Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Great Teacher and Confessor-St Dubricius or Dyfrig

Some of the photographs are copyright.

By the time of the end of the Roman Occupation, Christianity had been firmly established in the land. Druidism had become a memory, although there were still some adherents. The Romans had treated the Druids very harshly before Christianity had been introduced and many had been killed by them. The people were ready for a religion which taught about an afterlife in the presence of a loving God, based on the promise of Christ. Moreover, peace and love and social cohesion gave a security which was attractive. The Romans had brought peace and protected the Britons against Anglo Saxon and Irish marauders. St Patrick, a Welshman worked among the Irish and brought them to a knowledge of Christ. Patrick(387-493) too was a Bishop, consecrated in Rome.


Bishops had become men of importance. There were a great many teachers and men of religion among the people of Gwent. There were several bishops of Caerleon, and the first of which me have information was Dyfrig. Dyfrig’s Gwentian name was Latinized into Dubricius but to avoid confusion, they are the same person but I will use his Welsh name, as it is the one by whom he would have generally been called.

The Book of Llandaff records this account of the manner of his birth:

There was a certain King of the region of Ergyng (Arcbellfield) of the name of Pebiau, called in the British language Claforawg, and in Latin, Spumosus, who undertook an expedition against his enemies, and returning from thence he ordered his daughter Eurddil to wash his head, which, when she endeavoured. to do, he perceived from her enlarged form, that she was pregnant. The King therefore being angry, ordered her to be put into a sack, and cast headlong into the river, that she might suffer whatever might befall; which, however, happened contrary to what was expected, for as often as she was placed in the river, so often was she, through the guidance of God, impelled to the bank.

Her father then being indignant because he could not drown her in the river, resolved to destroy her with fire. A funeral pile was therefore prepared, into which his daughter was thrown alive. In the following morning, the messengers who bad been sent by her father to ascertain whether any of the bones of his daughter remained, found Tier holding her son in her lap, at a spot where a stone is placed in testimony of the wonderful nativity of the boy; and the place is called Madle, because therein was born the holy man. The father hearing this, ordered his daughter with her son to be brought to him; and when they came, he embraced the infant with paternal affection, as is usual, and kissing him, from the restlessness of infancy, he touched with his bands the face and mouth of his grandfather, and that not without divine appointment; for by the contact of the hands of the infant, he was healed of the incurable disease wherewith he was afflicted, for he incessantly emitted foam from his mouth, which two persons, who constantly attended him, could scarcely wipe off with handkerchiefs.

Dyfrig's Character

In the Book of Llandaff, we learn that as a child Dyfrig had the thoughts of a man and that his understanding increased at a great rate and he was a man of learning, a wonderful communicator and his fame spread throughout the area. Priests were almost the only people who had learning at that time. Would be priests needed to learn to read Latin Greek and Welsh and learnt huge amounts of the texts of the Bible off by heart. To this day in the great monasteries of the world, many monks have the psalms from memory.

Founder of Teaching Monasteries

He was born in the old Kingdom of Gwent near Hereford and also owned land there. He was a great and holy man founding churches in Hentland, Whitchurch,and Moccas in the South Herfordshire area where he also founded monasteries . Remember they were very small affairs of simple style beehive huts or mud and wattle structures- in contrast to the great Norman style abbeys which came later at Tintern and at Grace Dieu (Grace of God).

Education and Learning

Dyfrig was greatly concerned with education and learning and spent a great deal of time training young people for the priesthood. An exceptional college for priests and religious people based on the college of learning which had existed in the time of the Romans was built up. The Roman building had been allowed to all into disrepair and neglected and when Dyfrig was appointed Bishop, he superintended this school himself, realising that if people were going to go out and preach the gospel in the name of Christ, they had to be well educated in the scriptures, and in Latin and Welsh. It is said Dyfrig spoke and wrote in Irish, Welsh, Latin and Greek.

