The Life of Gildas By The Monk of Ruys
Here lies a remarkable account of the life and works of Glidas the Wise, by the Monk of Ruys.
1. ST. GILDAS, born in the very fertile district of Arecluta, and descended from his father Caunus, a most noble and Catholic man, was desirous, from his very boyhood, to follow Christ with all the affection of his heart. The district of Arecluta, as it forms a part of Britain, took its name from a certain river called the Clut, by which that district is, for the most part, watered. Indeed, amongst other matters which St. Gildas himself has written about the miseries and transgressions and ruin of Britain, he has, at the beginning, said the following words about it: Britain, says he, is renowned for its twice ten and twice four cities, and is embellished by not a few castles. It was also not improbably provided and adorned with defences in the way of walls and serrated towers and gates, and with houses too, whose tops, with their strong structure, are seen rising with a threatening height to heaven. It is famous also for its wide-spreading fields and its hills situated in pleasant positions, and adapted for excellent tillage; and for its mountains, excellently advantageous for the alternate pasturage of cattle, and rendered pleasing to man’s eye by flowers of various kinds, like a chosen bride bedecked with divers jewels. It rejoices in numerous lucid fountains from which brooks issue forth with gentle murmur, and which afford to weary travellers the sweet assurance of sleep. It is likewise enriched by the mouths of two noble rivers, the Thames and the Severn, like two arms, along which, in days gone by, foreign luxuries were conveyed in boats to Britain, and it is watered by the flow of other smaller streams. With this clear description, and with the advantages of the place as well as of the country from which the aforesaid venerable and holy man sprang, let, at last, with the help of God, his life be written.
2. His father, Caunus, is said to have also had four other sons. One was Cuillum, a very active man in war, who, after his father’s death, succeeded him to the throne. Another, Mailocus, who had been consecrated by his father to sacred literature, and had been well-trained therein, came, after abandoning his father, and renouncing his paternal patrimony, to Luyhes, in the district of Elmail. He there built a monastery in which, after serving God earnestly with hymns and prayers, fastings and vigils, he rested in peace, distinguished for his virtues and miracles. But Egreas, with his brother Alleccus and their sister Peteova, a virgin consecrated to God, having also themselves similarly given up their patrimony and renounced worldly pomp, retired to the remotest part of that country, and at no long distance from each other, built, each one for himself, an oratory, placing their sister in the middle one. Both of them alternately, each on his own day, used to celebrate with her the daily hours and the mass; and taking food with her after the vespers, and returning thanks to God, they returned before sunset, each to his own oratory; for each of them used to celebrate the vigils separately in his own oratory. Now those blessed and holy men, whom we have mentioned above, even Mailocus, Alleccus and Egreas, with their saintly sister, after contemning, as was said before, all the wealth and luxuries of the world, strove with the whole bent of their soul to reach the celestial country, and devoted their lives to fastings and prayers. At last they were called by God, and received the reward of their labours. They were buried in the oratories which they had built, and are preserved there, famous and illustrious for their constant miracles, and destined to rise again in glory.
3. Now, the blessed Gildas, who is also called Gildasius, destined to become the honour and glory of his nation, is entrusted by his parents to the charge of St. Hildutus, to be instructed by him. He took the holy child to himself, and began to teach him in sacred literature; and seeing he excelled in outward beauty, and was most eagerly bent upon the liberal studies, he loved him with tender love, and strove to teach him with attentive zeal. The blessed Gildas was, therefore, established under a master’s training in the school of divine scripture and of the liberal arts. Observing, however, the knowledge imparted in both kinds of teaching, he was anxious to be taught rather in the divine doctrines, desiring to imitate a kind of divine contemplation, and altogether deserting the reputation of man’s opinion; he did not desire, however, to follow the noble demeanour of his high birth. At that time the champion and most active soldier of Christ, while spending his life in a cloister, took upon him the brave weapons of obedience; and, putting away the habits of boyhood, he transformed the age of blooming youth to the form of old age. For, since in his early years he had been established among the recruits of the eternal King, he abandoned the habits of youth, he afforded, as much to old men as to the young, very many proofs of eternal salvation, regulating the habits of both periods of life. For he was distinguished for wisdom, was constant in reading the Scriptures, ever devoted to watchings and prayers, devout in inedffable love, pleasant in action, of a winning face and handsome in all his body; one that had been crucified to the world, and the world to him. Now, in the school of the above-mentioned teacher, Hildutus, a great number of the sons of the nobles were taught. The more distinguished among these, as much for the nobility of their descent as for the uprightness of their character, were Samson and Paul; but the blessed Gildas surpassed even these men in the wonderful keenness of his talents. Of these men, the most holy Samson was afterwards Archbishop of the Britons (i.e. Bretons), whilst Paul presided as bishop over the Church of the Oxismi.
4. The afore-mentioned Hildutus dwelt with his disciples in a certain island, narrow, confined and squalid with its arid soil. One day the blessed boy Gildas approaches him, and accosts him, saying: “My dear teacher, I heard you preaching lately from the Gospel the words of our Saviour, in which he admonished his disciples to ask of God in faith for the things which were beneficial to the, and that they would receive the things thus prayed for in faith, saying: Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye ask for in prayer, believe that ye will received, and it shall be done unto you. Now, therefore, my excellent master, why do you not ask our Lord Jesus Christ, who is powerful to bestow all things which are asked of Him in faith, that He extend the boundaries of this island, and make its soil fruitful?” When, therefore, St Hildutus heard these words, he wondered at the boy’s faith, and called his disciples together, and entered with them into the oratory; and, bending his knees to the ground and stretching out his hands to heaven, he prayed, with tearful eyes, saying: Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Son of Almighty God, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost, didst make heaven and earth, the sea and all that are therein, and who didst admonish thy disciples to pray unto God the Father for whatsoever they needed, and that their petition would be granted them; yea, in Thy name, we implore the mercy of the Almighty Lord that, through Thee, He may command the boundaries of this island to extend, and impart fruitfulness to its soil, in order that unto us, Thy servants, and unto our successors, it may, through the bountifulness of Thy grace, afford food in abundance; so that satisfied by Thy gifts, we may return thanks to Thy name, who, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest for ever and ever. When all had said Amen, and had gone out from the oratory, they saw the island enlarged in all directions, and blossoming round about with various flowers. Then the aged man returns again to the oratory; and, bathed for joy in tears, he, along with the reverent flock of his disciples, chants with a loud voice hymns and the highest praises to the Lord, the Creator of all things, who is near unto all that call upon him in truth.
