Posted by: anna | August 14, 2010

St Kenneth, hermit

Today (1 August) we commemorate St Kenneth (Cenydd, Kyned, Kened, Keneth, Kined). Wikipedia gives two SS Kenneth whose feasts are 1 August – St Caiannech of Aghaboe and St Cenydd, which latter is the subject fof this post, as long as I can keep them straight… Baring-Gould and Fisher are helpfully forthcoming:
S. CENYDD (KENETH), Solitary, Confessor
About 1320, John of Tynemouth made a journey through England and Wales to collect material for a Martyrologium and a Sanctilogium of the English Church.
When in Wales he came across a single exemplar of the Life of S. Keneth, and this was in so bad a condition, that he was able to read and transcribe a portion only. The Life given by him, and taken into Capgrave’s Nova Legenda Anglia, is therefore incomplete. It is a most extraordinary tale, a mass of fable. It was certainly composed
after Geoffrey of Monmouth had made the fortunes of King Arthur. i.e. 1150. That it contains earlier matter is not to be doubted ; not of an historical, but of a mythological character.
In the days of King Arthur, the prince of Letavia (Llydaw) or Britannia Minor, was Dihoc, and he became the father of Keneth, who was born of incest.
Summoned by King Arthur, as a tributary, to come to his court to celebrate the Feast of Christmas in Gower, he took with him the woman, and she gave birth to a child, who was bom a cripple, with the calf of one leg attached to the thigh.
Dihoc ordered the infant to be thrown into the river, but before this was done, a priest baptised it and gave it the name of Keneth.
His Life by John of Tynemouth isin the Cottonian Collection, Tiberius E. i (fourteenth century). Apparently the same text occurs in Bodl. MS. 240 and Bodl. Tanner MS. 15.
The child was placed in an osier-woven cradle and launched on the stream. This stream speedily carried it down to the river Lothur, and that swept it out to sea. A storm arose and drove the cradle, dancing on the crest of the waves, to the isle of Inisweryn, where it was cast up on the beach. At once a cloud of seagulls fluttered over the child, and the birds with beak and claw removed it to the top of a rock, and there they stripped their breasts of feathers to make a bed for the infant. The birds kept incessant watch over their protege, spreading their wings over him to shelter him from wind and rain and snow.
Before nine days had passed, an angel descended from heaven, bearing a brazen bell, which he applied to the mouth of the infant, who sucked vigorously at the handle, and received therefrom much satisfaction.
Certain practical difficulties, such as would suggest themselves to a mother, are got over by the author by an ingenious explanation.
Thus Keneth lived till he was able to walk, and the garments in which he had been wrapped when exposed, grew with him, expanding, as does the bark of a tree.
One day, a peasant who lived near the sea, and who had no family, happening to light on the child, took it up and carried it home, and committed it to his wife, who at once put the little Keneth to bed. This caused tremendous excitement among the gulls ; they came in vast numbers, and dividing into two bands, one entered the house and pulled the coverlet off the sleeping child, and the other, with screams and by the aid of beak and claw, drove the cattle of the husbandman towards the sea.
The man, alarmed for his live-stock, hastily carried back Keneth to where he had found him, whereupon the gulls drove back his cattle to their pastures, and, in the most tidy manner, replaced the coverlet whence they had plucked it.
And now daily a female stag came out of the forest, and squirted her milk into the bell that Keneth employed as his feeding-bottle, and likewise filled some hollows in the rocks hard by.
Living thus, on milk and roots and herbs, Keneth grew to the age of eighteen, and received instruction in Scripture and the Articles of the Faith from an angel. Then this heavenly teacher informed him he must depart to a reedy spot about a mile distant.
Keneth started ; probably on account of his crippled condition he made a slow progress, for we are informed that he halted, and miraculously produced twenty-four springs to assuage his insatiable thirst within the one mile he traversed.
Arrived at last at his destination, he built himself a hut of woven osiers and roofed it with reeds. Here he was joined by a man who offered himself as his servant.
One day, nine robbers who infested the district, said to one another, “There is a holy man here who instructs all, and is very good-natured ; let us see what can be got from him.”