A noted college had existed in Caerleon since before the days of the Romans, but it had been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair and allowed to fall from the position it had held. When Dyfrig was consecrated as first bishop in Caeleon, Dyfrig superintended this school himself and soon raised it to fame and widespread influence. It was important to the people of Gwent to have priests who were well trained as learned and holy people in a society where most people still could not read. Oates in his book ‘The Story of Gwent’ says that the college had over two thousand students at one time!! The College at Caerleon has metamorphosised many times into carious kinds of college and is now part of the University of Wales at Newport, and the Theological teaching been removed to the College at Lampeter (Llan Pedr-the Church of Peter) .

The old Celtic idea of sanctity inclined for the most part to a great love of the life of a hermit. Each locality seems to have its hermit who in his lonely chapel celebrated the Divine Mysteries (if a priest, recited the Psalter every day, and practised austerities)

The Miracle of St Dyfrig and St Samson

The 7th century ‘Life of Samson’ shows the importance of Dyfrig of Caerleon.. Dyfrig was sometimes called ‘Papa’ by his followers but was certainly known as Bishop. At the holy island of Caldey (off Tenby) there is an ancient but unfinished inscription Magi Dubr (the tonsured servant of Dubricius).There is even another church founded by him at Porthlock in Somerset (Avon) which shows how powerful and how widespread Dyfrig’s evangelism was. Dyfrig was succeeded by David as the primary first Bishop of Caerleon (no archbishops yet)and retired to another holy island of Bardsey (Lleyn peninsular) in North Wales where he died. Teilo succeeded him at Llandaff. Dyfrig’s feast day is 14 November.

The business of the house of St. Illtyd was divided between the brethren; the ecclesiastical affairs were performed by such persons as they best suited, and the offices were distributed among the brethren. The care of the cellar was, by his advocates, granted to St. Samson, who, day and night, served the clergy to their satisfaction, and also pleased the common people.

This is a miracle of Dyfrig. The monks were often jealous of each other, and because Samson had been singled out as a future leader by Dyfrig, a certain monk complained about his generosity. There are echoes of the story of the Wedding at Cana here…

On a certain day, when he had filled the cups of the guests, and all the vessels of the cellar were become empty on the occasion of such great joy as the visit of St. Dubricius ; it was mentioned by an envious monk that the Steward had altogether wasted the drink; for having enjoyed the same office, and being deprived of it, he envied the brother Samson, because of his bountiful band. Samson, hearing the murmuring of the congregation against him, and being ashamed of so much complaint, be came to St. Dyfrig and related to him all things in order, saying, “Holy Father, flower of thy country, give me thy assistance.”

St Dyfrig , on hearing his request, prayed to God, that with respect to the distress which Samson suffered, he might liberate him; and being induced by fatherly affection, he went to the cellar, in company with Samson. And as it is said, “The Lord is wonderful among his saints,” he raised his hand, and pronounced a blessing, which being uttered, marvellous relation! immediately the vessels overflowed afresh, as if they had been that hour filled with liquor as usual; and the evil effort of envy being got rid of, they were renewed, and what was given away by bestowing bountifully was restored by prayers as a remuneration.

Even the great and learned doctors and learned men of the day came to him for help and guidance. Dyfrig was first made Bishop of Llandaff (Cardiff) and around 490AD was made Archbishop of Caerleon .The Normans seem to have reorganised the church somewhat and taken away the right to the Archbishopric for Wales. If anyone has information about this, I'd be interested. In fact Giraldus Cambrensis desperately tried during the reign of Henry II (12th century) to establish an archbishopric at St David’s but was unsuccessful.

