St Cadog in Brittany
Cadog’s church at Langado, Morbihan,
The sixth century is commonly called the ‘Age
of Saints’ by the Celtic Nations. It saw missionary work
undertaken by Patrick in Ireland, Columba in Scotland, Piran in
Cornwall and Samson in Brittany. Britain had been Christian since
the Roman occupation but what is now England had to wait until
597 when the pope sent St.Augustine to convert the recently arrived
Anglo-Saxon pagan settlers.
Wales was at the hub of all this activity having
religious centres at Tyddewi (Dewi), Llandeilo Fawr (Teilo), Llanilltud
Fawr (Illtud) and Llancarfan (Cadog). It is known that Teilo went
to Brittany for several years c.547-555 as did Tybïe and
the towns of Landelo and Landebia can both be found there today.
What is less well known is that Llangadog’s St. Cadog visited
this Celtic land around the same time on his way home from a pilgrimage
to Rome and established a monastic foundation there.
His name can be found in about 30 Breton place
names, mainly in western Finistere and Morbihan. According to
the Latin text of The Lives of the Saints, originally written
in the twelfth century but based on far older texts, Cadog was
enchanted by an island lying a “third of a league”
(about a mile) offshore and decided to stay.
He is particularly associated with the two towns
of Belz and Lokoal-Mendon which lie on the shores of the Gulf
of Morbihan. A church near the former is actually called St.Cado,
which is the French form of Cadog but which in Breton, the indigenous
Brythonic language, translates as Langado. It was an island but
is now attached to the mainland and could be where Cadog set up
his original monastery. If you look carefully at the interior
of Langado church (illustrated) you’ll see a photo of Llangadog
church, Carmarthenshire, on the lower right!
‘Mor Bihan’ means Small Sea because
of the large inland gulf that it encapsulates. It is famous for
the huge megalithic alignments at Carnac, which dwarf Stonehenge.
Near Carnac (Breton:- Karnag) across a causeway lies the peninsular
of Quiberon (Kiberon) which in the sixth century was an island
and could also have a claim to be where Cadog settled.
Islands were much favoured sites for monastaries
at this time, eg. Iona, Ynys Enlli, Lindisfarne, Mont St.Michel
etc. and, after Cadog decided to establish his own in Brittany,
he built a “bridge of stone” to connect his island
to the mainland. But after a time we are told that God called
him back to Llancarfan in Wales, so he returned home leaving a
prior called Cadwaladr in charge.
After he left his “bridge”, which
was probably a raised stone causeway, was apparently “washed
away”. Presumably a high tide had spilt over it and temporarily
covered it in sand. His disciples were so upset that they fasted
and prayed for three days and nights for its return. God answered
their prayers and the bridge was restored, presumably by another
tide having an opposite effect. We are told that this “miracle”
became known throughout Brittany and “all the inhabitants
of the land gave praise and honour to God, and Saint Cadoc”.
There are no ancient remains left on this island
which he called “Cathodw” yet while the evidence we
have of Cadog’s time in Brittany is extremely scanty, relying
on just one written source and some topographical conjecture,
the story is intriguing and probably true; the Bretons certainly
believe so. If you’re ever in southern Brittany you should
pay a visit to Morbihan. You may well find yourselves walking
in the footsteps of our local saint!
© Rhobert ap Steffan
I would like to thank Mr David Gealy, Llanymddyfri,
for the loan of his copy of the “Lives of the Cambro British
Saints” (1853), and Louis Bras of Poullaouen, Finistere,
for his help in my Breton research.