birth_date=c. 494 or 516
venerated_in= [http://www.orthodoxwiki.org/ Orthodox Church] ;
Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion
caption= "Statue of Saint Gildas near the village of
birth_place=traditionally Strathclyde in modern
Street, Somersetor Rhuys, Brittany
attributes=monk holding a
Celtic bell or writing in a book
historians; bell founders
Glastonbury Abbey, now destroyed, or RhuysChurch, extant.
Saint Gildas (c. 494 or 516 – c. 570) was one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the
British Islesduring the sixth century. His renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation Gildas Sapiens (Gildas the Wise). He was ordained in the Church, and in his works favoured the monastic ideal. Fragments of letters he wrote reveal that he composed a "Rule" for monastic life that was a little less austere than the "Rule" written by his contemporary, Saint David, and set suitable penancesfor its breach.
There are two Lives of Gildas: the earlier written by a monk of
Rhuysin Brittany, possibly in the 9th century, the second written by Caradoc of Llancarfan, a friend and contemporary of Geoffrey of Monmouth, composed in the middle of the 12th century. Caradoc does not mention any connection with Brittany. Hence some scholars think that Gildas of Britain and Gildas of Rhuys were distinct personages. However on other details the two Lives complement each other.
The first Life written at Rhuys by an unnamed scribe says that Gildas was the son of "Caunus" (Caw), born in the district of "Arecluta" (Alt Clut or Strathclyde). He was entrusted into the care of Saint "Hildutus" (
Illtud) along with Samson of Dol and Paul Aurelian, to be educated. He later went to "Iren" ( Ireland) to continue his studies. Having been ordained, he went to North Britain to preach to the unconverted. Saint "Brigidda" ( Brigid of Kildare, died 524) asked for a token and Gildas made a bell which he sent to her. "Ainmericus", King of all Ireland (Ainmere, 566-569), asked Gildas to restore church order, which he did. He went to Romeand then Ravenna. He came to Brittany and settled on the island of Rhuys, [It is now joined to the mainland as a peninsula.] where he lived a solitary life. Later, he built a monastery there. He built an oratory on the bank of the River Blavetum (River Blavet). Ten years after leaving Britain, he wrote an epistolary book, in which he reproved five of the Brythonic kings. He died at Rhuys on 29 January, and his body, according to his wishes, was placed on a boat [Compare ship burial.] and allowed to drift. Three months later, on 11 May, men from Rhuys found the ship in a creek with the body of Gildas still intact. They took the body back to Rhuys and buried it there.
Caradoc of Llancarfan, influenced by
Geoffrey of Monmouthand his Norman patrons, and drawing on the Life of Cadocamong other sources, paints a somewhat different picture, including the statements that Gildas was educated in Gaul, retired to a hermitage dedicated to the Trinity, at Street, near Glastonburyand was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. Some scholars who have studied the texts suspect the latterwhich to be a piece of Glastonbury propaganda.
Caradoc tells a story of how Gildas intervened between
King Arthurand a certain King Melwas of the 'Summer Country' who had abducted Guinevereand brought her to his stronghold at Glastonbury, where Arthur soon arrived to besiege him. However, the peacemaking saint persuaded Melwas to release Guinevere and the two kings made peace. Caradog also says that the brothers of Gildas rose up against Arthur, refusing to acknowledge him as their lord. Arthur pursued Huail ap Caw, the eldest brother, and killed him. Gildas was preaching in Armaghin Ireland, at the time, and he was grieved by the news.
A strongly held tradition in
north Walesplaces the beheading of Gildas' brother, Huail, at Ruthin, where what is believed to be the actual execution stone has been preserved in the town square. Another brother of Gildas, Celyn ap Caw was based at Garth Celynon the north coast of Gwyneddtogether with the territory of land watching over the Copper Mountain on Anglesey.
Gildas is credited with a
hymncalled the "Lorica", or "Breastplate", a prayer to be delivered from evil, which contains interesting specimens of Hiberno-Latin. A proverb is also attributed to "Gildas mab y Gaw" in the 'Englynion y Clyweid' in Llanstephan MS. 27.
Bonedd y Saint, Gildas is recorded as having three sons and a daughter. Gwynnog ap Gildas and Noethon ap Gildas are named in the earliest tracts, together with their sister Dolgar. Another son, Tydech, is named in a later document. The unreliable Iolo Morganwgadds Saint Cenyddto the list.
David Dumvillesuggests that Gildas was the teacher of Vennianus of Findbarr, who in turn was the teacher of St. Columba of Iona.
"De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae"
Gildas' surviving written work, "De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae" or "On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain", is a sermon in three parts condemning the acts of his contemporaries, both secular and religious. The first part consists of Gildas' explanation for his work and a brief narrative of
Roman Britainfrom its conquest under the principate to Gildas' time:
Concerning her obstinacy, subjection and rebellion, about her second subjection and harsh servitude; concerning religion, of persecution, the holy martyrs, many heresies, of tyrants, of two plundering races, concerning the defense and a further devastation, of a second vengeance and a third devastation, concerning hunger, of the letter to Agitius [usually identified with the patrician Aëtius] , of victory, of crimes, of enemies suddenly announced, a memorable plague, a council, an enemy more savage than the first, the subversion of cities, concerning those whose survived, and concerning the final victory of our country that has been granted to our time by the will of God.In the second part, opening with the assertion "Britain has kings, yet they are tyrants; it has judges, yet they are undutiful", Gildas addresses the lives and actions of five contemporary rulers: Constantine of
Dumnonia, Aurelius Caninus, Vortiporiusof the Demetae(now called Dyfed), Cuneglasus apparently of 'the Bear's Home' (possibly 'the Bear's Stronghold' — Dinarth at Llandrillo-yn-Rhôsnear Llandudno), and lastly Maglocunus or Maelgwn. Without exception, Gildas declares each of these rulers cruel, rapacious, and living a life of sin.
