SAINT GILDAS THE WISE (c.516-c.571), priest, missionary and abbot – Patron saint of several churches and monasteries in Brittany
Today, the Church honors Saint Gildas, a missionary priest renowned for his ascetic lifestyle as well as boldness in confronting the lack of moral discipline in both the rulers and clergy of his day. He is also remembered for his historical writings about the early English and Celtic Churches.
Gildas was born about the year 516 of English nobility in either northwestern England or Wales. He lived at a time when the glory of Rome was fading from Britain; and, as a child, he was under the care of a nearby monastery in which he was well educated. He was noted for his piety and academic skills, but also was not afraid of publicly rebuking contemporary monarchs during a time when slander and libel were oftentimes answered by a sword rather than by court order.
Gildas lived for many years as a very ascetic hermit on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel, which separates southwestern England from southern Wales. Here, he established his reputation for that peculiar Celtic sort of holiness that consists of extreme self-denial and isolation.
Around the year 547, he wrote a book De Excidio Britanniae (The Destruction of Britain), in which he writes a brief tale of the island from pre-Roman times and criticizes the rulers and those that followed them for their lax morals, and blames their sins for the destruction of civilization in Britain. The book was allegedly written as a moral tale. He also wrote a longer work, Epistle, which is a series of sermons on the moral laxity of rulers and of the clergy. In his writings, Gildas showed that he had a vast understanding of the Bible and of some other classical works.
Gildas was also a very influential preacher, and was very active in missionary work in Ireland. He was responsible for the conversion of much of the island and may be the one who introduced anchorite customs (living in isolation and practicing an ascetic lifestyle – one of abstinence and self-denial) to the monks of that land, all the while overseeing the building of monasteries and churches.
He is said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his homeward journey, his love of solitude caused him to retire to the Isle of Houat, off Brittany in northwestern France, where he lived a life of prayer, study and austerity. His place of retreat having become known to the locals, the Bretons (inhabitants of Brittany) persuaded him to establish a monastery at Rhuys on the mainland of France where he became abbot.
He died about the year 571 at Rhuys. The monastery that he had founded became the center for those who followed his way of life.
Saint Gildas is regarded as being one of the most influential figures of the early English Church. The influence of his writings was felt well into the middle ages, particularly in the Celtic Church. He is also important to us today as the first British historian whose works have survived the passage of time. Copies of two of his manuscripts are preserved in the Cambridge University Library.
We commemorate the feastday of Saint Gildas the Wise on January 29.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, irelandseye.com and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ missionary)
“God of Mercy, You gave us Saint Gildas to proclaim the riches of Christ. By the help of his prayers, may we grow in knowledge of You, be eager to do good, and learn to walk before You by living the truth of the Gospel.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”