5. Accordingly, with wonderful virtue, the old man begins to till the island thus enlarged for him, and to sow seeds of corn in the fertile fields. When the glad buds of the fruits began to sprout, the sea-birds flocked together and began to destroy them. On seeing this, the father Hildutus commanded his disciples to scare and drive them away, and each of them in his own day, to guard the cornfields. When the day had come on which St Paul was to keep watch over the field, there arrived, in greater numbers than usual, a hostile throng of birds, which kept devastating the cornfield everywhere by plucking the ears of corn. Paul, however, a youth of wonderful activity, kept running hither and thither, shouting loudly, and strove his best to scare them away, but did not succeed. At last then, quite worn out, he calls his comrades to his aid, even Gildas of blessed memory, and the venerable Samson, rousing them with words to this effect: help me, brethren, help me, most beloved brethren, and avenge with me the loss inflicted upon our master. For lo! A horde of enemies is consuming far and wide, and eating away the cornfield of our teacher. Let, therefore, the insatiable plunderer that has laid waste our master’s corn pay the penalty that is his due. At this word his comrades fly to his help; and the holy boys, after calling upon the name of Christ, gather together the multitude of wild birds, and then, filled with the power of God, drive them before them like flocks of idle sheep. But when they had reached the old man’s dwelling, the captured wild birds, on being hemmed in, send up their cries to heaven. Hearing their noise and din, the aged man comes out from his oratory and behold the power of God. He wondered not a little at such great faith in the hearts of the boys, and said to them Let the birds go, my sons, let the birds go away free: let it suffice that you have thus punished them. Let them go away free, and let them no more, in the name of the Lord, presume to damage our cornfields. And so, not daring to despise the old man’s commands, the birds, when loosed, departed far away, and no further presumed to lay waste the cornfields in that island. That island is called, up to this day, Llanilltud (the Llan of Illtud).
6. Now, St. Gildas, having tarried for the space of some years under the instruction of St. Hildutus, and having been excellently taught by him everything that the divine goodness had entrusted to him, both in secular writings, as far as the subject demanded, and in divine writings, bade farewell to his pious master and his venerable fellow-disciples, and proceeded to Iren (i.e. Ireland) that, as a diligent inquirer, he might also ascertain the views of other teachers both in philosophy and divinity. When, therefore, he had passed through the schools of a great number of teachers, and, like a most sagacious bee, had collected the juices from various flowers, he hid himself in the beehive of the mother church, so that, in the suitable time, he might put forth the mellifluous words of the Gospel to call back the people to the celestial joys, and, as a good servant, pay back with profit to his master the talent entrusted to him. And so, following the apostle’s idea, that, while preaching to others, he should himself not be found rejected, he used to buffet his body in fastings and watching, spending the nights in prayers, standing without any support on which to rest himself.
7. From the fifteenth year of his age through the whole period of the present life which he lived in this world, up to the very last day on which he was called by the Lord, it was only three times in the week, as we have learnt from a trustworthy source, that he took a most scanty food for his body. For any prudent man whatever may assert without hesitation about him that, although the sword of the persecutor failed him, he did not, however, lose the martyr’s palm. For while he buffeted his body with frequent fastings and with protracted vigils, while day and night, even when devoting himself to prayers, he withstood vices, while he struggled against the temptations of the devil, and tortured himself in resisting the pleasures of the body, what else can be said of his except that he underwent a tedious martyrdom? For he himself was both his own persecutor, and the patient sufferer who endured the persecutions which he brought upon himself.
8. When, therefore, he had bee promoted to holy orders, and was discharging the duties of a presbyter, he heard that the people who inhabited the northern region of the island of Britain were still held back by pagan error, and that even those who were deemed Christians among them were not orthodox, but were ensnared by the various impositions of heretics. He therefore took up, according to the apostle’s instruction, the armour of God, that he might be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having been perfected in all things, to stand; and then, he began, trusting in Christ’s help, to proceed thither. And so, standing, having girded the loins of his mind among the pagans and heretics, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod his feet unto the preparation of the Gospel of Peace, he took up, in the midst of all dangers, the shield of faith, wherewith he might be able to quench all the darts of the most evil spirits, and took the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Protected, therefore, by these weapons, Gildas, the distinguished soldier of Christ, began to preach the name of Christ to the pagans, showing, by many proofs from the divine law, that what was worshipped by them did not exist at all. Adducing also the word of salvation, he led the heretics to the way of truth, recalling them even from all their errors. For our Lord Jesus Christ had given him such gifts of healings that, through his prayers, the blind received their sight, their hearing was restored to the deaf, and their power to walk to the lame and the maimed; the demoniacs were cured, the lepers were cleansed, and all the sick were healed. St. Gildas, therefore, continued in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, teaching the true faith through all the provinces, and converted his nation to the true and catholic faith.
9. While St. Gildas was doing these and similar things, all the nation of the northern region began to flock, from every quarter, to the doctrine which he preached; with the result that, after forsaking its heathen errors, and learning, through his admonition, faith in the Holy Trinitry, it was gathered together in the bosom of the holy mother the Church, so that it was called the bride of Christ and proved itself to be so. Accordingly, idols along with their temples were destroyed by those who had made them, and churches were built in suitable places. Men of noble rank, together with their wives and children and families, were baptised. Now, when St. Gildas saw that the fruitful offspring of Christianity and the holy religion was everywhere increasing, he was filled with unspeakable joy, and said thus unto the Lord: I thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, who in Thy mercy hast thought fit, by the grace of Thy holy name, to enlighten this people that have too long been straying, and hast made it attain unto knowledge of Thee; and that upon us ho, up till this moment, unhappy and unfeeling, have been wandering in the land of the shadow of death, the light of Thy righteousness has shone at last, and eternal peace now reigns within us.
10. Now, St. Bridget, an illustrious virgin, who dwelt and flourished at that time in the island of Hibernia, and presided as abbess over a nunnery, on hearing of the renown of St. Gildas, sent a messenger to him, saying with entreating words: Rejoice, holy father, and be always strong in the Lord. I beseech thee to deem it worthy to send me some token of thy holiness, that the memory of thee may ever, without ceasing, be held in honour amongst us. Then St. Gildas, having heard the holy virgin’s ambassador, made with his own hands a mould of wrought work and, according to her petition, constructed a bell, and despatched it to her by means of the messenger whom she had sent. She joyfully took it, and gladly received it as a heavenly gift sent to her from him.
11. At that time, all Hibernia was governed by king Ainmericus. He also sent to St. Gildas, begging him to come to him, and promising that he would obey his instructions in everything, if he should come and restore church order in his realm; for almost every man in that island had abandoned the catholic faith. When, therefore, Gildas, the most saintly soldier of Christ, heard this, he equipped himself with the heavenly weapons, and directed his course to Hibernia to preach Christ. Now it happened on a certain day, when he was going to the king’s palace, that a certain man, sick of the palsy, met him, whom his parents were leading about, asking alms of the inhabitants of the country. Seeing him and taking compassion upon him, St. Gildas bent on his knees, and uttered a prayer to the Lord on his behalf. He then approached the wretched man’s vehicle and said: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, stand upright on they feet, and receive from the Lord thy former health. He at once received his bodily strength and was made whole; and, exclaiming with a loud voice, he began to magnify the name of the Lord, and to repeat lofty praises of the holy man, saying that he would go with him whithersoever he should wish. The saint could not endure this, and said to him: See that thou comest not with me, but return home, and cease not to extol the mercy of the Lord who hath restored to thee thy health. But the man more and more burst out in praise of him, and declared to all whom he met, saying: Come, come ye all, and see a holy man of God, who has restored to me the health of my body and of my soul. Then St. Gildas, as he cared not to be the object of such popularity and applause from the people, departed forthwith from them, and went away secretly that he might not be recognized, and concealed himself.
