, is named in a later document. Iolo Morganwg adds Saint Cenydd to the list.
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
Gildas' principal work, De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, is a sermon in three parts condemning the acts of his contemporaries, both secular and religious. The first part consists of Gildas' explanation for his work and a brief narrative of Roman Britain from its conquest under the principate to Gildas' time. He describes the doings of the Romans and the Groans of the Britons, in which the Britons make one last request for military aid from the departed Roman military. He excoriates his fellow Britons for their sins, while at the same time lauding heroes such as Ambrosius Aurelianus, whom he is the first to describe as a leader of the resistance to the Saxons. He mentions the victory at the Battle of Mons Badonicus, a feat attributed to King Arthur in later texts, though Gildas is unclear as to who led the battle.
Part two consists of a condemnation of five British kings, Constantine, Aurelius Conanus, Vortiporius, Cuneglas, and Maelgwn. As it is the only contemporary information about them, it is of particular interest to scholars of British history. Part three is a similar attack on the clergy of the time.
The works of Gildas Sapiens, including the Excidio, can be found in volume 69 of the Patrologia Latina.
- Edmonds, Columba. "St. Gildas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 26 Jan. 2013
- Andrew Breeze, 'Gildas and the Schools of Cirencester', The Antiquaries Journal, 90, 2010, pp. 131-138
- It is now joined to the mainland as a peninsula.
- Compare ship burial.
- "Gildas the Wise", Catholic News Agency
- Butler, Rev. Alban, "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints", Vol. I, D. & J. Sadlier, & Company, 1864
- Anonymous (1884), The Holy Bible, New York: American Bible Society
- Giles, John Allen, ed. (1841), The Works of Gildas and Nennius, London: James Bohn — English translation
- Giles, John Allen, ed. (1847), History of the Ancient Britons II (Second ed.), Oxford: W. Baxter (published 1854) — in Latin
- Lloyd, John Edward (1911), A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest I (2nd ed.), London: Longmans, Green, and Co (published 1912)
- Luca Larpi, Prolegomena to a New Edition of Gildas Sapiens «De Excidio Britanniae», Firenze, Sismel - Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2012 (it:Società internazionale per lo studio del Medioevo latino)
Media related to Saint Gildas at Wikimedia Commons
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- Works by Gildas at Project Gutenberg (In the English translation Mount Badon is called "Bath-hill".)
- The Life of Gildas by A Monk of Rhuys.
- The Life of Gildas by Caradoc of Llancarfan.
- Gildas and The History of the Britons commentary from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Volume 1, 1907–21.
- Vortigernstudies: Gildas (sources)