Saint Gildas, Monk

January 29

Today is the feast day of Saint Gildas.  Ora pro nobis.

Gildas is said to have been born in the Clwyd valley in north Wales around 500 AD.  (2) Sometimes he is called “Badonicus” because, as he tells us, his birth took place the year the Britons gained a famous victory over the Saxons at Mount Badon, near Bath, Somersetshire (493 or 516). (1)

He studied under St Illtud at Llaniltud Fawr in South Wales and perhaps in Gaul. He then settled as a hermit on the island of Flatholm (Welsh Ynys Echni) off Glamorgan in the Bristol Channel. He may have had some Irish saints among his own disciples there, including Finnian of Clonard, and probably visited Ireland himself. (2)

The biographies of Gildas exist — one written by an unknown Breton monk of the Abbey of Rhuys in the eleventh century, the other by Caradoc, a Welshman in the twelfth century.  (1)

Gildas wrote a well-known history called De excidio Britanniae (“The Ruin of Britain”), in which he looks back with longing to the age when the Roman legions kept order in Britain and blames the decadence of the secular rulers and clerics of his time on the disruption caused by the Anglo-Saxon invasions. He seems to have had a good Roman-style education: his Latin is elegant, though a bit long-winded and his work shows a good knowledge of Scripture, Virgil and the Letters of St Ignatius of Antioch. Because of his learning and literary style he is sometimes known as Gildas sapiens (Gildas the Wise). The work is a major source for events in Britain in his time and is cited by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. (2)

The Irish annalists associate him with David and Cadoc in giving a special liturgy or Mass to the second order of Irish saints. He is said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome. On the homeward journey his love of solitude caused him to retire to the Isle of Houat, off Brittany, where he lived a life of prayer, study and austerity. His place of retreat having become known, the Bretons induced him to establish a monastery at Rhuys on the mainland whither multitudes flocked (Marius Sepet, “St. Gildas de Rhuys”, Paris, s.d.). It was at Rhuys he wrote his famous epistle to the British kings. His relics were venerated there till the tenth century, when they were carried for safety into Berry. In the eighteenth century they were said to be preserved in the cathedral of Vannes. He is the patron of several churches and monasteries in Brittany and elsewhere. His feast is locally observed on 29 January; another feast, 11 May, commemorates the translation of his relics. (1)

Image: Statue of Saint-Gildas. It on the shore line in a small bay near the “Grand-Mont” (Morbihan, France) (4)

Research by REGINA Staff


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