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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|
St. Gildas (c. 500–570) was a 6th-century British historian and 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 the Wise", or Gildas Sapiens. His most well known work is De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which recounts the sub-Roman history of Britain, and which is the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near-contemporary.
There are two different versions of the life of Gildas, the first written by an anonymous monk in the 9th century, and the other written by by Caradoc of Llancarfan, in the middle of the 12th century. However, both biographies offer very different accounts of Gildas' life. Some historians have attempted to explain this by saying there were two saints named Gildas, but the more general opinion is that there was only one St. Gildas, and that the discrepancies between the two versions can be accounted for by the fact that they were written in different countries, and several centuries after the saint lived. The 9th century Life from Rhuys is generally accepted as being more accurate.
Both versions agree that Gildas was probably born in what is now Scotland, on the banks of the Clyde river, a member of a royal family. He rejected his royal heritage and embraced monasticism, becoming a renowned teacher, converting many to Christianity, and founding numerous churches and monasteries throughout Britain and Ireland. He made a pilgrimage to Rome before retiring to a hermitage, and is the author of the famous De Excidio Britanniae.
The First Life of St. Gildas was written by an unnamed monk at the monastery Gildas founded in Rhuys, Brittany, in the 9th century. In this version, Gildas is the son of Caunus, king of Alt Clut in the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic-speaking region of northern Britain. He had four brothers: One brother, Cuillum, ascended to the throne on the death of his father, but the rest became monks in their own right. Gildas was sent as a child to the College of Theodosius (Cor Tewdws) in Glamorgan, under the care of St. Illtud, and was a companion of St. Sampson and St. Paul of Léon. His master, St. Illtud, loved him tenderly, and taught him with especial zeal. He was supposed to be educated in liberal arts and divine scripture, but elected to study only holy doctrine, and to forsake his noble birth in favor of a religious life.
After completing his studies under St. Illtud, Gildas went to Ireland, where he was ordained as a priest. He returned to his native lands in northern Britain, where he acted as a missionary, preaching to the pagan people and converting many of them to Christianity. He was then asked by Ainmericus, high king of Ireland, (Ainmuire mac Sétnai, 566-569), to restore order to the church in Ireland, which had altogether lost the Christian faith. Gildas obeyed the king's summons, and traveled all over the island, converting the inhabitants, building churches, and establishing monasteries. St. Gildas then traveled to Rome and Ravenna, where he performed many miracles, including the slaying of a dragon while in Rome. Intending to return to Britain, he instead settled on the the Isle of Houat, off Brittany, where he led a solitary, austere life. At around this time, he also preached to Nonnita, the mother of St David, while she was pregnant with the saint.
He was eventually sought out by those who wished to study under him, and was entreated to establish a monastery in Brittany. He built an oratory on the bank of the River Blavetum (River Blavet), today known as St. Gildas de Rhuys. 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. 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.
The second "life" of St. Gildas was written by Caradoc of Llancarfan, a friend of Geoffrey of Monmouth and his Norman patrons. It was written in the 12th century, and draws on the Life of Cadoc. In this version, St. Gildas was the son of Nau, king of Scotia. Nau had 24 sons, all victorious warriors. Gildas studied literature as a youth, before leaving his homeland for Gaul, where he studied for 7 years. When he returned, he brought back an extensive library with him, and was sought after as a master teacher. He became the most renowned teacher in all of the three kingdoms of Britain.
In this version, Gildas was a contemporary of King Arthur, whom he loved and desired to obey. However, his 23 brothers were always rising up against their rightful king, and his eldest brother, Hueil, would submit to no rightful king, not even Arthur. Hueil would often swoop down from Scotland to fight battles and carry off spoils. During one of these raids, Hueil was pursued and killed by King Arthur. When news of his brother's murder reached Gildas in Ireland, he was greatly grieved, but was able to forgive Arthur, and pray for the salvation of his soul. Gildas then traveled to Britain, where he met Arthur face to face, and kissed him as he prayed for forgiveness, and Arthur accepted penance for murdering Gildas' brother.
After this, Gildas taught at the school of St. Cadoc, before retiring to a secret island for 7 years. Pirates from the Orkney Islands came and sacked his island, carrying off goods and his friends as slaves. In distress, he left the island, and came to Glastonbury, then ruled by Melvas, King of the 'Summer Country' (Gwlad yr Haf, Somerset). Gildas intervened between King Arthur and Melvas, had abducted and raped Arthur's wife Guinevere and brought her to his stronghold at Glastonbury. Arthur soon arrived to besiege him, but, the peacemaking saint persuaded Melvas to release Guinevere and the two kings made peace. Then desiring to live a hermit's life, Gildas built a hermitage devoted to the trinity on the banks of the river at Glastonbury. He died, and was buried at Glastonbury Abbey, in the floor of St. Mary's Church.
Gildas' relics were venerated in the Abbey which he founded in Rhuys until the 10th century, when they were removed to Berry. In the 18th century, they were said to be moved to the Cathedral at Vannes. He is the patron saint of several churches and monasteries in Brittany, and his feast day is celebrated on the 29th of January.
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.
St. Gildas and Arthur
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.
The Llancarfan Life contains the earliest surviving appearance of the abduction of Guinevere episode, common in later Arthurian 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. 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. 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.
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
- Williams, Hugh. "The Life of Gildas by the Monk of Ruys". Two Lives of Gildas by a monk of Ruys and Caradoc of Llancarfan. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
- "Gildas the Wise", Catholic News Agency
- Compare ship burial.
- Williams, Hugh. "The Life of Gildas by Caradoc of Llancarfan ca. 1130-1150". Two Lives of Gildas by a monk of Ruys and Caradoc of Llancarfan. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
- 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
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Gildas|
- 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)