12. In a few days after he was found by some men of noble birth who had once been known to him, and was introduced by them to king Ainmericus. When the king saw him, he begged him with many entreaties, and with an offer of numerous gifts asked him to remain with him, and, as he had previously enjoined him, to restore church order in that island; for all, from the greatest to the least, had altogether lost the catholic faith. Then St. Gildas, protected with the shield of courage and the helmet of salvation, went round all the territories of the Hibernians and restored the churches, instructed the whole body of the clergy in the catholic faith, that they might worship the holy Trinity, healed the people who were severely wounded by the bites of the heretics, and drove far away from them the heretical conceits along with their authors. And when now the harvest of the multitude of believers was growing in the bosom of the mother church, and the thorns of the heretics had been plucked off, the land, long sterile, was now fertilized by the dew of heavenly grace, and brought forth more pleasing fruits unto the knowledge of the heavenly calling. For as the catholic faith was increasing, the country rejoiced at having won so great a man for its patron. Afterwards the saintly man built many monasteries in the said island, rearing in them not a few sons of noble men, and fashioning them by the rule of a regular discipline. And, that he might be able to present more disciples to the Lord, being a monk, he now gathered monks to himself not only from the ranks of the nobles, but also from among poor orphans and bereaved persons; yea, in his compassion, he even set free the captives who has been ensnared by the despotic slavery of the pagans, and, as a good shepherd, triumphing over himself, he strove to pay back to Him, faithfully doubled, the talents entrusted him by the Lord. In short, he instructed by his example and taught by his words the whole country of the Irish and the English, and likewise of foreign nations: their people and their nations everywhere up to this day revere with deep honour his acts and his virtues.
13. After these events St. Gildas departed from Hibernia and Britain, and left all his friends behind him. Then, setting out for foreign parts, he directed his course to Rome, to plead the merits of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, that, through their intercession, he might be able to obtain from the Lord the remission of his sins and to continue steadfast in the service of God, and be deemed worthy of being united to all the saints in the heavenly country. But when, after finishing the praises of vigils and matins, he went out at dawn on a certain day from the palace of St. Peter, desiring, as was his wont, to go out and go round the oratories of the rest of the saints in the city of Romulus, and to seek their prayers, he was met by a certain man, sick of the dropsy, swollen with the water of his dread diseases, and asking alms of him. St. Gildas said top him: I have no money in my possession that I can give thee; but in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the merits of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, be thou healed from this infirmity; and if anyone ask thee who made thee whole, tell them, it was the Lord Jesus Christ, through the merits of His apostles, that showed His mercy unto me. Forthwith the sick man was made whole, and entered the basilica of the apostle Peter, praising and magnifying God. St. Gildas, however, proceeded on the journey he had begun; and while tarrying there for a few days visiting the oratories of the saints, he heard that the citizens of Rome were being grievously afflicted owing to the noxious breath of a dragon which was hiding in a cavern in some mountain, and which, by its pestiferous breath, had killed many of the Romans and of others dwelling in the neighbourhood. Hearing this, St. Gildas, at an early hour in the morning, went out secretly from his inn, and ascended the mountain, bearing a staff in his hand. After offering up a prayer, he came to the mouth of the cave; and, seeing the dragon, he called upon the name of Christ, and said fearlessly: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I bid thee die at once, that the people of believers may be no more destroyed by thee. All at once it sank down to the ground and died, and its plague ceased from among the people.
14. Then St. Gildas, to benefit by the prayer of St. Apollinaris, departed for Ravenna. As he was approaching the gate of the city, there met him a blind and dumb man, whom a man was leading about by the hand, while he himself was beating a board with a hammer, for a sign that he was asking alms. On seeing him, St. Gildas was moved with pity, and began to weep; and, requesting that water should be brought to him, he blessed it and sprinkled it on the blind man’s face. And so, by the favour of God, he received his sight. Then, taking some salt, he similarly blessed it, and applied it to the man’s mouth. Straightway he spoke also, blessing God and magnifying the blessed man who had conferred such great health upon him.
15. Now it came to pass that, when he was returning thence, he happened o fall among thieves. Seeing him shining by the splendour of his handsome person, some tried to capture him, others to kill him. When he saw them approaching him, he called upon the name of Christ; and forthwith, with the assent of God, he caused their feet to stick to the ground, and themselves to become stiff as stones. He then withdrew from them, and proceeded on the way he had begun. But, when he had gone a considerable distance from them, he turned back, lifted up his hand, and released them. When they were released, they took to flight, and after that injured no man in those districts.
16. When he was afterwards making arrangements to return to his own country, God, who willed to magnify His mercy unto us, would not permit him to do so. For when, at God’s command, he had come to Armorica – formerly a territory in Gaul, but it was at that time called Letavia by the Bretons, in whose possession it was – he was received by the inhabitants with honour and great joy. But he himself, while shunning worldly and vanishing honours, was longing more and more to lead a life of contemplation. At that time, however, the resources of the kings and kingdom of the Franks were small. For in those days, as any wise reader can learn from the histories of the ancients, it was Childeric, the son of Meroveus, a man devoted to the error of the heathen, that was ruling over the Franks. St. Gildas, therefore, in the thirtieth year of his age, came to some island which lay in sight of the district of Reuvisium, and there, for a considerable time, spent a solitary life. But after no long time, as the lamp that had been lit could no longer remain under a bushel, but upon a stand, that all his neighbours and acquaintances, both near and far away, might enjoy the light of its brightness, the people began to flock to him from all directions, and to entrust their sons for their instruction to his superintendence and teaching. He gladly took them all under his charge, and began to instruct them in spiritual knowledge. Coming, therefore, to some fort on a mountain in Reuvisium, situated in sight of the seam he built there a monastery of more skilful workmanship, and in it he constructed defences after the fashion of cloisters. There his life shone forth so brilliantly that a large number of sick and maimed persons and lepers, who were in the country round about, came to him, and were restored to health by his actions and merits, – a wonder which, even up to the present time, by the merits of the saint, Almighty God has not ceased to work in that place.
17. He then, finally, built a small oratory on the bank of the river Blavetum under a certain overhanging rock; he hollowed out the rock itself from west to east, raised a wall on its right side, and thus made a suitable oratory, underneath which he caused a fountain of clear water to issue forth from the rock. But when St. Gildas wished to close up the east window of that oratory with glass, and could not find any glass, he prostrated himself on the ground, and prayed to the Lord. On rising from his prayer, he went off to a certain rock; and from that very rock, by the bountifulness of the Lord, he brought excellent glass. He also made a mill there, to which he put the wheat, and which he turned with the hand. This mill is preserved in the same place up to present day; and into it, as the merits of the saint avail with Christ, sick Christians banish all their ailments. Nor must we pass by in silence the following miracle also, which the Lord wrought through him. For, as he was one day tarrying with his brethren in his cell, some guests came to him. He joyfully welcomed them and led them to prayer, and showed every kindness to them, washing both their hands and feet, and with love gave whatsoever he had. But as he had not wine to offer them, he prayed, and then bade the servants fill the wine-vessels with water; and when he had blessed it, the water, by the divine command, was turned into the best wine. Wondering at this power, all who were present returned thanks to the Almighty Lord, who, in His Gospel, has promised to His faithful followers: The works that I do, shall they do also; and greater works than these shall they do.