One of Dyfrig’s deserts or ‘islands’ was at Carn Llwyd at Llancarfan Monastery (Crucigreif) later officially assigned by St Cadoc officially, as a ‘desert’.In the genealogy, Dyfrig is the brother of Dingat (of the Church at Dingestow-another monastery near Chepstow. Their father was Brychan from whose principal town the name ‘Brecon’ comes.In the Pope’s bulls, Dingestow is referred to as Merthyr Dingat-whether this was a blood martyrdom or a green martyrdom I do not know. In time Dyfrig also became Bishop of Llandaff from where Gwynlliw summoned him when he was dying. He was also at Llandaff when St Illtyd, the great sinner, who became a great saint, came to him and asked to consecrate his life to God in a Green desert Dyfrig also fixed the bounds of the burial place for him at St Illtyd’s monastery. When Samson of was summoned to Llandaff by Illtyd, they went to Dyfrig and both saw the image of a dove behind the young man. Samson was ordained a priest by Dyrfig Again a white dove appeared at the ordination, symbol of the Holy Spirit. When Samson died after many years spent in Dol in Gaul or Northern France, his body was carried back to the monastery from the coast with great reverence by the monks of St Illtyd’s Abbey.of St Illtyd, In the Epitome of the History of Britain.

Dyfrig and the Heresy of Pelagius

The church in Britain was disturbed at the time by the teaching of someone called Pelagius . Tall in stature and plump (Jerome says he was "grandis et corpulentus"), Pelagius was highly educated, spoke and wrote Latin as well as Greek with great fluency and was well versed in theology. Though a monk and devoted to contemplation and fasting, he never was a priest; for both Orosius and Pope Zosimus simply call him a "layman".St Germanus was the first to travel to Britain to refute this heresy, but St David's arguments and saintly bearing won the day. He preached before five candles , representing the wounds of Christ and while he spoke he levitated, however more of St Dewi(David) later.

Dyfrig retires

As is reward for the splendid arguments against Pelagius by David,David was chosen to succeed Dyfrig, who felt he was too old for the job, but who vigorously campaigned to have David recognised as a Saint. Pope Callixtus II did so in 1120 when the Congregation for the Formation Saints was created and was one of the first saints to be created in this way. Most previous saints were adopted by local clergy and by local congregations aware of their holiness. St Dyfrig retired to Llandaff and then to Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli) where he died after several years. The Holy Island of Saints was the place of his first burial, to which he was reverently borne by many of the monks of St Illtid's monastery. Urban of Llandaff later called for Dyfrig to be brought back to Llandaff, where he was interred and relics held.At the great Monastery of St David's too, there is a huge marble statue dedicated to St Dyfrig.

Coronation of Arthur

There is one last entry as to the deeds of St Dyfrig in the Lives of the Cambro British Saints
St Dyfrig crowned Arthur either at Caerleon or Cirencester.

There was a Chieftain called Artheur who succeeded Iddon as High Chief of the Britons. This is not the romanticised mediaeval figure sketched by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Nevertheless he did exist , he was a warrior and his great victories against the Saxons were not without foundation.Nevertheless the Coronation of Arthur by Dyfrig is mentioned in the Lives of the Welsh Saints. However there is a discrepancy as regards the location of this, which has been given variously as Caerleon (City of Legions) and Cirencester, another Roman town. Caerleon is perhaps more likely because of its great size and amphitheatre still in evidence today, and site of great enactments,

At Pentecost, the birthday of the Church , Arthur called his people to Caerleon, still called at that time the Camp of the Legions, because situated in a pleasant position on the River Usk , near the River Severn it surpassed all cities in wealth and was a suitable place for so great a solemnity. One the one side flowed the river and on the others were the meadows and woods, and so lovely were the Roman buildings with their gilded roofs, they rivalled Rome in grandeur. Ambassadors were sent to different parts of Britain to invite the kings and princes to the court.

No prince of any note remained at home, because Arthur’s bravery was renowned.all were assembled in the city on the day of the great festival and Dyfrig made ready to celebrate the Coronation Mass at Pentecost. As soon as Arthur had put on the royal robe he was conducted to the Church-probably that of St Aaron, as St Julius's was some way west of Caerleon . Four princes were reported before him bearing 4 golden swords and in front was a company of singers, singing great poems of praise. In another part of the procession was the Queen, richly dressed and attended with great honour with her ladies. During the Mass, Dyfrig placed the crown on the head of Arthur. The petty kings and chieftains vowed with a solomn oathto advance the reputation of honour, avenge violence and oppression and any injury or dishonour offered any lady.