The third part begins with the words, "Britain has priests, but they are fools; numerous ministers, but they are shameless; clerics, but they are wily plunderers." Gildas continues his
jeremiadagainst the clergy of his age, but does not explicitly mention any names in this section, and so does not cast any light on the history of the Christian church in this period.
Gildas's work is of great importance to historians, because although it is not intended primarily as history, it is almost the only surviving source written by a near-contemporary of British events in the fifth and sixth centuries. The usual date that has been given for the composition of the work is some time in the 540s, but it is now regarded as quite possibly earlier, in the first quarter of the sixth century, or even before that.cite book |last= Fletcher|first= Richard|title= Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England|pages=21-22|year= 1989|publisher= Shepheard-Walwyn|isbn=0-85683-089-5]
The student must remember that Gildas' intent in his writing is to preach to his contemporaries after the manner of an old testament prophet, not to write an account for posterity: while Gildas offers one of the first descriptions of the
Hadrian's Wall-- albeit highly historically inaccurate -- he also omits details where they do not contribute to his message. Nonetheless, it remains an important work for not only Medievalbut English history for being one of the few works written in Britain to survive from the sixth century.
In "De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae", Gildas mentions that the year of his birth was the same year that the Battle of
Mons Badonicustook place in. The " Annales Cambriae" gives the year of his death as 570; however the " Annals of Tigernach" date his death to 569.
Gildas's treatise was first published in 1525 by
Polydore Vergil, but with many avowed alterations and omissions. In 1568 John Josseline, secretary to Archbishop Parker, issued a new edition of it more in conformity with manuscript authority; and in 1691 a still more carefully revised edition appeared at Oxford by Thomas Gale. It was frequently reprinted on the Continent during the 16th century, and once or twice since. The next English edition, described by August Potthastas "editio pessima", was that published by the English Historical Societyin 1838, and edited by the Rev. J. Stevenson. The text of Gildas founded on Gale's edition collated with two other MSS, with elaborate introductions, is included in the Monumenta Historica Britannica. Another edition is in Arthur West Haddanand Will Stubbs, "Councils and ecclesiastical documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland" (Oxford, 1869); the latest edition is that by Theodor Mommsenin Monumenta Germaniae Historicaauct. antiq. xiii. (Chronica min. iii.), 1894.
Legacy in the Anglo-Saxon Period
Following the conquest of Britain described in "De excidio", Gildas continued to provide an important model for Anglo-Saxon writers both in Latin and in English.
Bede's "Historia ecclesiastica" relies heavily on Gildas for its account of the Anglo-Saxon invasions, and draws out the implications of Gildas's thesis of loss of divine favour by the Britons to suggest that this favour has in turn passed to the now Christianised Anglo-Saxons.
In the later Old English period, Gildas's writing provides a major model for
Alcuin's treatment of the Viking invasions, in particular his letters relating to the sack of Lindisfarnein 793. The invocation of Gildas as a historical example serves to suggest the idea of moral and religious reform as a remedy for the invasions. Likewise, Wulfstan of York draws on Gildas to make a similar point in his sermons, particularly in the " Sermo Lupi ad Anglos".
Other historical implications
Gildas's work is important for reasons beyond the historical information he provides. It is clear that at the time when he was writing there was an effective (and British) Christian church. Gildas uses Latin to address his points to the rulers he excoriates; and he regards Britons, at least to some degree, as Roman citizens, despite the collapse of central imperial authority. By 597, when St Augustine arrived in Kent, what is now England was almost completely pagan, and the illiterate new rulers did not think of themselves as Roman citizens. Dating Gildas's words more exactly would hence provide a little more certainty about the timeline of the transition from post-Roman Britain to the rule of the Anglo-Saxons; a certainty that would be the more valuable as precise dates and reliable facts are extremely scarce for this period.cite book |last= Campbell|first= John|coauthors= John, Eric & Wormald, Patrick|title= The Anglo-Saxons|pages=20-22|year= 1991|publisher= Penguin Books|isbn=0-14-014395-5]
Groans of the Britons
English historians in the Middle Ages
*gutenberg author| id=Gildas | name=Gildas (In the English translation Mount Badon is called "Bath-hill".)
* [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gildas-full.html "De Excidio Britanniae"] translated by
John Allen Giles.
* [http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/gildas06.html "The Life of Gildas"] by
Caradoc of Llancarfan.
* [http://www.bartleby.com/211/0501.html Gildas and "The History of the Britons"] commentary from "
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature", Volume 1, 1907–21.
* [http://www.vortigernstudies.org.uk/arthist/vortigernquotesgil.htm Vortigernstudies: Gildas (sources)]
* [http://www.amdg.be/sankt/jan29.html Vie de saint Gildas / Sant Gweltaz, iconographie, sources, traductions FR, etc ]
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