St. Cadwallador, King of Wales
This holy king succeeded his father, Cadwallon ab Cadvan, about 634 A.D., and was the last Welsh king to have sovereignty over all Britain. The Mediaeval “Chronicles of the Princes” of Wales opens with the end of this King’s reign.
In the Welsh Triads, he is said to be one of the “Three Golden-banded of the Island of Britain”, i.e. one of the three Kings who wore the golden bands that were insignia of supreme temporal power, and were worn around the neck, the arms and the knees. In another Triad, he is called one of the three “Blessed” or canonised kings of Britain for the protection he afforded to the fugitive Christians when dispossessed by the pagans.
Unlike his warrior father, he was a man of peace and piety; and embodied the Biblical and Orthodox ideal of kingship according to which the king is the servant of God and of God’s people.
It was indeed providential that this Saint reigned at that critical time in history. In 664, a plague broke out which desolated Britain and Ireland and in which the Saint himself probably died – but not before having distributed his possessions to the victims of that plague and of the pagan incursions.
He figures in Mediaeval Welsh poetry, and is regarded as an embodiment of other-worldliness, compassion and humility, all of which are virtues to which it is difficult to attain in such high office as St. Cadwaladr held.
Wherever the Gospel of Christ has been preached and has rooted, and wherever people have responded by dedicating themselves to the Saviour, certain souls have reached that closeness to Christ which we call sanctity. Such faith and obedience, in co-operation with God’s grace, can produce a saint even in faithless and pagan times. In the early years of Christianity, for example, when the Faith was persecuted by cruel tyrants, thousands of Christians went to their death rather than compromise their faith and worship the Roman Emperors.
Of course, it is not only at such times that saints have flourished; but it was nevertheless at precisely such a time that here in Wales the Holy King Cadwaladr the Blessed lived and shone as a beacon of Christian virtue. We know little of the details of his life, but what we do know is enough to show that he is a most significant person in Christian history. So much so, that in the Welsh Mediaeval document known as the “Triads”, he is one of only three persons referred to as worthy of the title “Blessed”.
Saint Cadwaladr was king of Britain in the seventh century at the time when the ancient Britons, the ancestors of the Welsh nation, were losing supremacy over Britain. In fact, the history of the Welsh nation, as recorded in the Mediaeval “Chronicles of the Princes” begins with the death of St Cadwaladr.
“Six hundred and eighty was the year of Christ when there was a great mortality throughout all the island of Britain… And in that year, Cadwaladr the Blessed, son of Cadwallon ap Cadvan, king of the Britons, died in Rome (This detail is uncertain and not confirmed by other historical sources) on the twelfth day (from “the Calends of” – thus the Peniarth Manuscript) of May, as Myrddin had before that prophesied to Gwrtheyrn Gwrthenau. And from that time forth the Britons lost the crown of the kingdom, and the Saxons gained it”. (Red Book of Hergest, Mostyn MS 116. 142a)
Thus we know that St Cadwaladr was of the lineage of the ancient and noble family of Maelgwn Gwynedd, the ancestor of many Saints, and that the mighty warrior, Cadwallon was his father, and his grandfather the wise and famous Cadvan.
The period was one of instability and confusion. A man named Edwin had been brought up in the court of Cadvan as a foster-brother to Cadwallon. When he was older, Edwin took advantage of the political condition of the areas of Deifr and Brynaich where there were divisions amongst the Saxons. Edwin defeated his enemy, Ethelfrith, and became king of those areas which correspond to Northumbria. But Edwin had further ambitions, and disregarding the kindness he had received from Cadwallon’s parents, he attacked Wales; fought furiously against Cadwallon and defeated him. The “Triads” tell us that the River Severn was stained with the blood that flowed in this most vicious battle. Cadwallon and his family fled to Ireland as refugees from the wrath of Edwin, and there they remained for seven years.
In the year 632, Cadwallon returned: he formed an alliance with Penda, King of Mercia, in the west of England, and they attacked and defeated Edwin in the Battle of Hatfield in Yorkshire. They also won a number of other battles in those areas during the course of a year. Once again, so it seemed, there was hope that the Britons could again rule Britain. The ensuing months were critical.
But hopes were shattered; Cadwallon was defeated by his enemy Oswald at a battle near Denisburn near the Roman wall in Northumberland, and a host of Briton soldiers fell in the year 634.