The Coronation Banquet

Afterwards Arthur Gwynhwyfar and Dyfrig went to the Banquet-he to his hall with the men, she to her hall with the women as was the custom. Sports and celebrations were held for several days. When Arthur had to go to the various battles to fight the Saxons, he appointed his nephew Mordred as regent, as costly mistake as it turned out.

We read of this event in the annals of the saints -probably it was the earthly pinnacle of his life. I have called hum Dyfrig, his Welsh name but his Latin name Dubricius would have been that by which he became known in Church circles.

Dubricius , Archbishop of Caerleon crowned the most celebrated King Arthur , in the fifteenth year of his age. And after the fame of his liberality and proberty, was published abroad to the farthest part of the world, and he had by dreadful battles and great fatigue and had subdued many tribes to himself, he caused archbishops, bishops, kings, princes, and generals subject to him to be unanimously called together at Caerleon and there venerably celebrate the great festival at Whitsuntide (Pentecost is often called Whit Sunday or White Sunday in Britain) Being sent for, and all completed they were all called and each of them was honourably enriched with several possessions, and so all and each of them asking leave, returned home with joy.

Final Years of Dyfrig

(Dyfrig)Dubricius, feeling himself burdened with old age, greeted the brothers and retired from Llandaff to where he had returned on leaving the archbishop’s position to David at Llandewi. And on a certain island in the Irish Sea,called in Welsh Ynys Enlli and in Saxon Bardsey Island,in which 20,000 bodies of saints are buried, with watchings, fastings and prayers he lived the life of a hermit to the last day of his earthly life, and after this he was honourably buried numbered first among the saints.He migrated to the Lord in the year 612 and in 1120 he was removed by Urban,Bishop of Llandaff from the Island of Bardsey or Ynys Enlli to his Cathedral at Llandaff on the tenth of the calends of June. And after Dyfig or Dubricius the illustrious priest, Teilo was promoted to be pastor and bishop of the church at Llandaff, whose manners and laudible deeds are mentioned in histories.’

Interesting Notes

The account of the death of Dyfrig is interesting. Remember that Materiana and her maid Anna also had their dream of the angel telling them to build a church, when they made the pilgrimage to this holy island. Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island was one of the most powerful spiritual places in Wales as a whole-an island which was the holiest in Wales, a true desert of St Augustine of Hippo. (Caldey in South Wales was a similar place, aswell as St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall). These holy locations are important for spirituality among the Welsh. Another interesting point is the terminolgogy-his soul ‘migrated’ to God- a bird symbol-flew away-very typical of Celtic style terminology. Later on, Urban, Bishop of Llandaff removed his body to Llandaff for burial as befitted a great leader of his students, powerful spiritual Archbishop and legend in his lifetime, and great Icon for Wales. He is not known, as David is for healing and scholarhip and spiritual gifts like levitation, but he knew the value of education and it seems was the founder of Caerleon College as an institution. He was a teacher and saintly pastor taking a personal interest in his students and encouraging them in what would be a difficult life.

Dyfrig was acclaimed as a saint from very early times in the same way as Ishow and Patrick, Materiana and Ceidio. This is by popular acclamation and witness and by the local bishops and archbishop. The Congregation for the formation of Saints was not yet in existence, and most early saints were made in this way. Dyfrig however earnestly campaigned for the recognition of David as a saint, and when the Congregation was formed, this occurred.

Dyfrig was a Bishop and Confessor, one of the greatest of Welsh saints; d. 612 AD. He is usually represented holding two croziers, which signify his jurisdiction over the Sees of Caerleon and Llandaff.

1 comment:

Lilian said...

Morning Ev, got peace 2 listen to your podcast this morning, 6am (early I know). Once again, really enjoyed hearing about a piece of ancient Welsh history, has set me up for the day, as work stressing me at the moment - so it was a tonic.

Love the background music, fits the theme beautifully; again the music from the harp, am going to buy that CD of Welsh Airs.

Tell me, was that you who yelped during your broadcast, something happened, did someone pinch your bottom....sorry!!