Saint of the Day – 29 January -St Gildas the Wise – also known as Badonicus and Gildas Sapiens(c500-570) Priest and Abbot – Patron of Welsh historians; bell founders.
St Gildas was a 6th-century British monk best known for his scathing religious polemic De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which recounts the history of the Britons before and during the coming of the Saxons. He is one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during the sub-Roman period and was renowned for his Biblical knowledge and literary style. In his later life, he emigrated to Brittany where he founded a monastery known as St. Gildas de Rhuys.
Gildas was born in Scotland on the banks of the Clyde (possibly at Dumbarton), of a noble British family. His father’s name was Cau or Nau; his brother’s, Huel or Cuil. He was educated in Wales under St. Iltut, and was a companion of St. Samson and St. Peter of Léon. Having embraced the monastic state, he passed over to Ireland, where he was advanced to the priesthood. He is said to have lived some time in Armagh and then to have crossed to North Britain, his teaching there being confirmed by miracles.
On his return to Ireland, at the invitation of King Ainmire, he strengthened the faith of many and built monasteries and churches. The Irish annalists associate him with David and Cadoc in giving a special liturgy or Mass to the second order of Irish saints. He is said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome. On the homeward journey his love of solitude caused him to retire to the Isle of Houat, off Brittany, where he lived a life of prayer, study and austerity. His place of retreat having become known, the Bretons induced him to establish a monastery at Rhuys on the mainland whither multitudes flocked (Marius Sepet, “St. Gildas de Rhuys”, Paris, s.d.).
It was at Rhuys he wrote his famous epistle to the British kings. His relics were venerated there till the tenth century, when they were carried for safety into Berry. In the eighteenth century they were said to be preserved in the cathedral of Vannes. He is the patron of several churches and monasteries in Brittany and elsewhere. His feast is locally observed on 29 January; another feast, 11 May, commemorates the translation of his relics.
The authentic work of St. Gildas, “De excidio Britannae liber querulus”, is now usually divided into three parts: (1) The preface; (2) A sketch of British history from the Roman invasion to his own time; (3) An epistle of severe invective addressed to five petty British kings — Constantine, Vortipor, Cyneglas, Cynan, and Maelgwn. In the same epistle he addresses and rebukes the clergy whom he accuses of sloth and simony. His writings are clearly the work of a man of no ordinary culture and sanctity and indicate that the author was thoroughly acquainted with the Sacred Scriptures.
Gildas is regarded as the earliest British historian and is quoted by Bede and Alcuin. Two Manuscript copies of his writings are preserved in Cambridge University library.