18. But, although he was a man of such character and greatness that God worked so many miracles through him, he nevertheless placed before himself no one, but appeared to be more lowly than any. Although, indeed, he held the office of an abbot, nevertheless, that he might show to his inferiors an example of lowliness, according to the divine precept which says, He that is greater among you shall be a servant, he himself also would strive to be a servant to all. And that he might not be a deaf listener to the Lord Jesus, who says, Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, he was in this also diligent to obey the commandments of the Lord his Saviour: for as it has been written of Moses: he also was the meekest of all the men of that time. He was, moreover, wise both in his teaching and in action, truthful in conversation, diligent in prayers, continuing through the nights in watchings, torturing his body with fastings, long-suffering in wrongs, affable in conference, bountiful in alms, distinguishes in all goodness. And, further, he was wont to teach that heretics, after the first and second reproof, should be avoided; and, in his sermons, he exhorted men to atone for sins by alms, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and those cast into prison, to bury the dead, to return evil for evil to no man, to love fasting, to be always assiduous in watchings and prayers. It was thus that the illustrious teacher instructed the clergy, thus the monks, and thus too the laics; and he enjoined upon others nothing save what he himself was wont to do. And so, having made himself all things to all men, he mourned with them that mourned, and rejoiced with them that rejoiced. He was, therefore, a father to the poor and the orphans, the comforter of those who grieved. Those who quarrelled he would call back to peace, but reproved murderers, adulterers, sacrilegious persons, robbers, and plunderers, of whatsoever condition they might be, being no respecter of persons. Frightening them, indeed, at first by quotations from the words of the Gospel and from those of the apostles and the prophets, and then recalling them to penitence, he would confidently promise that, provided they sincerely repented, they would win the mercy of God.
19. Once more: the holy man, at the request of brother monks who had come to him from Britain, ten years after he had departed from the country, wrote a short epistolary book, in which he reproved five of the kings of that island who had been ensnared by various crimes and sins. I have, therefore, thought it proper to add on this page a few words to show how elegantly and how concisely he had related their worthlessness, and censured each of them by name for his iniquities. For, of a truth, says he, will the citizens conceal not only what belongs to our (kings), but what the nations round about are now casting in our teeth? For Britain has kings, but they are despots. It has judges, but they are impious men. They are often engaged in plunder and rapines, but always preying on the innocent; exerting themselves to avenge or protect, but in favour of criminals and robbers; having an abundance of wives, but unchaste and adulterous wives; ever ready to take oaths, but often perjuring themselves; making vows, but almost immediately acting falsely; making wars, but stirring up civil and unjust wars; rigorously prosecuting thieves throughout the country, but not only loving but even remunerating those thieves who sit at table with them; giving alms plentifully, but, in contrast to thus; piling up a huge mountain of crimes; sitting in the seat of judgment, but rarely seeking for the rule of right judgment; despising the innocent and the lowly, but seizing upon every chance to exalt to the very stars the bloody-minded, the proud, murderers, adulterers, the enemies of God, who with their very name ought to be utterly destroyed; having many prisoners in their gaols, loading them with chains, whom they maltreat more in treachery than as a deserved punishment; entering among the altars and abiding there, and yet despising these altars shortly after, as if it were a mere heap of dirty stones. And so what follows in the said epistle. Now the, with the Lord’s help, let us return to the point from which we have digressed.
20. Now there lived in these days, in the upper parts of that country, a certain tyrant whose name was Conomerus, a man allured by a perverse credulity and a diabolical crime, who made it a practice, as soon as he learnt that his wife had conceived, to put her to death at once. And when he had already done away with many women sprung from noble families, parents began to feel much saddened on this account, and to move further away from him. Accordingly, in order not to become participator in his wickedness, no man of any discretion, whether in conference or in transacting business, would adhere to him in any manner whatever, or execute his mandates. Seeing, therefore, that he was despised by everybody, he sends to St. Gildas asking him to observe the petition of his words. But the saint, perceiving the cunning of his wickedness, assented in no way to his request, but removed far away from him, lest in any way, through intercourse with him, the nobles and princes of that part of the country might be completely deceived. But, being unable to attain his object, the aforesaid tyrant personally sent, as many trustworthy witnesses inform us, to some prince called Werocus, commanding him to give his daughter in marriage. When Werocus, Count of Vannes, heard this, he straightway answered the messenger, saying: How can I give my daughter to be slain by your mater’s accursed sword? Have I not heard of the massacre he has made of the ladies who had been married to him? I certainly will not do so: for my daughter shall not risk death as long as I can drive it away from her.
21. The messengers, therefore, returned and reported to the aforementioned malefactor the reply which Werocus had given them. But he desisted not from the course he had begun, and again and again charged Werocus, saying: Whatever hostages or sureties thou desirest, I will give thee: do thou but grant my request. Werocus answered him: Vain is thy suit; to no purpose dost thou labour in thy request. For unless thou givest me St. Gildas as surety, thou wilt in no way succeed in thy petition; for to no one, except through his hands, will I deliver my daughter. Now the king at once sent messengers to St. Gildas, desiring him to come with all speed, and receive, on the promise of his protection, a daughter from her father’s hand, and give her to him in legitimate wedlock as his wife. But the saint, in disapproval of their words, said in answer to them: You know that your master is a very cunning man, and ruined by a tyrannical savageness: if I assent, and if he pledge me as a surety and then kill the maiden, I shall have fallen into a grievous sin before the Lord, and have separated her parents from me by the violent bereavement of their child, and caused them to sight deeply with intolerable grief. But, nevertheless, I will come with you, and discuss the wishes of both parties, even of the parents and of him who has directed you to me. Then he goes along with them, and finds the princes themselves had assembled to discuss this business. And while they were deliberating about this matter, the maiden’s father said to Gildas: If thou wilt receive my daughter under thy charge, I will trust thee, I will deliver her to thee. But if thou refuse to take her, this man shall never have her. St. Gildas said to him: Deliver her to me, and I, protected by the power of God, shall restore her to thee safe. The aforesaid tyrant, therefore, received her to be joined in marriage to him. But Gildas, mighty in glorious virtues, returned to his monastery.
22. When, therefore, the marriage had been celebrated, the tyrant began to caress his beloved bride; and, as soon as he learnt that she had conceived, he meditated killing her as had been his custom. But dreading the oath which he had sworn to St. Gildas, he said to himself that he could not deceive a holy man. For he feared to incur God’s anger of he attempted to murder, with his accursed sword, a lady whom he had received from the hands of St. Gildas. But the devil, on the other hand, supplied him with pretexts, declaring that he ought not to fear the holiness of St. Gildas to such a degree as, like a coward and a poltroon, to give up, for the sake of a mere monk, accomplishing what he had set his heart on. As the woman, in the meantime, perceived, by many indications, that his heart was enraged against her because she had conceived, she was struck with fear and secretly escaped. When her wicked husband learnt this, he was now incensed with greater anger, and pursued her. Having found her on the road-side, hiding under some leaves – for she was wearied by her journey – he drew out his sword, cut off her head, and then returned home.
23. Now, when her father had heard what had befallen his daughter, he was stricken with deep grief, and sent at once, with great haste, to St. Gildas, saying: Give me back my daughter; for it is owing to thy intercession that I have lost her. For know that he who received her in marriage from thy hand, has murdered her with his own sword. Thereupon the saint, deeply moved, hurried to some small fortification where the aforesaid tyrant used to dwell, desiring to hear from his whether, as the rumour was, he had slain his wife with his own hands. But when the tyrant saw St. Gildas approaching, he charged the porter of the house to let the saint, on no account, to enter in to him; for he knew that, through the murder of his wife, he had sinner against God and against the holy man. But, although he was not ignorant of this, he nevertheless disdained to request that the saint should prevail with God in prayer to grant him a contrite and humble heart to do penance for the evil he had done. When, therefore, St. Gildas had knocked long at the door and no one opened to him, but rather he was mocked by those within, he prayed unto God that, unless it was His will that that man should be changed for the better, it might seem good to Him to put an end to his wickedness. Having ended his prayer, he went round the whole fortification in which the nefarious tyrant dwelt, took a handful of earth, and cast it upon that dwelling; and immediately, by the will of God, it all fell to the ground.
