Posted by: anna | February 11, 2010

St Gildas of Llanilltud

Today (29 January) we commemorate St Gildas (6th century), known as ‘the Wise’, another formidable scholar, traveller, abbot and man of prayer. From Baring-Gould:

‘[There are said to have been several British saints of this name. But that commemorated on this day is the famous author, whose writings are extant. It is probable that Gildas, having been born in Scotland, bred in Wales, and a monastic founder in Brittany, has been divided into three, and some of the incidents have attached themselves to S. Gildas the Scotchman, others to S. Gildas the Welshman, and others again to him of Brittany. Yet these are all easily reducible into a consecutive history, and belong, in fact, to one man. His life was written by Caradoc of Llancarvan, about 1 150 ; another life is by an anonymous monk of Rhys.]

‘S. Gildas, surnamed the Wise, was bom in North-Britain near the Clyde, in the kingdom of which Dumbarton was the capital. His father was of princely birth ; his eldest son, Howel, was a great warrior, who, succeeding his father in the principality, was slain by King Arthur. Mailoc, another son, was brought up to the religious life. Two other brothers, and their sister, Peteona, in like manner left the world, and choosing a retired place in the furthest extremity of that country, built themselves separate oratories, where, by watching, fasting, and fervent prayer, they continually strove to reach their heavenly country. As to Gildas, we learn from his own writings, that he was born in the year of the famous victory, gained (as some say, by Ambrose ; or, as others say, by Arthur,) over the Saxons at Mount Badon, near Bath, about a.d. 520. He was, when a child, committed by his parents to the care of S. Iltut, who brought him up in his monastery of Llan-Iltut in Glamorganshire, instructing him in the divine Scriptures, and in the liberal arts. These divine meditations wonderfully increased his faith and love of heavenly things, and influenced in such a manner the whole conduct of his life, that from his very youth he attained to great perfection and was favoured with the gift of miracles. From S. Iltud’s school, where he had for companions S. Samson and S. Paul of Leon, both of whom were afterwards illustrious prelates, he went over into Ireland, for his further improvement in virtue and learning, among the disciples of S. Patrick. There he frequented the most celebrated masters of divine and human learning ; and like the industrious bee, gathered honey from every flower — the honey of virtue and of knowledge. In the meantime, he failed not to chastise his body and bring it into subjection, lest, with all his learning and preaching to others, he himself might become a cast-away. Therefore he fasted much, and often watched whole nights, employing that silent time in prayer.

‘After Gildas was ordained priest, he preached the Gospel in the northern parts of Britain, where a great part of the inhabitants were heathen, and those calling themselves Christians were infected with the Pelagian heresy. God blessed his labours there with such success, that great numbers of heathen and heretics were by his means converted to Christ ; and many miracles were wrought through him in the cure of the sick, in confirmation of his doctrine. The reputation of his success having reached Ireland, the king, Ainmeric, invited him over. Gildas accepted the call, and there, by his preaching and miracles, he mightily advanced the kingdom of God. He built churches and monasteries, established Christian discipline, regulated the liturgy, taught for some time in the famous school of Armagh, and was, in a word, another S. Patrick to that nation, by which he has been ever since gratefully honoured among their most illustrious Saints.

‘After these things, leaving Ireland and Britain, he sailed over into Armorica or Brittany, and there founded the monastery of Rhys. But as he was desirous of solitude and undisturbed contemplation, he made himself an oratory, at some distance from that monastery, under a rock upon the bank of the river Blavet, where he devoted his solitary hours to prayer. The exact date of his death is uncertain. ‘


  • a really useful Wikipedia article with links to the texts of Gildas’ works
  • life from celt-saints which is more interesting than Baring-Gould. I don’t know why B-G dislikes recounting miracles. He seems very nervous about anything that could be called ‘legend’. As if the rest were all empirically provable!

Troparion of St Gildas the Wise tone 8
Truly thou art surnamed ‘The Wise’, 0 righteous Gildas,/ for in thy monastic solitude thou didst use thy God-given gift of words for His greater glory./ Teach us to despise nothing, that all our talents, however small, may be employed in God’s service, for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion of St Gildas the Wise tone 2
As one learned in the art of writing/ 0 wise Gildas,/ thou didst not hide thy talent, but brought it forth to glorify thy Creator./ Singing praise to thee, we pray for grace to follow thee in offering everything to God for His glory alone.

Holy Saint Gildas, pray to God for us.

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