Monday, January 29, 2007

St Gildas

Well, yes, he probably doesn't feature in your Diocesan ordo either, but nonetheless today is the feast day of St Gildas. Gildas, pictured here boldly steering a course through my bookshelves, is of course my blogging patron. If you want to know more about him, there are biographies here and here. His De excidio Britannae liber querulus has been placed online by the Medieval Sourcebook. Arguably the earliest, and undoubtedly the most innacurate of British historians, he actually spent most of his life in France. If you want to go on a Gildas pilgrimage, you can visit the splendid Church at St Gildas de Rhuys, where he established a monastery, and the nearby island of Houat where he lived as a hermit and eventually died.

Why does Gildas appeal so much to me? He has a tremendous humility, which I seek but definitely fail to emulate. He has a great heart for evangelisation, that takes him into mission territory with great pastoral zeal. He also has a deep yearning for silence, for solitude. He repeatedly withdraws to be alone with God.

Here is his charming description of Britain:

The island of Britain, situated on almost the utmost border of the earth, towards the south and west, and poised in the divine balance, as it is said, which supports the whole world, stretches out from the south-west towards the north pole, and is eight hundred miles long and two hundred broad, except where the headlands of sundry promontories stretch farther into the sea. It is surrounded by the ocean, which forms winding bays, and is strongly defended by this ample, and, if I may so call it, impassable barrier, save on the south side, where the narrow sea affords a passage to Baltic Gaul. It is enriched by the mouths of two noble rivers, the Thames and the Severn, as it were two arms, by which foreign luxuries were of old imported, and by other streams of less importance. It is famous for eight and twenty cities, and is embellished by certain castles, with walls, towers, well barred gates, and houses with threatening battlements built on high, and provided with all requisite instruments of defence. Its plains are spacious, its hills are pleasantly situated, adapted for superior tillage, and its mountains are admirably calculated for the alternate pasturage of cattle, where flowers of various colours, trodden by the feet of man, give it the appearance of a lovely picture. It is decked, like a man's chosen bride, with divers jewels, with lucid fountains and abundant brooks wandering over the snow white sands; with transparent rivers, flowing in gentle murmurs, and offering a sweet pledge of slumber to those who recline upon their banks, whilst it is irrigated by abundant lakes, which pour forth cool torrents of refreshing water.

St Gildas - pray for us, that nourished by our time in Christ's presence we may be zealous workers for the New Evangelisation.

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