Today is the feast day of Saint Samson of Dol. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Samson was born in South Wales. The date of his birth is unknown. He died 28 July, 565 (?). His parents whose names are given as Prince Amon the Black of Dyfed and Anna of Gwynedd, were of noble, but not royal, birth. While still an infant he was dedicated to God and entrusted to the care of St. Illtyd, by whom he was brought up in the monastery of Llantwit Major.
He showed exceptional talents in his studies, and was eventually ordained deacon and priest by St. Dubritius. Samson retired first to the island monastery of Caldey off the coast of Dyfed (Pembrokeshire), and became abbot there. But it was not a happy move as his predecessor, Pyr, had left Caldey in such a lax state that he was unable to control the monks and re-establish discipline. Samson left there and went to Ireland, where he reformed a monastery, thought to be a religious house at Howth.
In 516 he made a voyage into Ireland, to animate himself to fervour by the example and instructions of many illustrious saints who flourished there, and after his return shut himself up in a cave in a wilderness. In 520 St. Dubritius called him to a synod at Caërleon, and in it ordained him bishop without being fixed in any particular see
Samson then joined a party of Welsh churchmen including Paulinus, Austell and Mean who were going to Cornwall on their way to Brittany. Because of his reputation as a monastic reformer, a monk named Winniavus was dispatched to tell him tactfully that they would prefer that he went somewhere else. Samson took the hint, and moved on to spend some time in the Scilly Isles, where an island now uninhabited – Samson – is named after him, and in Guernsey, where St Samson is the second port of the island. He then moved on to found his main monastery near Dol in Brittany.
St. Sampson continued his former austere manner of life, abstaining wholly from flesh, sometimes eating only once in two or three days, and often passing the whole night in prayer standing, though sometimes when he watched the night he took a little rest, leaning his head against a wall.
Dol was then an island on flat marshlands, though the coastline has changed, and it is now about eight kilometres inland. Mont Dol, a large flat-topped rock, had been the site of druidic sacrifices, and Samson made that his hermitage.
Samson is revered as one of the seven founding saints of Brittany, along with Saint Pol Aurelian, Saint Tugdual (Tudwal), Saint Brieuc, Saint Malo, Saint Patern, and Saint Corentin. Dol was overwhelmed by a catastrophic tidal wave in 709, and there is now no trace of the monastery. Samson’s relics were taken to Canterbury and Ely in the time of King Athelstan of Wessex (895 –939).
The primary source for his biography is the Vita Sancti Samsonis, written sometime between 610 and 820 and clearly based on earlier materials.
Image: L’icône de St. Samson de Dol peinte pour l’Association orthodoxe sainte Anne (Bretagne). Photo by Massalim. (4)
Research by REGINA Staff