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St. Gildas the Wise

VI Century
The subject of many legends, St. Gildas authored a history of the Celts in Britain. He was born c. 500 in Arecluta, Strathclyde. He is said to have gone to Wales and is thought to have been married and widowed before he entered the monastery at Llaniltyd as a disciple of St. Illtyd. Gildas is also said to have spent time at Glastonbury. Some consider the evidence that Gildas was a monk insufficient to convict him. He is said to have travelled in Ireland and, perhaps, to have influenced the development of the church there. He is thought to have lived as a solitary on the island of Flatholm. Legends say that he spent his last years in Brittany, where he founded a monastery at Ruys. He is said to have died c. 570 there or in a hermitage on the island of Houat. St. Finian records that Gildas had a reputation as a scholar and that many, even from far away, sought his opinion.

De excitio et conquestu Britanniae ac flebi castigatione in reges, principes, et sacradotes (The Downfall and Conquest of Britain, or a Mournful Rebuke for Kings, Princes, and Priests) is Gildas' most famous work. Many doubt its historical accuracy since his dating does not conform to modern practice. He mentions few names, and the intent of the work seems more to censure his contemporaries than to relate their history. Gildas omits mention of King Arthur, a fact some attribute to the dearth of names and others attribute to a family feud. Legends say that Arthur killed Gildas' brother, Huail.

The authenticity of a penitentiary attributed to Gildas is doubtful, and only fragments of his letters are extant.

Karen Rae Keck


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