OF THE CELTS - Part 3

200BC-0

0AD-200

2-400

4-600

6-800

8-1000

10-12

12-14

14-16

16-18

18-20

2000 on

TIMELINE

THE AGE OF THE SAINTS - WHEN THE CELTS SAVED CIVILISATION

1. The Brythonic `Tiger'

`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 creativity.

The 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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DOCUMENTARY FROM THE BBC NOW SHOWING ON THE ABC

Britain AD - According to conventional wisdom, native British culture was suppressed by 400 years of Roman rule, and the withdrawal of the mighty imperial army in 410AD threw the country into a state of primitive barbarism, which only came to an end with the invasion of the more advanced Anglo Saxons.

With detailed archaeology, cutting-edge academic research and his own brand of iconoclasm, writer and broadcaster, and presenter of Britain AD, Francis Pryor argues that we've got this version of British history wrong.......

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.

3. Gwrtheyrn/ Vortigern

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.’

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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 Celtic Lake whereby much was shared between the Celtic nations.

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The 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 Illtud. 

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 Gorff’of the Calvanistic Methodists).

8.  The Age of Dewi   

    

St David's Cross

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
  • Missionary
  • Learned
  • 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 father’s side and Brychan Brycheiniog on his mother’s. 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 church.

 

 

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 urban. 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 Cunedda’s 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 David’s 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 it’s 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 for life. 

(1) P.A. WILSON, Romano-British and Welsh Christianity: Continuity or Discontinuity?