S. WINWALOE, Abbot, Confessor
The authorities for the Life of this remarkable saint are : —
1. A Vita by Wurdistan, monk, and afterwards abbot, of Landevennec in the middle of the ninth century, published by De Smedt in the Analecta Bollandiana, vii, 1888, pp. 167-264. Again in the Cartulaire de Landevennec, by A. de la Borderie, Rennes, 1889, pp. 7-102.
2. A Vita Metrica, Anal. Boll., vii, pp. 250-61, and Cart. Land., pp. 103-11.
3. A Life in Surius, De Prob. SS. Historiis, Mart, iii, pp. 38-41.
4. A Life by John of Tynemouth, in Capgrave’s Nova Legenda Anglice.
5. A Life by an anonymous author. Acta SS. Boll., Mart, i, pp. 250-4..
6. Another Life in the same collection, pp. 254-5.
The last four are of no value ; they are mere summaries of that by Wurdistan, and this latter is actually the sole source from which all subsequent Lives have been derived.
7. A MS. Life in the British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius, E. i,. beginning ” Fuit in Britannia vir quidam,” and ending, ” floruit autem circa annum Domini quadragintesimum quinquagesimum nonum. This formed the basis of John of Tynemouth’s Life.
8. In Bodleian MS. 240, C.C.C. Cambridge MSS. 5, 6, 7, and Lambeth MSS. 10, II, 12, is a Life of S. Winwaloe longer than that of John of Tynemouth in Capgrave. This has been printed in the new edition of Capgrave. ^
9. A MS. Brit. Museum Otto D. VIII supposed to be the original that formed the basis of that by Wurdistan. M. Latouche (R.)
Melanges d’histoire de Cornouaille, Paris, 1911.
Winwaloe was son of Fracan, cousin of Cado, Duke of Cornwall (see S. Fracan). Fracan resolved on migrating to Armorica, and he took with him his wife Gwen ” of the Three Breasts,” and his two sons Gwethenoc and James, and a small retinue (see S. Gwen Teirbron).
They disembarked at Brahec, and ascended the stream of the Gouet, the Bloody River, why so called we do not know, for it is limpid, flowing through a ravine cleft in the granite, and golden with broom and gorse.
Fracan settled at Ploufragan. Then the little colony set to work to clear the ground of trees, and to construct wattled cabins.
They had not been there long before another party of emigrants arrived from South Wales, a fleet of vessels full of colonists, under the direction of Righuel or Rhiwal. This party advanced up the stream, and occupied the country on the right bank and that about the Anse d’Iffignac.
Gwen the Three Breasted shortly after gave birth to a son, whom she and her husband named Winwaloe. Some fifty different spellings occur in all of his name.
In course of time they heard that a British saint of the name of Budoc had a school at Lavret, one of the islands of the Brehat archipelago, and they sent their three sons to him to be educated.
With Budoc Winwaloe remained a good many years, and when he considered himself accomplished in all the learning of the school, at the age of one and twenty he left.
It is said that one day, whilst he was in Lavret, he heard of the work achieved by S. Patrick in Ireland, and was filled with a burning desire to go to him and assist in the mission field in Ireland. This is not at all unlikely. Adjoining Ploufragan, Winwaloe’s home, is La Meaugon (Lan-Meugan), a monastic college of Maucan or Mancen, founded for the furnishing of missioners for the harvest-field of Erin. Budoc, moreover, had been brought up either in Ireland or by Irish monks, and he was certain to speak in glowing terms of the great apostle.
But we cannot conclude from this, as have some Breton historians, that this apparition — for Winwaloe is said to have seen S. Patrick in vision — furnishes an approximate date for Winwaloe’s residence on Lavret. We do not know whether he ever had this dream, and if he had, whether it was as related by Wurdistan. All we can say with any confidence is, that when a lad he was fired with ambition to join in the work of the Irish mission, but thought better of it and did not go.
Whilst he was at home, a gander flew at Winwaloe’s little sister, Creirwe, and would have pecked out her eye had not Winwaloe interposed. In after years, Creirwe was wont to say that she owed her eye to Winwaloe, and this was magnified into something miraculous, and it was gravely told that the gander had actually swallowed the eyeball, that Winwaloe had replaced it in its socket, and that the girl suffered no ill effects from it. A writer who could so manipulate a simple incident is not to be trusted implicitly when dealing with a dream.
Winwaloe resolved on leaving Lavret and starting a monastic establishment in his own native land ; his enthusiasm for work in Ireland having cooled down as rapidly as it had kindled.
He induced eleven companions to accompany him, and this swarm crossed the mainland.
