Monday, April 21, 2008

St. Brynach (born around AD 500)An Inspirational Saint fromthe Holy Land


We have already learned about the Saintly St Gwladys of Newport, and later will learn about her sister,the martyr StTegfedd. It is also claimed that another sister was the famous St Tydfil. All were the children of Brychan Brycheiniog of Brecon, whom I had mentioned before several times. He seems an enigmatic figure. Even Bugi, son of Gwynlliw married a daughter of Brychan. Moreover Tegfedd seems to have been the mother of St Teilo, of Llandaff.

Gwladys was the mother of Gwynlliw. These ‘holy matrons’ seem to have been splendid examples of God’s female saints. Women who also give birth to great saints, carrying on God’s Creative purpose) and brought them up in holiness observing the sacraments, teaching holy scripture, and in widowhood have devoted themselves to the religious life. It is true that a child’s first catechist is his mother. It was Gwladys and Cadoc who brought Gwynlliw to God . (Even in earlier times we have heard about Holy Materiana or Queen Madryn of Gwent as she was who went with her son Cedwyn or Ceidio to Minster, Boscastle and Tintagel in Cornwall. When they stand before the Creator at Judgement, they could truly claim their reward. These were holy Queens and Princesses of Gwent and Brecon.

Question is, why did King Brychan have so many daughters all of them strong Christians? In these days, of course, such Kings would have large families, adding strength and prestige to the line and sadly the number of young women dying in childhood meant there would have been a number of wives during the lifetime of a chieftain. Brychan (after whom Brecon is named) would have had several wives in his lifetime, and it is also believed by scholars that some daughters were actually grand daughters.Brychan is believed to have been descended from the line of Joseph of Arimathea, according to British records.

Brynach was very influenced by his Confessor, St Brynach.He is known as Brynach the Irishman (Brynach Wyddal) however this may not have been his country of origin. The Vita Sancti Bernaci ‘Elegit sibi Dominus virum de filiis Israel juxta cor suum, Bernaci nominee, venustia ornatum moribus, tiulisque virtutum insignibus virtutum insignibus excellentem..’so we may take this at face value and claim he was a Jewish Christian and someone of means. He was from a wealthy background.He may have been the son of a worthy merchant in Jerusalem perhaps.The Vita goes on ‘not considering the country of his nativity to be his own, he was anxious to remove of it to acquire one of himself by travelling to another country. According to the teaching of Christ, and following his example , he expected by relinquishing all his wealth, all things would be given to him.. He went to a ship and trusted in God and travelled to many countries sowing the seeds of the teaching of Christ. There, burning with desire for God , he spread the Word.’

There follows an account of how he slew a beast which was terrorising the countryside around Rome, where he had made a pilgrimage. He escaped from it, but then ‘by the sole power of prayer’ he was . He became very well known, so decided to leave Rome and sail somewhere else, wishing to remain humble and anonymous. It goes on.’Then, performing a long journey , and wherever he came,giving an example of goodness to be imitated by all, and travelling towards the western parts of the world, he came to Lesser Britain’. In the Welsh (Romanised Celt) Prydain (Brudd-eyen) was the name for Britain. Prydain Fawr (Greater Britain=Great Britain) and Prydain Fach (Lesser or Little Britain=Eire) He spent a great deal of time in a healing ministry in Ireland which probably accounts for his nickname Brynach the Irishman!(Brynach Wyddel) Sick persons came from all over and others came to hear his preach the gospel for the good offices of the soul. But again , he became very famous and by way of Brittany (Armorica) where he travelled first, he came to Wales. Legend says he was floating on a stone (probably his portable altar) He arrived at Milford .Unfortunately he had to fight off the amorous advances of a daughter of a local chieftain.She tried to seduce him and gave him and gave him an aphrodisiac of Wolfbane to drink, but it did not work because he refused it.She then tried everything to be rid of him and sent thugs. They stabbed him, but God moved others to protect him. The would be murderers were attacked by insects, possibly bees and died a horrible lingering death. Brynach went to a nearby well, washed his wound clean and washed off the blood and this is the origin of the Red Fountain now St Brynach’s Well, which became famous for its healing properties. It became called ‘Fons Rubens’
At Cilymaellwyd he was not received well and was forced to shelter under a grey stone. Eventually he built himself a small hermitage at Llanfyrnach in Pembrokeshire.