24. He then left for the place where lay the lifeless corpse of the murdered woman with her offspring in her womb, and prayed in this wise: Lord God, who didst form man of the dust of the earth, and who, in order to deliver him from the power of Satan, under whose dominion, when he transgressed Thy commandment, he cast himself of his own free will, didst will that they Son, whom Thou hadst begotten, from eternity before the generations, should die, I invoke Thee to hearken unto me. Hear me, I say, O Lord! For I beseech Thee in the name of thine Only Begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ. For unto Thy Son, our Master, Jesus Christ, it seemed good to promise unto them that believed in Him that, if they should ask Thee aught in His Name, Thou wouldst not turn away the ear of Thy mercy from their supplication. When he had prayed, he took the head and fastened it onto the trunk of the body, and said: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Trifina, I say to thee, Arise, and stand on thy feet, and declare unto me what thou hast seen. And forthwith she arose whole and safe from all corruption: and, in answer to the saint, she said: As soon as I was slain, I was borne in an angelic chariot, as if to be carried away, and joined to the band of martyrs; but at thy call I returned to thee. Then St. Gildas brought her to her father, and, taking her right hand, restored her to him, saying: Behold the trust which thou didst commit to me. Guard her as thy daughter, and her progeny too, which she bears in her womb. See that he be diligently nurtured when he is born, until he reach the age of understanding. But she protested with an oath: Father, I will never leave thee. St. Gildas answered her: It becomes a woman in no wise to follow a monk: but meanwhile abide thou in thy father’s house until thou givest birth; and when thou hast done so, we shall lead thee into a nunnery where, in company with other virgins, thou mayest be able to lead a life of chastity. Then did the words of the man of God seem good to her, and she tarried a few days in her father’s house.
25. Not long after, when her time was come, and the woman gave birth to a son, the news was told to St. Gildas. He ordered the child to be baptized, and to be called after his own name; and when weaned, he had him taught in the liberal pursuits of literature, and caused his mother to abide in a nunnery along with other maidservants of God. Afterwards, while serving God in chastity, and leading a life of fastings and prayers, she was at length called by the Lord and laid to a blessed rest. Her son also was distinguished for his virtues and miracles, and completed with a blessed end the saintly life he had led. Now the Bretons, in order to distinguish him from the other St. Gildas, do not call him Gildas, but Trechmorus.
26. And because through the miracles of His saints, which are recited in the ears of His believers, the Creator of all things, who dwells in His saints and works wonders through them, is praised and adored, we have deemed it proper to write also of the power which it seemed good to the Lord to work through His servant Gildas in the district of St. Demetrius. For, in the aforesaid district there was a pool, at the entrance of which robbers used to loiter, who used to let off people who came thither, only when they had been stripped naked and beaten, often even half dead. The inhabitants, therefore, of the surrounding country were greatly roused by their wickedness; and as they were unable of themselves to drive them thence, they sought the protection of the saint. He, on arriving at the mouth of the pool, entreated the Lord to close up the entrance to that pool. When he had finished his prayer, there arose from the sand a big mound on the spot which was the resort of the wicked men to lay their plots. On perceiving this miracle, those who had come thither with the saint, glorified God, and ever after held St. Gildas in deep veneration.
27. In the same district also there is an oratory which the inhabitants call Mount Coetlann, which, being interpreted, means the “monastery of the grove.” As the men who were makling themselves out to be possessors of that land oftern inflicted injuries upon God’s servants who were there leading a life of contemplation, asserting that they were tilling more of the land which lay around the oratory of St. Gildas than he had marked out for them, the man of God, as he wished all to lead a peaceful life, went to the sea-shore. There, bending his knees to the earth, he, with the saints that adhered to him, earnestly prayed to the merciful Lord, who makes all things He willeth in heaven and earth. On rising from his prayer, the saint pressed a staff which he was carrying in his hand, against the ground, and thus walked round the court of his oratory. O! how good thou art, thou God of Israel, unto them that are of an upright heart to Thee. For, at the command of God, a fountain of sparkling water sprang from the spot on which the holy man had prayed; and, to mark beyond dispute the boundary line of the court, it followed the footsteps of the saint. On hearing of this miracle, believers, even some who behold this up to the present time, return no small thanks to the Almighty Lord, who works wonders through the saints.
28. Now, when the merciful God determined to lead St. Gildas from the toils and cares of this life to the eternal joys which He has promised unto them that love Him, it seemed good to Him to announce it through an angel in a vision. For, when indeed he was, as the ancients assert, in Horata, an island which he loved, where formerly he had lived a hermit’s life, there appeared to him in a dream, on a certain night, an angel of the Lord, saying: Hearken and understand, thou friend of the Lord Jesus Christ; for God has heard thy prayers and beheld thy tears. And, behold, on the eighth day from this, thou shalt be delivered from the burden of the flesh, and thy spiritual eyes shall see what thou hast always from thy childhood longer for: for thou shalt see in its majesty the longed-for face of the Lord thy God. Confirm, therefore, thy disciples in the fear and the love of God, and instruct them in the usual manner to obey His commandments, and to strive to fulfil them with deeds, that they may be able to attain the eternal joys which He has promised.
29. Now, when the morning was come, and he had called his disciples together, he said unto them: “Since, my beloved sons, I am going the way of all flesh, it is expedient for me to be released, that I may be able to see God. Be ye, therefore, imitators of Christ, as beloved sons; and walk in the love of God, and be always mindful of His words. But love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but love ye the Lord Jesus Christ and His words with all your hearts: for He has said, If any man love Me, he will keep My words, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him. See ye, therefore, my beloved, how great a reward and how desirable a gain the Truth itself, which is Christ, promises unto us. For He himself, as He has said, is the way, the truth, and the life. He will, be assured, give Himself unto us; let us, therefore, not neglect to have Him Himself, to possess Him Himself. Have ye also in you constant love: for God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him. Be diligent also to possess lowliness and to be meek, since the Lord says in the gospel: Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly of heart. Remember also to have patience always; for He likewise speaks in the gospel: In your patience ye shall possess your souls. And be ye obedient, even as Christ was obedient unto death. Yes, be ye merciful, as your Father is merciful. Abhor pride; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Shun covetousness, which is called idolatry by the Apostle. Flee also from luxury and drunkenness and fornication; since, as the Apostle says, ‘neither drunkards nor fornicators shall inherit the kingdom of God.’ You must, therefore, in every possible manner, flee from all the evils which separate men from the kingdom of God. Be ye also sober and watchful in prayers always; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand steadfast in faith.’ Be likewise diligent to root out from your hearts hatred and enmity and gloom; and, instead of these, remember to have long-suffering, goodness and kindness. Four virtues, indeed, without which no man can be wise, strive always to possess, even prudence, righteousness, fortitude, and moderation.”