Local tradition has it that he halted in youth for awhile at Plouguin, near Ploudalmezeau, and this is probable enough. His mother had a plebs there, and his father another not far off. At Plouguin are pointed out some mounds of ruin where he is said to have had an oratory and cell.
In the chapel of Lesguen or Lesven, a chateau in the parish, on the grounds of which are the ruins of S. Winwaloe’s cell, is an altar painting representing Fracan in armour presenting his son Winwaloe, Three-Breasted Gwen, above an inscription ” Mamelle d’or,” and S. Corentine investing Winwaloe with the abbacy of Landevennec. At the feet of Gwen is De Nobletz, a famous missioner (1577-1654).
From Plouguin Winwaloe and his party moved south, and on their delighted eyes burst the wondrous harbour of Brest, gleaming like silver. The Atlantic surged against the headland of Croson, and rolled in at the Goulet, about two thousand yards across and five miles long, lost all the force it had and spread out into a wide expanse of unruffled water, broken into numerous creeks. Before them was the spur of Plougastel, with its granite rocks starting up like natural castles. The Rade now covered with vessels, and where the ironclads lie basking, was then still and lifeless.
Winwaloe and his monks built themselves a boat, and started to explore this inland sea. They skirted the rocky headland of Plougastel, and ran up the arm into which many streams pour from the North and East, at the head of which rushes in the Aulne. Here they found an islet called then Thopepigia, now Tibidy, and resolved on settling upon it.
They landed, erected their cells, and made a garden.
But the soil was scanty, and the winds from the Atlantic howled and tore over the bare surface of the isle. Nevertheless, the little community clung to it for three years. However, the conviction wasforming in the mind of Winwaloe that the site was undesirable and that he would be forced to quit it.
Then, one day, occurred a striking incident.
Winwaloe, who was still young, was wont to sit on a stony height, with his young disciples round him, where he and they could be sheltered from the sea-winds, consequently with the East and South before him — the mainland rich with woods and pleasant pastures, and with here and there the blue smoke stealing up and then drifting away from some little farm.
And as he thought he looked, and saw that it was neap tide. Then on a sudden what had long been simmering in his mind took form, and broke into resolution. He started up, and bade his pupils follow him in chain, each holding the hand of another, and one with his right hand in his own. So Winwaloe, holding his staff in his right, and with the left conducting this living chain, descended to the beach, and led the way through the shallow water to the mainland.
In the Life this has been converted into a miracle, but the miraculous element is unnecessary here.
Having reached the mainland, Winwaloe proceeded to select a suitable habitation, and chose a spot well sheltered, on which he reared what was afterwards the famous monastery of Landevennec, where the tortuous Aulne falls into the Brest harbour. ” It is a mild and pleasant spot,” says the biographer of Winwaloe, ” where every year the first flowers open, and where the leaves are last to fall. A place sheltered from every wind save that from the East, a natural garden, enamelled with flowers of every hue.”
The whole region is favoured. It now lives on the London market, supplying the earliest peas, cauliflowers, strawberries ; and where those who are not gardeners are fishermen. But when Winwaloe settled in a pleasant nook, with his back to the rough west winds and his face to the rising sun, inhabitants were sparse. The original population, short, sallow, with beady eyes, and dark hair, kept aloof, suspicious, steeped in paganism, and shunning the invading Britons and Irish who enserfed them.
At Rumengol above the Faou creek they assembled at a red stone, if tradition may be trusted, to offer sacrifice of human blood. Fiacc of Sletty had already planted some Irish monks at Lanveoc and Ninidh at Lagona. But the colonists from the Emerald Isle were only occasional, and the colonies were not constantly replenished ; whereas a tide strong, and showing no signs of slackening or ebbing, began to ripple over the land from Britain, to submerge the ancient population, and to absorb the Irish colonies.
Grallo was King of Cornugallia, a rough and cruel man with but a smattering of Christianity ; but Winwaloe obtained great influence over him, and succeeded in somewhat softening his natural coarseness and savagery.
The country was covered with timber, and, where the bare downs rose above the foliage, they were thick strewn with the memorials of the prehistoric dead, gaunt tall stones, standing up as sentinels, singly or in rows or in circles, in which the dead had been burned, and the ancient people had met for their consultations.
Winwaloe and his young monks constructed their church of felled trees, and with the branches wattled their huts, and plastered them with the ooze from the river bed.
Grallo would have given Winwaloe land in many places, for land was not worth much in a country so thinly populated, and monkish colonies would do a great deal towards the civilization of the natives, and help to prevent them from combining against the immigrants. But the abbot declined the grants till Landevennec was thoroughly established, and his pupils properly disciplined. Eventually, when he had filled his monastery, and had many docile monks, chief among whom was the faithful and apostolic-minded Tudy, he gladly accepted grants and planted lanns in all directions. Later, long after his time, the monks forged a series of donations to entitle them to hold land wherever they liked.
