OF THE CELTS -
AGE OF THE SAINTS - WHEN THE CELTS SAVED CIVILISATION
|1. The Brythonic
`The great achievement
of the Welsh after the departure of the Romans was the successful defence of their
inheritance. In this they were alone amongst the peoples of the Western Empire.
The 200 years following Macsen
Wledig s departure were ones of greatest creativity. Wales
was a nation of small states self-sufficient but with incredible self-confidence and
Brythonic nation at that time stretched from Southern Scotland, through NW England through
Wales, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.
At the time of Macsen Wledig the
Celtic cousins of the Welsh, the Irish, were settling in Wales, particularly in Pembrokeshire.
Possibly for fear of the Irish becoming too powerful Cunedda and his sons came the long
journey from Brythonic Manaw Gododdin (near Stirling) around 400 AD. The threat by the
Irish finished after the Irish were finally defeated in Anglesey at around 470.
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2. During 400 and 500 AD Brythonic changed into Welsh throughout Scotland,
NW England, Wales and Cornwall. Brythonic can really be called Old Welsh it was an
inner change, not from the outside and probably helped by the Christian movement. As
Brythonic was an oral tradition, not much is known of it. There was silence about
the Brythons living in rest of England.
At the beginning of 5C, Powys was
a very influential region, ruled by Gwrtheyrn (which means chief-lord) or Vortigern,
son-in law of Macsen Wledig.
Gwrtheyrn is wrongly accredited with
inviting the English into England and
then the English turning and forcing the Welsh into Wales. There is no evidence for this, more
likely the Brythons were absorbed into the increasing Teutons in England.
He was however definitely anti-Roman and his people were turned against him in
his old age by St Garmon. He died in 430 on the banks of the Teifi, and is remembered as a
Welshman who strengthened the Welsh people.
`Spiritual life was
revolutionised and throughout the land people were imbued with Christian values as the
life of no other nation was imbued
In the 300 and 400s
Brittany was colonised from Wales and Cornwall.
4. If Gwrtheyrn was anti-Roman, it was Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus)
that was the saviour of Romanitas in Wales. By his military successes Wales followed this
tradition whilst England lost it.
In Wales however, there was
self-confidence and spirit. `That is why there is such a remarkable difference between the
sustaining of an unbroken tradition in Welsh society and the great collapse in England and
indeed the destruction in every other part of Europe. In few countries has the native way
of life continued unbroken from the time of
Christ until our own day
..The splendour of the history of Wales is that the tradition of
the nation has persisted through thousands of years.
5.The SE of Wales became most heavily Christianised. The Royal families is
also where the saints came from the two went together.
The Royal family of Brychan
Brycheiniog, whose kingdom included Brycheiniog (Breconshire) was one of the most
important. Many of his family became saints; the boys; Clydog, Cynog, Berwyn. `The names
of the daughters shine like a cluster of stars
Gwladys, Tudful (Merthyr Tydfil - merthyr = llan in those days), Tybie in
Llandybie, Dwynwen in Llanddwynwen, Cain in Llangeinor, Ceingar, Cynidr, Meleri the
grandmother of Dewi.
Peulin (420-490 ) or Paulinus
had been a pupil of Garmon and headed a school that Dewi and Teilo studied.
Dyfrig (Llandaff) was the most
energetic in the SE (Like many other saints he is buried in Enlli (Bardsey) where they
became hermits after their work. It became the haunt of pilgrims (three to Enlli = 2 to St
Davids = 1 to Rome).
Christianity had rooted itself in
Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany during this period. Patrick was probably taken
from the SE as a slave to Ireland. In Scotland Nynio had been working with the Picts a
century and more before Columba crossed from Ireland in 565.
The biggest names in the SE were
Cadog and Illtud, the greatest scholars of the 5 century in the Celtic countries.
6. During this time, the Irish sea became a
Lake whereby much
was shared between the Celtic nations.
Lake of the Saints
`It was the Arthur
called King that became in the thought of future generations the perfect embodiment of
this heroic spirit. Circa 470-510.