30. It was with these and similar words that the holy man, through seven days in succession, unceasingly confirmed his disciples; although, as his illness was increasing, he seemed already to be failing. But, on the eighth day, he commanded that he should be brought into his oratory, and there, after offering a prayer, he took the Eucharist of the Lord’s body. Then he testified to his disciples, saying: I charge you through Christ, my sons, not to contend for the remains of my body; but as soon as I have given up the spirit, bear me away, lay me down in a ship, and under my shoulders place the stone on which I was wont to lie down. Let no one of you remain with me in the ship, but push the ship into the sea, and let it drift whither God willeth. The Lord will provide for me a place of burial, where it shall seem good unto Him. I trust in the Lord that, in the day of resurrection, He will cause me, along with others, to rise again. May the God of peace and love be ever with you all. And when they had all said Amen, he gave up the ghost on the 29th of January, an old man and full of days. And his disciples bore his body away, and did as he has directed them. But those who had come from Cornugallia, and who were the majority, tried to carry him away and bring him over to their own country. While, therefore, they were consulting together and were arranging to do so, the ship, by God’s command, sank with the holy body into the depth of the sea. They searched, however, for it in different places for many days; but, as they could in no way find it, they returned to their own.
31. His disciples also, who were from the monastery of Reuvisium, having themselves too, for the space of three months, failed to find him, took counsel at last, and determined to make a three days’ fast. When this was ended, it was revealed to one of them when and where he was to be found. When, therefore, the Rogation days were come, and the men had come to pray to a small oratory which the saint had built in honour of the holy cross, they found the ship in a creek which is called Croes-dy, that is, the house of the holy cross, with the holy body in it, whole and unharmed, just as it was when placed in the ship by them themselves. On seeing it, they rejoiced with great joy, and placed the stone for a testimony upon the altar of that place; but they conveyed the saint’s body to his own monastery, singing hymns and praises, and a large crowd of people following them in joy and gladness, because they had found the great patron and advocate of their country, and their intercessor with the Lord. Now that day, which is the 11th of May, is kept and celebrated from that time up to our time as a most solemn day among the provincials of Venetum (Vannes). On that day, too, as we also have seen with our own eyes, the Lord was wont to perform very many mighty deeds at his grave. The saint’s body, on the day we have previously mentioned, was placed in the church which he himself had built on the ancient fort of Reuvisium, where through the course of many years it was kept and honoured in reverence by the whole nation of the Bretons: for innumerable powers were wrought by the Lord.
32. When the devout King Salomon was cruelly murdered by wicked men, and the Bretons were quarrelling together and waging civil wars, piratical Danes from abroad were devastating the length and breadth of Brittany; for at that time the people of Gaul were themselves also laying waste the sea-coast districts, and spreading havoc like an irresistible hailstorm. And so, Brittany which, as we have said, was formerly called Letavia, was at that time ravaged in a cruel manner as much by its own inhabitants as by foreigners. Its cities, castles, churches, houses, monasteries and nunneries were delivered up to fire, until the whole land, by the judgment of God, was totally reduced to a wilderness and waste desert. At that time Alanus and his brother, Pasquetenus, were reigning over the province of Vannes. This province is called Bro Guerec, from Guerecus; because, when Duke Belpolenus and his army were slain, and Ebracarius, another duke of the Franks, had been routed, he bravely defended that country. But, when Pasquetenus was captured by the Normans and then redeemed, and afterwards treacherously murdered by someone. Alanus alone, with his sons, as far as could be reigned over that province. At that time two monasteries – Lochmenech, that is, the place (locus) of monks, and the monastery of St. Gildas – when their occupants were forced, in a body, to seek other districts, and to set up new homes in the territory of the Bituriges, carrying away with them the bodies of the saints and nuns as relics which at that time were revered amongst the Britons with festal devotion and excessive feelings.
33. While the monastery of Moriacum, which is Locmenech, was presided over at that time by the abbot Taneth, Dalocus, an abbot of venerable life, was the head of the monastery of St. Gildas. Under the altar of this holy church, in his own sepulchre, he buried the remains of St. Gildas, that is, eight of his larger bones, which have been discovered in our own time; but the monks carried away with them the rest of them, together with the remains of St. Paternus, the bishop of Vannes, and of other saints, along with their books and ornaments. In a similar manner the bodies of the saints from the whole of Brittany were scattered through various countries.
34. But when it seemed good to the Almighty Lord that the churches of the saints in Brittany should be restored, and that the British nation, which was in exile in a pitiable plight in foreign countries, should return to its own homes, the Bretons regained their strength. Both those who had remained in the country and those who had been dispersed throughout the lands, gathered together and took up arms, bravely fought their enemies, routed them on land and sea, and drove them out from all their territories. At that time there lived in the city of Rennes a count, named Iuchael, who was also called Berengar. This man had a son named Conan, a distinguished and warlike man, from whom was descended Geoffrey, himself, too, an active warrior, who held the sovereignty of the whole of Brittany. Now this man besought Goslin, the then abbot of the monastery of Floriacum (Fleury), who afterwards presided as archbishop over the church of the Bituriges, to send over to him Felix, the monk, to restore the monasteries which had been destroyed in his territory. Therefore, in the year of the Lord’s incarnation, 1008, Felix was sent by the above-named abbot to Count Geoffrey, and was honourably received by him. He gave Felix the aforementioned abbeys, with all their appendages, begging him and earnestly entreating him to rebuild them with the utmost zeal; and he promised to make him numerous gifts when he had returned from a journey on which he was in haste to proceed. For that Prince was at that time hurrying to go to Rome to pray. Accordingly he went, but did not return, for he died on the journey. But the Prince had commended the above-mentioned Felix, while he should be on his journey, to the care of his wife, and his nobles, and also of his brother Judicäel, the bishop of Vannes, in whose diocese those monasteries were.
35. But let us now return and relate the miracle wrought through the blessed bishop, Paul, upon Felix. When Felix, in the days of the abbot Abbo, was in the above-mentioned monastery of Fleury, he was depressed with a severe illness, and given up in despair by the physician. But, as he was watching and praying, the bishop, St. Paul, appeared to him, sitting at his bedside, with a great light, and said to him: How art thou brother? Or where doest thou feel the pan? He said: Who art thou, my lord? I, said he, am the bishop Paul, whom thou were seeking. Oh! My lord, said he, it is in this side that the evil has long troubled me; and he showed him the place. The other approached, and with his finger he gently extracted from his side a putrid rib; and, holding it to the lamplight, he showed it to him, saying: This will no more injure thee. Saying this, he threw it away, and disappeared, with his light, from before the eyes of the amazed man; but a most refreshing fragrance remained in the house throughout the night. When, therefore, he had been restored to health, no one was present before him at the nocturnal vigils. All were amazed that he, whom they expected to find dead by now, was still alive, and they began to question him how he had been healed. He told them that he had been visited by St. Paul, and related what the latter had said to him: how also he had extracted from his side the broken and putrid rib, and “Here it is,” said he, lifting it from the ground; and he showed it to them all. They all wonder at the deed, and all together, to the sound of cymbals, give praises to the Lord.