We are not informed of S. Winwaloe having gone to Cornwall, but it is very probable that he did so, or that he sent disciples there to establish daughter monasteries, where recruits might be gathered for the parent house. Indeed, so sparse was the population in Brittany, that he must necessarily have looked to Britain to supply him with disciples.
His biographer describes him as a man of moderate height, with a bright and smiling countenance. He was very patient and gentle in his dealings with men. He always wore a habit of goatskin. He would never sit down in church, but ever stand, kneel, or prostrate himself. He slept on birch-bark fibre, and ate girdle cakes baked in ashes, or dumplings with vegetables, and a little cheese or fish, but no meat, and his drink was cider. In Lent he took but two good meals in the week.’-
He was so simple-minded that he was easily deceived. His disciple Rioc came to him one day with a long face to tell him that he had received tidings that his mother was dying — perhaps by this time dead, — and to entreat leave of absence that he might visit her and close her eyes. Winwaloe at once gave the desired permission, and Rioc departed. After a suitable holiday Rioc returned, and Winwaloe sympathetically inquired after the old lady. Then Rioc informed him that when he had arrived at home she was already dead, but he had prayed, and invoked the merits of his dear master, and his mother had recovered. Winwaloe actually believed the story.
Perhaps another tale told by Wurdistan shows us a further instance of his simplicity. One night, Tethgo, a monk who had his cell nearest to that of the abbot — and these cells were separate huts — heard a great hubbub in the abbot’s wattled hut, and went to see what was the matter. He found Winwaloe, in the presence of a hideous being, praying, crossing himself, bidding it depart and not molest him ; and the creature, after having prolonged the scene sufficiently, quietly withdrew. If this be not an invention of the biographer, it is an account of one of the more frolicsome young pupils dressing up like a devil to frighten his old master. If so, he certainly completely imposed on him. Something of the same sort of thing occurs in the Life of S. Martin, but there it was the pagan natives who dressed themselves up like Duses or demons, and as heathen gods and goddesses, so as to terrify him. Mercury was a sharp, shrewd wag, and bothered the saint greatly, as he admitted to Sulpicius, but Jupiter was a ” stupid sot.” At midwinter it was a common practice for young people to disguise themselves and go a ” mumming,” and these practical jokes played on the saints, when in a state of spiritual exaltation, were easily transformed by the credulous into actual apparitions of evil spirits.
Wurdistan gives a pleasant picture of the monastery like a hive of bees, all engaged orderly in their several tasks, and all under the direction of the ” king bee,” who was the abbot.
One day Winwaloe was visiting King Grallo, and he passed a number of boys at play. One of these, on seeing him, left his game, and ran to the abbot, knelt at his feet and begged to be admitted into his community. Winwaloe looked into his fresh face, blessed him, and bade him return to his companions and to his sports. But the lad would not be put off. When Winwaloe went on his way, he saw that the boy followed at a distance. He turned and said, ” My son, go home. My way is long and arduous and rough.”
” Then I will tread in your footprints,” promptly answered the lad. As his parents raised no objection, Winwaloe took the young aspirant after monastic perfection with him to Landevennec, on his return from visiting Grallo.
The boy’s name was Wenael, or in its later form Gwenael, the son of British settlers called Romelius and Laetitia. He became one of the most attached disciples of Winwaloe, and remained with him for forty-three years, till the death of the abbot.
Winwaloe died on March 3, on Wednesday in the first week in Lent, after having celebrated the Holy Mysteries, and sung the Psalms of the Office, supported on right and left by two monks.
The question of the date of the death of Winwaloe has been already discussed, under S. Gwenael, his successor, and 532 has been taken as the year in which he died.
We are not informed as to the age of Winwaloe when he passed from his labours to his reward. He is spoken of as ” full of days.”
We are further informed that he abandoned the eating of meat when aged twenty-one, and never again touched it.
That he spent some little time in Leon, on the estate or tribal land of his mother Gwen, near Ploudalmezeau, is not stated in the Life, but rests on local tradition, that points out the site of his cell and shows his holy well. Nor is it at all unlikely that he should go first of all to lands where his father and mother exercised jurisdiction and authority, and do what he was able there to further the spiritual welfare of the tribe in that part.