7. The saints and to a lesser extent the poets between them
fulfilled the educational function of the druids. It was in Morgannwg (Glamorgan) and
Gwent that the educational tradition was the greatest.
Illtud was described as the greatest
Brython scholar of the Scriptures, learned in every branch of knowledge and arts, and in other Latin texts and Greek (it is this with the
dating of Easter that has led people to say that the Celtic Christians derived from the
East rather than Rome). Gildas was amongst the pupils of
The education at the schools was wide including manual arts and philosophy
(though not pagan literature). The three fields of philosophy were physics, ethics and
logic (note the triplicity of the early Celts, triads of the poets and the three aspects
of the `Hen Gorffof the Calvanistic Methodists).
|8. The Age of
The zenith was the age of Dewi (515
585), literally in the middle of the Age of the Saints - he was a mirror of the
character of the Church of the Welsh, which was:
- Monastic not priestly
- Welsh and Latin
- Celtic in connection
- High spiritual level
- Ascetic in discipline
- Decentralised and effective in org
- Whole of Wales
Dewi (Ceredigion) was an ascetic
monk, who stimulated the foundation of a great number of free churches in Wales. He
maintained contact with the other Celtic nations, speaking
. He united in his person
Cunedda on his fathers side and Brychan Brycheiniog on his mothers. He
travelled extensively evangelising by his lore and reason, personality and the conviction
of his spoken word.
It was St Columba who
coined the phrase `Christ our Druid', highlighting the roots of the Celtic Christian
The names of 500 such
saints still exist from this time. Not in Latin but all in the Welsh language.
Up to the time of Owain Glyndwr patriots stood for the
rights of an independent Church in Wales from Canterbury.
9. In Wales Christianity was monastic and rural, in England it was priestly and
There were no real religious territories, everything was decentralised. In the West the
monks were more ascetic however, owning nothing and tents and wood were used instead of stone everything was gathered within the llan
(which means a place enclosed like ydlan = rickyard and gwinllan = vineyard)
and there was a living relationship with the land around. Such monks as Gilda considered
these monks as too severe.
Ddewi Ddyfrwr (David the
Waterdrinker he and his followers drank no wine nor ate no meat and had no
possessions) was of the ascetic order. In his sermons however he stressed faith and
discipline and joy (to counteract the rigours of the asceticism).
The monasteries consisted of the clas
(similar to the original communal kibbutz). The clas was usually ruled by a married
Abbot and women and children were respected and educated. There was a real respect for the
individual and even wild creatures were given consideration.
10. So members of Cuneddas
family came to the fore I taking Christianity to Gwynedd, amongst them Seiriol, Einion
Frenin, Meirion, Eurgain and Edern. The reign of Maelgwn Gwynedd in Davids prime was
the golden age of religion in Gwynedd. The epoch of Cybi (Cornwall), Seiriol, Cadfan, and Deiniol.
Deiniol founded Bangor (Caernarfonshire) and Bangor Iscoed (Bangor refers to the
strong defence of poles around the llan).
Tysilio and Beuno lived in Powys and
many churches are named after Tysilio in mid Wales, Caernarfonshire, Ceridigion and
Pembroke and Beuno in Gwynedd and Powys.
|| 11. The only breaking of the peace in Wales during this period was in Powys
attacking the other kingdoms and so Powys eventually had to stand alone against the
English in the Battle of Chester in the early 600s and 1200 monks were reported to have
been killed after the battle by the English at Bangor Iscoed.
The saints had almost no contact
with England but lots with the other
Celtic nations, the Irish Sea became a Celtic lake and the Celts
also had contacts with the Mediterranean, shown from pottery found in Wales
but not in England.
P A Wilson (1) says that it was the
obstinacy and heroic confidence of the Welsh and in particular the Southern and Western
Welsh that was the impetus of the great missionary Celtic Christian effort that found
its greatest renown in Ireland and through this spread outwards to Europe.
Like their druids before them the
Celtic Christians believed in the immortality of the soul and had a profound sensitivity
(1) P.A. WILSON,
Romano-British and Welsh Christianity: Continuity or Discontinuity?