The Welsh bards extol Cadwallon and his bravery eloquently. The poet Llywarch Hen, in his composition to Cadwallon mentions fourteen battles in which he was victorious. His defeat was fateful. That was the end of Welsh hopes: and that was the political situation and national mood when Saint Cadwaladr came to the throne. Divine Providence had arranged that this humble man of faith should reign at a time of despair.
St Cadwaladr inherited the throne in dark times. The enemy was powerful; but worse than that, pagan and only too ready to attack the Faith of King Cadwaladr’s people. The king faced religious persecution as well as political attack. Political hopes were slender, but St Cadwaladr was a man of strong and vibrant faith. The natural human instinct would have been to save his own skin, and protect his own possessions, but God’s grace was manifest in the Saint and as an obedient disciple of Christ, he gave him possessions and his lands to his people who were in such a lamentable state – people who sought refuge from the violence and cruelty of the enemy. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25)
With spiritual joy, St Cadwaladr did what Christ commended the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. He disposed of his possessions as an act of Christian love and mercy, and that is primarily the reason that he is called “Blessed” in the Welsh Triads. The historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth adds that the Saint then became ill. Divisions appeared amongst the Welsh. Plague and famine followed, and indeed it seemed that no further calamity could occur, and in the year 664, according to the historian Nennius, Cadwaladr died in the plague.
Humanly speaking, there was nothing notable about the Saint’s death or even his life. But that is not the verdict of the Church. (Such Saints are far from unknown in Orthodox Church history. We are reminded of St Lazar of Serbia who died in battle and of the many “fools for Christ” whose lives make little sense to the worldly-wise.) St Cadwaladr is regarded as one of the most noteworthy of saints. His life is a remarkable example of faith, hope and love. He could have allowed selfishness and self-interest to get the better of him, and bitterness to permeate his life, but with the joy that springs from faith, he departed this life despising earthly honour and power and inheriting that Kingdom where there is “neither sickness nor sorrow nor sighing, but life everlasting”.
St Cadwaladr has special significance for this age. It is easy to become disheartened as we see the powers of evil flourishing; virtue despised and faith receding. But the times of St Cadwaladr were worse and he kept faithful to his vision and to his conviction that Christ is the Way whatever the difficulties, trials and dangers that face Christians. His voice resounds down the centuries urging us to be obedient to the commands of Christ for the salvation of our souls and to the glory of the One God in Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For readers who understand Welsh Fr. Deiniol has sent us a prayer to Blessed Cadwaldr.
Diacon: Ar y Brenin Sacntaidd Aurhualog a Gweithiwr Gwyrthiau Prydain Gyfan Cadwaladr Fendigaid gweddwn.
Cr: Cadwaladr Fendigaid, gwedda drosom at Dduw.
Offeiriad: O Gadwaladr Fendigaid, ein cymorth, ein cusur, ein hamddiffynnydd, na waradwydda ni bechaduriaid, dy bobl a drown atat gan ddeisyf dy ymgeledd. Eithr yn dosturiol, gwrando arnom ac amgylchyna ni th ymbiliau sanctaidd. Canys tydi, yn dy ddaearol fuchedd oeddit yn noddfa ddiogel a hawdd ei chael ir rhai a droent atat; ac nid anwybyddir rhai sydd yn awr yn troi atat mewn gweddi. Clyw ein cri ni bechaduriaid truenus; gwl ein hadfyd; tosturia wrth ein gwendidau, canys yr ydym yn llesg ac yn mynych gwympo i bechod a chrwydro oddi wrth orchmynion ein Duw. Ac megis y tywelltaist gynt helaeth drugaredd a chariad ar y rhai anghenus a dirmygedig, gwna felly I ninnau, ni a ddeisyfwn. Ac O Frenin Cyfiawn, yr hwn wyt yn sefyll gerbron Gorseddfainc y Gogoniant, gwedda y bydd inni dreulio gweddill ddyddiau ein heinioes mewn heddwch, gweddi, elusengarwch, edifeirwch a phob duwioldeb. Tywys ni at Grist ein Duw, a deisyf ger Ei fron Ef ar inni dderbyn trugaredd, tosturi a maddeuant ein holl Sanctaidd Dduw, Dad, Mab ac Ysbryd Gln ir Hwn y byddor gogonint, anrhydedd ac addoliad, yn awr a hyd byth ac yn oes oesoedd. Amen.
- Celtic and Old English Saints – 12 November . 2015. Celtic and Old English Saints – 12 November . [ONLINE] Available at: http://celticsaints.org/2015/1112a.html. [Accessed 12 November 2015].