There are a signficant number of Welsh saints who appear to have flourished during the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries. So many in fact (over 800 by some estimates), that the period in Welsh history from the sixth to the seventh centuries is often known as the Age of Saints.
The earliest of these Welsh saints was a gentleman by the name of Dubricius or Dyfrig who, it appears was the bishop of Ergyng 1 in south-east Wales and who probably lived in the period 425 to 505; the most famous undoubtedly David later to become the patron saint of Wales.
Early Christianity in Wales
The extent to which the geograpical area that we now know as Wales was converted to the Christian faith during the period of the Roman occupation is unknown (and very probably unknowable) as there are very few contemporary records or indications that prove the point one way or the other.
There are theories that Christianity was at the time limited to the Romanised upper classes and therefore unlikely to have penetrated much beyond the south-east of the country; others insist that Christianity was one of the legacies of Roman rule and was well established at the time of the final break with Rome in 409.
But whatever the status of the Christian
faith in earlier centuries, it is clear from the evidence of Gildas
, writing in his De Excidio Britanniae
in the mid-sixth century, that he lived within an avowedly Christian
nation. The diatribe that Gildas
against a number of contemporary rulers accusing them of a variety of sins 2
and more particularly of not acting like proper Christian
kings; but there are no suggestions that they or any of their subjects were 'tainted' by paganism.
The saints of Wales
In common with the rest of contemporary Christendom the idea of celebrating and venerating particular individuals as saints took root in Wales, with all the paraphernalia of relics and associated miracles.
The saints listed below are 'Welsh' to the extent that they were remembered in Wales, and where a cult, no matter how localised or insignificant developed, and attempts to include all saints for whom there is the faintest of historical evidence. Some of these saints were of of Welsh origin but whose subsequent careers took them to Brittany or Ireland, and sometimes the traffic was the other way with Irish or Breton saints establishing a reputation within Wales.
As with the case of the Early English Saints a number of these were secular kings, who for one reason or another attracted a saintly reputation after death such as Cadwaladr Fendigaid, the seventh century king of Gwynedd and Glywys and Brychan the supposed founder kings of Glywysing and Brycheiniog respectively.
The most enduring legacy of this multitude of saints may well be the plethora of Llan-something place names that abound across Wales: from Collen (the Brythonic and original form of 'Colin') we get Llangollen and from Padarn produces Llanbadarn. Indeed of the thousand or so modern parishes that lie within Wales, almost half have a name that begins with 'Llan'. Sometimes a little more imagination was applied and from Tydfil we have Merthyr Tydfil and from Cybi we have Caergybi, the 'fortress of Cybi', the Welsh name for the town of Merthyr Tydfil.
Of the names listed only Saint David and 'Gwenfrewi' as Saint Wilifred were ever formally recognised as saints by the Catholic Church and the remainder are therefore regarded in some quarters as 'unofficial' saints.
THE WELSH SAINTS
Format Name - Period - Feast Day (were known)
- Afan - Sixth century - Nov 16
- Aneirin - Seventh century - Oct 26
- Arilda - Sixth century - Jul 20
- Armael - Sixth century - Aug 16
- Asaf or Asaph - Seventh century - May 1
- Athan - Sixth century - Dec 26
- Austell - Sixth century - Jun 28
- Finan - Sixth century - Mar 18
- Henwyn - Sixth century - Jan 1
- Hydroc - Sixth century - May 5
- Ia - Sixth century - Feb 3
- Illogan - Sixth century - Oct 30
- Illtud - Sixth century - Nov 6
- Illudiana - Sixth century - Jun 29
- Ishmael - Seventh century - Jun 16
- Kea - Fifth century - Nov 5
- Kywere - Fifth century - Feb 8
- Llawdoc - Sixth century - Jan 15
- Llechid - Sixth century - Dec 2
- Llibio - Sixth century - Feb 28
- Llily - Seventh century - Mar 3
- Llionio - Sixth century - Mar 17
- Llud - Sixth century - Oct 9
- Lluwchaiarn - Seventh century - Jan 11
- Llyr - Sixth century - Oct 27
- Nectan - Sixth century - Jun 17
- Nennoca - Sixth century - Jun 4
- Non - Sixth century - Mar 2
- Noyale - Sixth century - Jul 6
- Pabo - Sixth century - Nov 9
- Padarn - Sixth century - Apr 15
- Pawl Hen - Sixth century - Nov 22
- Perran - Fifth century - Mar 5
- Petroc - Sixth century - Jun 4
- Ruan - Sixth century - Aug 30
- Sadwrn - Sixth century - Oct 25
- Samson - Sixth century - Jul 28
- Seirol - Sixth century - Feb 1
- Selyf - Sixth century - Oct 14
- Sithney - Sixth century - Aug 4
- Sulien - Sixth century - May 13
- Urith - Eighth century - Jul 8
1 Although Ergyng itself is no longer 'in Wales', but rather now forms part of Herefordshire.
2 Murder, avarice and incest, the usual things.
The Calendar of Welsh Saints at
and another list of Welsh saints at
John Davies The Celtic Church in Wales at
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Wendy Davies Wales in the Early Middle Ages (Leicester University Press, 1982)