Rhiwal is said to have extended his rule over Domnonia in the reign of Clothair, but he must have arrived with his fleet many years previous, and it would be only after some stay in the country that he was able to establish himself as prince over it. He is, moreover, spoken of as being in the neighbourhood of the Champ de Rouvre, and estabhshed there, as a man of some authority when Fracan and Gwen arrived.
If we assume that Winwaloe died at the age of 76, then the date of his birth was 457, and Rhiwal had settled in Domnonia some few years previously.
The approximate chronology of the Life of Winwaloe will be this : —
The saint was born on the arrival of his mother in Brittany . . 457
He was sent to Budoc to be trained at about the age of 10 . . 467
At the age of one and twenty he abjures the use of meat . . 478
Leaves Budoc at about the age of twenty-three for Leon . . 480
Remains at Lesguen for about four years, and moves to Tibidy . 484
Removes to Landevennec, visits Grallo, and obtains his consent . 487
Takes Gwenael as a disciple. …… 489
Winwaloe dies ” full of days ” . . . . . . 532
The saint was at first buried in his cell, or locus penitentiae, but the body was transferred later, on April 28, to the church of the monastery. His relics were carried off when the monks of Landevennec fled from the Northmen in the tenth century, for the abbey was destroyed by them in 913 or 914.
When Mathuedoi, Count of Poher, fled to Athelstan, with a number of Bretons, the abbot and monks of Landevennec, or some of them, were with him, as appears from a charter in the Cartulary of that abbey. Alan Barbetorte recalled them, about 937. What become of the body of S. Winwaloe is uncertain. It is probable that it was conveyed to Chateau-du- Loire, in Maine, for he is there venerated as patron.
Winwaloe (in Breton and French Guenole) has March 3 for his day in almost all the Brittany Calendars, but April 28 in the Quimper Breviary of 1835, the day of his translation, and November 3 in the Vannes Breviary of 1660. He is not entered in the Welsh Calendars. j In the eastern counties of England there is a couplet still current relating to the festivals at the beginning of March : —
” First comes David, then comes Chad,
Then comes Winwell (Winnol) as if he were mad.”
Or “roaring mad.” The reference is to the stormy weather (” Whinwall storms “) at this season of the year. There is a great fair on his day at Downham Market, and the saying in the district is, ” There is always a tempest on Downham fair-day.”
Winwaloe is patron of Wonastow, near Monmouth. The church is called in the Book of Llan Dav, Lann Gunguarui, later Llanwarw, which embodies one of the many forms of the saint’s name. The extinct chapels of Llandevenny, near Magor, and Llanwynny, also in Monmouthshire, are said to have been dedicated to him.
In Devon he is patron of Portlemouth. Bishop Brantyngham, in his Register, October i8, 1372, gives, ” Ecclesia Sancti Wonewalai de Portlemouth.” In the Inquisition, ” Sancti Wynwolay.” The saint is represented on the very fine screen.
In Cornwall, dedications to S. Winwaloe are : The Parish Church of Landewednack (Bronescombe’s Register, 1279 ; Grandisson’s, 1310, 1314). The Chapel of Gunwalloe. Here is his Holy Well, which, being on the beach and within reach of high tides, has become choked with sand. It was customary to clear it out previous to the Feast. The Parish Church of Tremaine. The Church of Towednack. The Church of Tresmere. A chapel at Cradock in S. Cleer (Stafford’s Register, 141 7).
There was once a church dedicated to him at Norwich, situated near S. Catherine’s Plain, and also a priory at Wareham, near Stoke Ferry in Norfolk, founded towards the end of the twelfth century. Wenlock in Salop, is most probably not dedicated to him.
The Feast at Landewednack is on June 20, but the celebration begins on the nearest Sunday to that date. The Feast at Gunwalloe is on the last Sunday in April, in reference to the day of his translation. The Feast at Towednack is on April 28. The reason for transfer from March 3 to the end of April is to avoid keeping the feast in Lent. His feast was observed in the Isle of Tibidy anciently on the first Sunday in June.
In Brittany he is patron, not only of Landevennec, but also of Concarneau, Loquenole or Locunole, and the He de Seine, and of Le Croisic and Batz, in Loire Inferieure.
The Church of Loquenole, near Morlaix, is a very rude and early architectural monument, containing some of the oldest early Norman work in Brittany. The number of chapels in which Guenole is honoured is very great.
He is invoked in the early Litanies (tenth century) published by Mabillon and Warren, in that of S. Vougai, and in the eleventh century’ Litany published by D’Arbois de Jubainville.
He is represented at Plougastel as an old man in monastic habit and hood, with a staff in one hand, an open book in the other. This is a statue of the sixteenth century. A better and earlier statue is in the Chateau of Kernuz, near Pont L’Abbe.