So they visited Keneth, and he hospitably entertained them. Now the men had left their spears outside, and Keneth’s servant, coveting one, stole it, and when the robber asked for his lance, swore that he had not seen it. ” Bring out the bosom-shaped bell, and I will take oath on that.” When the man had so forsworn himself he went mad, and ran away to Menevia, “where, at the time, David had his seat,” and there inhabited remote localities, living like a wild beast, till the hair of his body completely clothed him. At the end of seven years, Keneth prayed for his restoration, and the man returned to his service a sincere penitent. Now it fell out that Morgan, prince of Glamorgan, came on a raid and swept together much plunder in the region where was Keneth. The hermit thereupon sent his servant with the woman-breasted bell to demand a share of the spoil. He met with a refusal and abuse. Then the plunderers began to quarrel among themselves over the division of the spoil, came to blows, and many were killed. Morgan, attributing this disaster to the offence given to Keneth and disregard of the sanctity of his bell, went to him and offered compensation. He took him up a height and bade him accept as much ground as he desired. Keneth selected a certain amount up to a certain river, and this was granted to him for ever.
It fell out that David, Teilo and Padam were on their way, summoning the abbots and bishops of Wales to the Council of Llanddewi Brefi, and were hospitably received by Keneth. David requested him to attend the synod.
“Observe my leg, I am a cripple, how can I go?” answered Keneth. Then David prayed, and Keneth’s contracted leg was relaxed, so that he could walk as any other man. This did not please Keneth, and he prayed, and at once up went his limb as before and the calf once again adhered to his thigh. Consequently he did not attend the Council of Brefi.
With this the story ends abruptly ; John of Tynemouth only adding that Keneth died on the Kalends of August.
… they discuss points of improbability in the story, then comes some apparently more concrete evidence: ‘Turning from this childish nonsense, we come to the more reliable information supplied by the Welsh genealogies.’ But you can pursue those if you are interested…
To sum up what we derive from the Welsh authorities : – Cenydd was the son of Gildas, who is identified with Aneurin, but not the Aneurin composer of the Gododin. He was himself a married man, and the father of S. Ffili. From other entries we know the name of another of his sons, Ufelwy or Ufelwyn. He was, for a while, a member of the college of S. Illtyd, then of S. Catwg, and he was placed by S. David in charge of his foundation in Gower ; but afterwards he became an independent founder of a monastic establishment, or
Bangor, at Llangenydd, now generally Llangennith, also in Gower. The ruins of a chapel of S. Cenydd, at the new village of Senghenydd, are still pointed out, and there is a Bryn Cenydd or Cynydd at Caerphilly.
It was probably somewhere about 520 that Gildas moved into Brittany and established himself at Ruys. Later, about 544-5, after he had launched his tract De excidio Britannia, there would seem to have been an exodus of his brothers and sons from Wales and Cornwall, to escape the vengeance of the princes assailed by him in that work.
Whether then, or later, we do not know, but at some time, both Cenydd and his sons seem to have been in Bro-weroc, in the neighbourhood of the settlements of Gildas, where they have left their mark.
In Brittany Cenydd is called KinMe, Kidi, Quidi, Guidec and Kihouet.
His most important settlement was at Languidic, between Hennebont and Baud, at no great distance from his father’s foundation at Castanec. There the name is variously written as Kintic, Guindic and Guidic. Here are five avenues of upright stones, like those at Camac, now called ‘ les soldats de S. Comely,’ but probably originally attributed to S. Kede, and the tradition is that as they pursued the Saint, he cursed them and they were turned to stone. In the parish are several early Celtic Christian lechs or tombstones, one of which bears an inscription. Also, in the same commune is a Kervili, Caer-ffili, bearing the name of one of the sons of Cenydd.
S.Cenydd has a chapel in the parish of Ploumelin, close to his father’s monastery of Locmine. It is picturesquely situated on a granite rock in a hamlet, and is in the flamboyant style, cruciform, with a bell-turret to the north transept. A carved Calvary has fallen, and the remains strew the ground at the west end. Within is an early sixteenth century statue of the Saint as a hermit, bare-footed, holding a book in one hand and a staff in the other. A cowl is drawn over his head.
At Plaintel also, near Quintin, in Cotes du Nord, he is patron, and there is a chateau in the place called after him, Saint Quihouet, now transformed into a hospital. It was formerly a house of the Knights Templars. Here is shown a stone trough, supposed to have been S. Cenydd’s bed, and frescoes represent his legend. Plaintel, again, is at no great distance from the Gildas settlements of Magoar and La Harmoye.
