St Cadog in Brittany

Cadog’s church at Langado, Morbihan, Brittany

Cadog’s church at Langado, Morbihan, Brittany

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.