He first travelled north-east to Llanboidy (Carmarthenshire) where he was denied lodgings by the locals and slept in a cow-shed. At Fishguard ,too, he liberated the place of demons who cried out at night and gave ‘horrid howlings’.He then established his foundation at Never, called the Grove of the Ancient Church. His followers set about building the monastery but every morning everything they had done was undone. God told Brynach not to stay there and gave , precise directions to Clechre (Clether)where he was helped by a local Christian Chieftain. This Chieftain, Clether, was so impressed by Brynach and his rhetoric that he gave up his throne in order to retire to Cerniw (Cornwall) as a Christian hermitBrynach did this but embarked on a course of denying himself almost everything fasting watching, praying doing without. Brynach travelled all over South Wales and came to the court of King Brychan who was very impressed by the sanctitity of the holy man from so far away. Brynach and Brychan became friends and the whole family of Brychan came under his spell and became lifted to heavenly ideas. Brychan remained at the court of Brecon for some time, no doubt establishing a foundation. Before continuing his travels.

David Hunt Nash in his website ‘Early British Kingdom’ writes
During his life at Nevern, he often moved around somewhat South Wales, founding churches as he went, including Llanfrynach in Brycheiniog and Llanfrynach and Penllin in Morgannwg. He became a great friend of St. Dewi who often visited him at Nevern. Once, Dewi arrived carrying a heavy highly-decorated stone cross-head. He was taking it to Llanddewi Brefi as a memorial to his achievements at the Synod held there in AD 545. However, Brynach persuaded Dewi to give it to him instead. He had an equally finely carved shaft made and mounted the cross on the top, installing it on the south side of Nevern Abbey Church. (The version there today is said to be a 10th century replacement).

Eventually, St. Brynach left Wales to try his luck in Dumnonia(Devon and Cornwall). He lived as a hermit at Braunton (North Devon) and it was there that he died on 7th January (according to his West Country adherents) and was buried in his church there.
In Wales, however, his feast day is 7th April perhaps because this was traditionally the day on which the first cuckoo in the country is said to sing every year from the top of St. Brynach's famous cross in Nevern churchyard.
A 13ft high, 10th-11th century patterned Celtic cross (in the churchyard) is one of the finest Mediaeval high crosses in the country and the Vitalani Stone is notable for its 6th century Ogham inscription. Nevern was also on an important pilgrimage route to St. David's and the Pilgrims Cross can still be seen cut into the rock and was said to be the place for prayer of passing pilgrims..'(David Hunt Nash, Early British Kingdoms)

So while we have left Gwent for a short time here, we have seen the witness of a great and holy Jewish Christian Saint who had such an enormous influence on the whole of Wales, and particularly in our Holy Newport Saint Gwladys, who converted her bandit husband Gwynlliw , gave birth to Cadoc. So the great teachings of Christ worked on in Wales and elsewhere through the centuries.

From the Prayer for the saints of the Isles (adapted from Orthodox Troparion)

‘With what beauty or hymn shall we praise the divinely wise of the Isles, the splendour and adornment of the Church of Christ, the crown of the priesthood, the rule of piety, the never-drying wellsprings of divine healing, the outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit, the streams of manifold wonders which gladden the Isles and all those who seek God. For whose sake the All-Merciful Christ has cast down the uprisings of the enemy.: Let the earth make glad and the heavens rejoice, in praising your toils and struggles, your spiritual courage and purity of mind, O Venerable Ones, for you were not overcome by the laws of nature. O holy company and divine assembly, you are truly the strength of our Isles.
O blessed kings and queens, divinely-wise princes and princesses, who shine forth with loving-kindness and are resplendent with virtues: You enlighten all the faithful, driving away the darkness of the demons. Wherefore we honour you as partakers of never-fading grace and unashamed preservers of your inheritance, O right wondrous ones.
+Glory Be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as it was in the Beginning is now and ever shall be, World without end. Amen.

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