36. But let us now return to the order of the narrative. When, after the death of the Duke Geoffrey, Felix desired to return to his own monastery, the Duchess Havoise would not let him go, but begged him, with many entreaties, to stay and finish the works which her husband had begun to do in the restoration of the convents. Being thus detained by the Duchess and her counsellors, and particularly by Judicaël, the bishop of Vannes, who specially love him, he at first built small dwelling houses in the afore-said districts. But in those parts there were churches without roofs and partly pulled down; and between the walls themselves old trees had grown, while some had blocked up the very doors. At that time there was in that part no dwelling-house, no intercourse between man and man, but even the churches themselves were the haunts of wild beasts. Now, to undertake a work of such magnitude seemd to everybody a laborious and difficult task. But he, trusting in the Lord, did not hesitate to attack it, and was not frustrated in his hope. For within a few days the best men and the clerics flocked to his aid; and by their help, he restored the churches, built houses, and planted vineyards and orchards: even the children were brought up by them in the service of God.
37. Throughout that time also the Bretons broke out in rebellion and stirred up wars. For the peasants rose and flocked together against their lords. But the nobles, when Count Alain had joined them, attacked the bands of peasants, killed, scattered, and pursued them; for they had entered the battle without a leader and without deliberation. Afterwards some of the nobles rebelled against the Count; but they did not succeed, for he was not a cowardly and inexperienced man. Since, during these tumults, he could not live in quiet and peace, Felix determines to return to his own monastery; for it was now sixteen years since he had been sent over to this place by his abbot. But the Duchess Havoise anticipated his attempt. For she sent, by a certain man named Filim, who was travelling with him, a letter to his abbot, beseeching him not to detain him on any account, but to give him an abbot’s blessing and send him back again to her; for her sons, Alain and Eudo, were now grown up, and ready to perform everything which their father had promised him.
38. When, therefore, the Abbot Goslin had read the letter, he called the monk Felix to him, and asked him wherefore he had come, and why he had left those places, and the congregation he had committed to his charge. Because, said he, I cannot serve God there in peace and quiet. The abbot said to him: Dost thou, then, expect to have in thy country what Christ did not find in His? Therefore, if thou wishest to attain in Christ, thou oughtest thyself also to walk even as He walked. For it is ‘through many tribulations,’ as the apostle says, that ‘we must enter into the Kingdom of God.’ Therefore, my beloved son, bear vexations patiently wherever thou art, and be obedient unto us, as in thy profession thou didst vow to God; and take and abbot’s charge and blessing, in order that thou mayest, together with those over whom we wish thee to preside, be able to attain unto eternal life. But as he continued making excuses, and saying that he could in no way do so, the abbot who, as we have said, was also a bishop, seized him and led him to the altar, and on the 4th day of July preferred him to the office of an abbot. Therefore, when Felix, now an abbot, had received the blessing both of his own abbot and of his congregation, he returned, bringing with him letters of recommendation to the princes of Brittany and to the bishop of Vannes. As he was hesitating which of two places was preferable to fix upon as the seat for his abbey, he consulted Duke Alain and the bishop of Vannes upon this matter. After calling together the nobles, and some bishops also, they fixed upon the monastery of St. Gildas, which was older, and owing to the fertility of the soil, was richer in corn and wine and fruit-bearing trees, and was likewise most abounding in season in various kinds of large fish.
39. Now, there was in that neighbourhood, at that time, a certain servant of God, of the name of Ehoarn, who was leading a solitary life. One night robbers rushed in upon him, and dragged him from his house which adjoined the church. One of them, Leopardus by name, seized an axe and dashed out the man’s brain upon the threshold of the church. He was at once seized by an evil spirit, and fell to the ground. When he rose up, he took a knife and wounded himself in his breast; and had he not been speedily prevented by his comrades, he would have killed himself. He was, therefore, bound by them, and returned home, but he never afterwards recovered his senses. For we saw him through the course of twenty years, clothed with no garments – without a tunic, shirt, or shoes – but in a strange manner walking about naked, both in summer and winter. If any one, out of pity, offered him some garment, he, if he had chanced to sit down under a tree, or indeed in any place whatever, would not depart until he had torn that garment to shreds. If it had been a woollen or a linen garment, he would pull it to pieces, thread by thread, upon the spot; but if one made of skins, he would cut it up to nothing. And so walking about naked for many years, he endured at home and abroad the intense heat of summer and the intolerable cold of winter. Oh! The unspeakable mercy of Christ! Oh! The immensity of His goodness and His compassion! Oh! The glorious merits of St. Gildas! Merits which thus, in one and the same man, both punish crimes and chastise the wicked, that they may not presume to commit similar sins lest they be similarly punished! But we believe that through punishment – for God does not twice avenge the same deed – that man has been saved by God’s mercy.
40. The festival of St. Gildas – the day on which his body had been recovered – was approaching; and the people, flowing together from all quarters, were hastening to celebrate that festive day. At that time, some man, who had for a long time lain on his bed laid up with a serious illness, on seeing his friends and neighbours hurrying to that festival, cried out that they should lead him to the holy burial-place. For he said that, if he could be worthy to touch the holy man’s grave, he would soon be restored to health: he kept testifying that this was his belief, that he had this confidence in him. He was consequently brought by his friends, and placed before the grave of St. Gildas. But as the vigils were being solemnly celebrated, and he was lying before the sacred grave, he suddenly stretched himself, and grew stiff like a dead man: he ceased to wail, his eyes were completely destroyed; his hands, feet, and breast grew cold, and he seemed to be dead in every part of his body. The crowd of people that had been standing round cried out: Since he is dead, bear him away. While, therefore, they were clamouring and crushing each other round him more and more, so that no one, for nearly three hours, could either touch or approach him owing to the crowd, at length one of the monks, named Junior, came up; and taking a saint’s staff in his hand, he marked him three times with the sign of the cross. Thereupon, to the amazement of all, the man rose up and said: Did you not see St. Gildas standing upon that stone, and lifting me up with his head? Then, in the sight of all, he rose up sound in body and rejoicing; and bearing a candle in his hand, he placed it upon the altar; and he who in weakness had been led by the hands of others to the sacred grave, returned him on his feet, whole and rejoicing. When I was afterwards relating this miracle to some nobles before the church of Plomorcat, that man was present, and asserted with an oath that the fact was just as I stated it.
41. The event became very well known through every part of Brittany; so that if, in the diocese, or even in any district, mortality weighed heavily upon the people, its inhabitants fled for refuge to his most sacred monastery, and waited there without any doubt for a cure from God. For this same reason a multitude of people used to come from Ilfintinc; but one of them, named Dongual, fell struck by the same sudden scourge, and remained before the church of Sarthau. But when his friends had come to the sacred grave, they asked me to send over a nag to convey him thither. And I did so. He was, therefore, brought; but because he could not stand, he was placed in the house of some friends. He was dreadful to look at, and was vomiting blood. No one thought he would live until the morrow, but was expected every moment to die. The whole congregation came to visit him, and prayed to the Lord on his behalf, and anointed him with oil. And so from that hour he gradually returned to himself and recovered strength, and in a few days after was quite restored to his health. His friends, on returning to their own, told his wife that he was dead, and had been buried at the church of St. Gildas. She came to give alms from her husband’s soul; but she found him whom she expected to see dead, not only living, but even in perfect health. Thus, yea thus, Oh, our God! dost Thou work in Thy saints, and alone dost perform mighty miracles. And so that man, who had come sorrowful and dying, returned home with his wife, rejoicing and in health. I lately saw him in good health, and returning thanks to God, and magnifying the virtues of St. Gildas; and he also records about himself the things which we have related.
