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Vindictive Welsh Saints July 15, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

angry saint

Gerald of Wales has the following to say about the Irish:

This seems to me a thing to be noticed that just as the men of this country are during this mortal life more prone to anger and revenge than any other race, so in eternal death the saints of this land that have been elevated by their merits are more vindictive than the saints of any other region.

It is true that Irish saints can get pretty wrathful. But given the fury of medieval Welsh saints, it could also be argued that Gerald’s sentence is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. This is just a sample of some of nastiness of Welsh saints in early medieval Welsh lives (and associated poetry in Welsh). Beach quotes from Elisa Henken who made Welsh hagiology her speciality in the early 90s.

The [Welsh] saints frequently caused their foes to be blinded, ot at least unable to see. Blindness is very effective in disabling a dangerous force. For example, [St] Cybi used blindness against Edelig and his men when they tried to evict him from Edelig’s land. In a similar situation [Beach: there are lots of 'similar situations' in Welsh saints’ lives], [St] Cyngar blinded Poulentus and his men. [St] Oudeceus protected some holy relics from thieves by blinding the men as they reached out to steal. [St] Cadog used this technique against both Maelgwn who had gathered forced to attack Gwynllwg in support of his tax collectors who had kidnapped a maiden and againt Rhun whose esquires attempted arson. In both cases, a great column of mist or smoke entered the camp and caused such great darkness that none could see, so that when [St] Cadog arrived, Maelgwn and Ruhn were will to grant anything to regain their sight.As well as being used for disablement, blindness is also inflicted as a punishment. [St] Illtud’s wife was thus punished for transgressing the restrictions of the religious life when she tried to visit the saint after years of separation. Her blindness was lifted when Illtud decided to forgive her, but her face was left permanently marred as a lesson. Permanent disfigurement is in itself commonly used as a reproof.

And this is just for starters. In the sick, fictional world of Welsh saints bad things are always happening to men or women who lift their fingers against the annointed of God. So King Maelgwn got his bottom stuck to a rock seat by St Gildas. St Cadog cursed a thresher and asked God to burn the thresher, the threshing floor and all his grain: a wish the Divinity speedily granted. A boy’s hands stuck to some pigeons that he tried to steal from St David’s church. Two old men are changed into wolves, again by St David. St Tatheus killed 147 horses because they ate grass in his field. St Padarn had King Arthur (of roundtable fame) swallowed ‘up to his chin’ by the earth. Cadog ‘melted’ a looter. King Edgar died nine days after having approached St Cyngar’s sanctuary: note that poor Edwin had approached the sanctuary ‘unwittingly’, but, then, he was English… And perhaps most curiously the saints also fought each other, which makes for hagiologial Jedi fights. Cadog, for example, ‘fasts’ against St David. Any candidates for the nastiest saint, Welsh or otherwise? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

29 July 2013: First up is Count I’m not sure how Jewish and Christian holy men compare in rank, but I’m assuming an Old Testament prophet would be at least the equal of a saint. That being the case, the most mean-spirited saint ever would have to be this guy:  Though for sheer irresponsibility in terms of reckless use of miracles, sometimes resulting in fatalities, the runaway winner is none other than Jesus Christ! Only in the Infancy Gospels of course, which are no longer considered Holy Writ. But there was a time when they were! On a related note, for several decades now, superhero comics have been aware that characters whose powers are genetically innate would be impossible for normal human parents to raise – how, exactly, do you cope with a two-year-old who can throw cars, or set fire to you by looking at you when he’s angry? Therefore not only do the Marvel mutants only become superpowered at puberty, but in the DC universe, Superman was retroactively decreed to have gradually acquired his godlike abilities at a similar age (by the way, the character currently known as Superboy is not the same person as Superman). However, back in the day, it didn’t occur to anybody that a toddler who was to all intents and purposes God would be terrifyingly out of control, and the concept was treated humorously in a number of tales that nowadays officially didn’t happen – a 20th century Infancy Gospel?  By the way, I happened to notice a book title which seems apposite:  Chris from Haunted Ohio Book writes in: Oh, but why stop with Wales or Ireland if we are discussing spiritual interpersonal violence? For example, the young Christ in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas/Malevolent Acts striking dead a young boy who ran into him accidentally. The God of Wrath of the Old Testament smiting Uzzah for steadying the Ark of the Covenant, 2 Samuel 6: 7. No good deed goes unpunished…. My vote goes to the vicious Virgins of Italy, images of the Virgin said to be so powerful that they are capable of killing onlookers. They must be placated and are kept veiled to avert disaster. (See Madonnas That Maim: Popular Catholicism in Italy since the Fifteenth Century, Michael P. Carroll.) The Saints of the British Isles, though, do take the biscuit (the Host, if we wish to be irreverent) for smiting their enemies: The misogynistic St Cuthbert, who would instantly punish any woman who came near his shrine. St Columba causing the ships of  English raiders who had despoiled Inchcolm to burst into flames and sink. St Patrick killing Foylge, whose body was then re-animated by the Devil. St Hugh of Lincoln, whose excommunications killed several sinners. Throop, Susanna A. and Paul R. Hyams. Vengeance in the Middle Ages: Emotion, Religion and Feud. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010 has a section on vengeful Irish saints.  KJH writes: It is well understood that many of the so-called earlier saints in Christianity would not qualify for the title if subjected to modern standards. The most they might achieve would be a “Blessed” or “Venerable.” Not all saints are born as saints – they go through a developmental period where their deeds, words and actions can fall short of the heroic standard required for sainthood. Even so-called miracles aren’t evidence of sainthood if they aren’t in line with Christian spirituality. As your article points out, culture does play a role. Another example might be the ‘crazy’ saints of early Russia after the Mongolian invasion (google ‘holy fools’). MC writes I haven’t heard of this one actually doing anything particularly nasty, but with a name like that, the potential is there: Lucifer of Cagliari – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Thanks Count, KMH and MC!