Near Loud6ac, in the same department, is S. Caradec, and here is a chapel of S. Quidi, with his statue in it, representing him as an abbot, staff in hand, and holding in the other an open book.
Not far from S. Caradec is La Croix des Sept Chemins. The legend goes that seven brothers, SS. Gonery, Merhe, Connec, Derdanaon, Quidec, Geran and Joret embraced there, and separated to preach the Gospel throughout the land, and each founded a chapel in the direction that he took.
All the seven brothers had been brought up by a doe. In remembrance of this, annually, on the eve of the Pardon, in the chapel of S. Merhe in the parish of Kergrist-Neuillac (Morbihan) fresh straw is strewn in the porch, and the doe is supposed to pass the night there sleeping on it. This is an extension to others of the legend of S. Cenydd, nourished by the doe. Who S. Merhe or Merec was is unknown ; the name seems to be a corruption of Meurig. Connec may be Cyniog ; Geran is Geraint the great-grandfather of Cenydd ; Gonery is known, but not Derdanaon nor Joret.
The sons of Cenydd have left some traces also in Brittany.
S. Cenydd is given in Nicolas Roscarrock’s Calendar on August i. This is the day also in Capgrave. The Pardon at S. Quidi is on the Sunday after August i.
Garaby gives S. Kinede on August i, and a short sketch of his life. Whytford on August i, says : ” In Englonde the feest of Saynt Kenede that was lame borne, and therefore he was cast in to a ryver whiche ryver caryed hym in to ye see, and ye see cast hym upon a rocke in to an ylelonde where he was fedde and brought up by an augel, and he was of singuler holynes and many wonderous myracles died in yetyme of Saynt David.”
S. Cenydd’s body was translated, and his translation kept on June 27. William of Worcester says : ‘ Translatio Sancti Kenneth heremitae die 3° post nativitatem Sancti Johannis Baptistae ; jacet apud ecclesiam villae Sancti Keneth in Gowerland.” But he tells us further that the Saint’s relics were removed with those of SS. David and Teilo to North Wales. ” Sanctus Davidicus de ecclesia Menevensi, Sanctus Thebaus (Teilo) de Llandaff sepultus. Sanctus Keneth de villa Keneth in Gowerland. Isti tres sancti et non plures sunt translati in North Wallia.”
S. Cenydd’s day was observed in Llangennith on July 5, and was the greatest and most popular of all the Gower Mabsants or wakes. One of its peculiarities was the great quantity of what is called in Gower “milked meat,” or “white pot,” a mixture of flour and milk boiled together, that was consumed, probably in allusion to the bringing up of the Saint in infancy on the milk of a doe injected into a bell. This bell is said to have been called by the Welsh “Cloch Dethog,” i,e. the Titty Bell.
An ancient stone, with interlaced work on one side only, in the centre of the chancel floor of Llangennith church, has been supposed to mark the grave of the Saint.
S. Caradog, at the close of the eleventh century went into Gower, and found there the church of S. Cenydd abandoned and desolate, and he cleared the sacred edifice of the brambles that had occupied it.It is probable, therefore, that the elevation or translation took place about this time.
Whether Lesnewth church, in Cornwall, which is said by Ecton to have been dedicated to S. Knet, had originally Keneth or Cenydd as its founder, it is impossible to say. S. Michael is now considered the patron. The church, which was early Norman and of great interest, has been wantonly rebuilt in a most uninteresting manner.
The ingenious explanation is left in Latin by the overly discreet Baring-Gould & Fisher: (” Sordes vero quas puer naturaliter in secessum emittit, ille nunqnam faciebat ; subtilissimo enim cibo vescebatur, qui fecem non habebat.”) – roughly, his food was so thoroughly absorbed that there were no excreta. This attention to detail is very satisfying in a storyteller – I was always rather fed up with e.g. Enid Blyton’s and Arthur Ransome’s characters who were always doing tremendously exciting and dangerous things, swigging ginger beer at every turn, messing about in boats for days on end, and apparently never ever needing the loo!)
The episode of requesting a share of the spoils is interesting given Keneth’s proximity to Botvid, who refused to ask for a share to which he might have been entitled. Autre temps, autre moeurs…
celt-saints’ account is unusually unsatisfactory – very disjointed. There is an icon of Kenneth of Wales at comandseeicons.
Holy St Cennydd, pray to God for us.

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