Gildas

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Gildas (c. 500 – 570) was a 6th-century British cleric. He is one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during this period. His renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation Gildas Sapiens (Gildas the Wise). His work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which contains narratives of the post-Roman history of Britain, is the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near-contemporary. He was ordained in the Church, and in his works favours the monastic ideal. Fragments of letters he wrote reveal that he composed a Rule for monastic life that was somewhat less austere than the Rule written by his contemporary, Saint David, and set suitable penances for its breach.

Contents

Life

There are two Lives of Gildas: the earlier written by a monk of Rhuys in Brittany, possibly in the 9th century, the second written by Caradoc of Llancarfan, a friend and contemporary of Geoffrey of Monmouth, composed in the middle of the 12th century. Caradoc, presumably writing at Llancarfan in Wales, does not mention any connection with Brittany, and some scholars[who?] think that Gildas of Britain and Gildas of Rhuys were distinct personages. In other details, however, the two Lives complement each other.

Rhuys Life

The first Life, written at Rhuys by an unnamed scribe, says that Gildas was the son of Caunus (Caw), born in the district of Alt Clut in the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic-speaking region of northern Britain. He was entrusted into the care of Saint Hildutus (Illtud) in the monastic college of Llan Illtud Fawr along with Samson of Dol and Paul Aurelian, to be educated. He later went to Iren (Ireland) to continue his studies. Having been ordained, he returned to the Hen Ogledd to preach to the unconverted. Saint Brigidda (Brigid of Kildare, died 524) asked for a token and Gildas made a bell which he sent to her. Ainmericus, High King of Ireland (Ainmuire mac Sétnai, 566-569), asked Gildas to restore church order, which he did. He went to Rome and then Ravenna. He came to Brittany and settled on the island of Rhuys,[1] where he lived a solitary life. Later, he built a monastery there. He built an oratory on the bank of the River Blavetum (River Blavet). Ten years after leaving Britain, he wrote an epistolary book, in which he reproved five of the British kings. He died at Rhuys on 29 January, and his body, according to his wishes, was placed on a boat and allowed to drift.[2] Three months later, on 11 May, men from Rhuys found the ship in a creek with the body of Gildas still intact. They took the body back to Rhuys and buried it there.

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