42. Nor must we pass by in silence the tribulations and the nature of the tribulations which our priors, at that time, endured in this sacred convent from the enemy of the human race. For that old enemy, when he saw that the servants of God had begun to inhabit the deserted place, and that they thought it their duty to expel him from that long-deserted place which he had long possessed, returned to his old wiles, and by means of ghosts and horrid apparitions in the night, tried in every way to drive away those whom he saw protected by the power of God. For, on a certain night, while some young monks were sitting at a table and repeating psalms, the adversary stood by them, and appeared playing with the candlelight, often reaching out his hand between the two boys, drawing it in again, and again reaching it out and drawing it in, doing this incessantly until the light of the candle failed. Now, the outward appearance of his hand and arms, the latter being barely visible, was black and bristling with hairs. The boys were stricken with great fear and utterly confused. One of the boys was named Ratfred, and the other Mangis; and the third youth who was teaching them was called Rannulf. Now, an old man, who was watching them, named Jovethen, seeing what was happening, and finding the boys terrified with fear, said to them: Sign yourselves, boys, sign yourselves with the sign of the holy cross, and chant the psalms of David. But the evil spirit blew out the wasted candle, and, bursting into a laugh, rushed through a heap of stones which was near, and struck immense fear into them in consequence of the noise of the stones. Then, by moving backwards and forwards throughout the night the dishes which had been placed in refectory, he gave the inmates a restless night. When a servant had gone for a small vessel, which had been placed near full of wine, he found it empty; but no trace was found where the wine had been poured on the ground. Felix had gone away. When he came and heard from the brethren of the phantasms they had endured on the previous night, he took water with some salt, blessed it, and sprinkled it round about and inside; and from that day, by the grace of God, the dwelling remained undisturbed.
43. There was, at that time, amongst the priors of this sacred abbey, a certain monk named Gingurianus, a layman indeed, but full of the Holy Spirit and of all virtues. When he had for some time, with a pure and simple life, served God zealously in this monastery, and the Lord had decreed to make trial of his long-suffering through a bodily pain, and to point him out as an example to others, it seemed good to the Lord to reveal to him, through the Holy Spirit, the end of his life. One day, therefore, he came before the Abbot Felix and all his congregation, humbly apologising and begging the pardon of everybody. And when they had all round replied to him as an innocent and simple-minded man, he said: May the Lord forgive you your ignorance and absolve you of your sins; for you must know, beloved brethren, that from this day forth I can neither walk nor stay among you. I beseech your love, that you may commend me to God in your prayers, and anoint me with holy oil. They were all surprised that a man whom they saw in good health should seek to be anointed. But he kept entreating and soliciting them earnestly that he might be anointed, as long as he could speak. But after the chapter he brought down his materials and implements, and places them at the abbot’s feet, saying: Behold, my lord, the obedience which thou didst command me to keep: commend it to one of the brethren. For that saintly man had been the guardian of the apiary from the commencement of his abode in the place, having a great number of beehives under his charge. Afterwards, at the celebration of the mass, after the pax, he approached the sacred altar and received the Holy Communion from the hand of the priest. Then, putting both his hands on his breast, and stretching himself upon the step of the altar, he sank down, and was carried in their arms into the house of the sick, where, as he had requested of his brethren, he was at once anointed with holy oil. From that day, as he had foretold, he was seized with palsy; and for a whole year lay in his bed, and was able neither to turn on his other side nor to life his hand to his mouth.
44. But throughout one year it seemed good to the Lord, through his angel, to announce to him clearly the day of his death. In the morning he summoned the monk Riwal to him, and said to him: Brother, I beseech thee, tell our congregation always to give thanks unto God, and to rejoice continually, and to know for certain that they had with them, this night, at their nocturnal vigils, the Archangel Michael; for, before the vigils were quite finished, he appeared to me in the form of a very handsome child, with a very great light, and told me who he was. And he added: ‘Be not afraid,’ said he, ‘but prepare thyself; for, with the light of this day, thou wilt depart from thy body to a better life.’ He then, with his light, entered the church through the east window; and, as long as the vigils were celebrated, that very brilliant light did not depart from the church. Now, therefore, my most beloved brother, announce to the brethren the things that I have told thee, and that I am returning thanks for their love, in that they showed their indulgence towards me through all this year. I entreat thee to bring me the Holy Communion, and to watch for my death from the hour of the vespers. And so, after vespers, he called his servant, and said to him: Call my brethren to me, because I am now departing from this life. Accordingly, when all the congregation had gathered together to him, he departed from this life to the Lord, on the hour he had foretold, on the 28th of September.
45. In those times, Gulstan also, a man of venerable life and worthy of commemoration, flourished in this sacred convent. He, too, was a layman; but night and day he did not cease to chant before God the psalms and prayers which he had committed to memory. He spent the night in watchings, so that, whether in summer or winter, one would scarcely see him, even in weak old age, lie in bed more than three hours. In his youth he had been drawn away from a piratical band of robbers by Felix, who was not at the time a monk, but was living a hermit’s life in the island of Ushant. Always to the very end of his days did he love to live the life which he had learnt at that time from Felix – sparing in food and drink, but constant in vigils and prayers. Accordingly it seemed good to the Lord to proclaim the merits of this man even in his lifetime; for far and wide were his praise and commendation resounding in the mouths of the sailors of that part of the country. For it seemed good to the Lord to work so many powers and miracles through him that hardly anyone could relate or count them. He died on the 27th of November, in the house of the monks of St. Peter of Maillé, in the fort of Bellum-videre, whither he had repaired owing to the advantages of its monastery. But when it had been announced by the public crier that the saintly Gulstan had departed this life – for he had passed away in the middle of the night – noblemen, and their wives, and all who heard the news, forthwith jumped out of their beds, and hastened emulously to go with wax-lights and lamps to pay their allegiance to the man of God, so that the house could scarcely contain the crowd of people. Now, when the monks of St. Philibert saw that many ornaments, large sums of money, and a great number of wax-lights scattered round the body of the man of God, were being brought there, they advised all who had assembled there to convey the holy body to their church. But while the monks in whose house he had died resisted this, and the servants also objected to its being removed from that house until they could bring it back to their own monastery, the other party, when the crowd was in a turmoil, stole it from that house together with all its appendages and lights, and carried it away to their own church. Having collected a large sum of money which was being offered for the space of three days, they buried him on the fourth day. When this news had been told at his monastery, the Abbot Vitalis hastened thither, and humbly begged that the body of his monk should be restored to him. But they returned him no answer; not, however, from any affection for the saint, but from love of the sums of money which flowed in daily from every direction to his grave. He went to Isembard, the Bishop of Poitiers, loudly complaining of the wrong of stealing his monk’s body. The bishop, because the monks had refused to obey his injunctions, ordered them and their abbot to repair to his synod; he ordered the Abbot Vitalis also to attend. When, therefore, they had come, and both sides had pleaded their case in the synod, the bishop ordered the abbots and the noted clergy who were present, to –
Source: Hugh Williams, translator.
Two Lives of Gildas by a monk of Ruys and Caradoc of Llancarfan.
First published in the Cymmrodorion Record Series, 1899.
Facsimile reprint by Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach, 1990.