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I. THE WELSH AND CORNISH SAINTS
SINCE 1836, when appeared An Essay on the Welsh Saints, by the Rev. Rice Rees, nothing has been done in the same field, although material has accuñulated enormously. That work was an attempt made, and successfully made, to throw light on a subject hitherto unstudied and dark. Archbishop Ussher had, indeed, in his Britannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates, Dublin, 1639, dealt with the early history of the Church in the British Isles in a masterly manner. But he was unacquainted with the Welsh language, and the Welsh MSS. were not accessible to him. Nevertheless, with really wonderful perspicuity he arrived at results that were, in the main, correct. He dealt with only such of the Welsh Saints as had had the good fortune to have their Lives written in Latin, and of such there are few, and of these few all were not accessible to him. Moreover, these Vitæ do not always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The importance of the saintly pedigrees is not to be ignored. Ecclesiastical preferments were made according to tribal law. The family to which a saint belonged had to be fixed, and this was done by the pedigrees. Then a claimant to a foundation or benefice of the saint had to establish his descent from the family of the saint, without which he was deemed ineligible to enter upon it.
This condition of affairs existed at the time of Giraldus, at the end of the twelfth century, for he bitterly inveighs against the hereditary tenure of ecclesiastical benefices.1 And he says that the same condition of affairs existed in Armorica. S. Malachi (d. 1148) complained of the same abuse in Ireland.
It was with ecclesiastical property as with that which was secular. Right to inherit one as the other had to be established by proof of descent. The pedigree was the title-deed appealed to in both cases. Before the fifth century, indeed, the genealogies are mostly fictitious. But it was precisely these fictitious pedigrees which possessed no legal value from the fifth century upwards ; however, when the great rush was made into Wales by those who had been dispossessed of their lands by the Picts in the first place, and secondly by the Saxons, these records became of supreme importance. The new comers settled down on newly acquired territories, and from thenceforth the pedigrees had to be determined and carried on from generation to generation with the strictest regard to accuracy, for tribal rights, both secular and ecclesiastical, depended on them.
1 Description of Wales, Bk. II, ch. vi. All members of the family, lay as well as cleric, had a right to support out of the benefice. Willis Bund, The Celtic Church of Wales, 1897, pp. 284 et seq.
“Inheritance in land and all tribal rights could only be asserted by proof produced of legal descent. And it is clear that such proof contained in the production of a genealogy could not be left to irresponsible persons. Consequently, in every Celtic race each branch of a family maintained a professional genealogist, who kept a record of the family descent from the original tree. But further, for the checking and controlling of these records, the chief or king had his special recorder, who also made entries in the book kept for the use of the chief. In Ireland, the High King always had such an officer, to register, not only the descent of the royal family, but also of all the provincial kings and principal territorial chiefs in every province ; in order that, in case of dispute, a final appeal could be made to this impartial public record. This officer was an olambh, and it was his function periodically to visit the principal courts and residences of the chieftains throughout the land, and to inspect the books of family history and genealogies; and on his return to Tara, or wherever the High King might reside, to enter into the monarch's book the accessions to these families and their expansion.
“So also, every provincial chief and king had his olambh, and in obedience to an ancient law, established before the introduction of Christianity into the land, all the provincial records were returnable every third year to the Convocation at Tara, where they were compared with each other, and with the monarch's book, the Saltair of Tara.” 2
Our Heralds' Visitations, undertaken every few years through the land to record pedigrees, were analogous, though the heralds concerned themselves, not with rights to land, but to the bearing of arins.
2 O'Curry, Lect. on the MS. Materials of Anc. Irish Hist., Dublin, 1861, pp. 203-4.
What Rice Rees did in his Essay was to show the value of the pedigrees, and the care with which they had been kept, and how trustworthy they were in determining the stocks and the generations to which the saints belonged. Here and there, owing to identity or similarity of names, errors arose, but this was exceptional. Rees laid great stress on the undoubted fact that in Wales as in Ireland a foundation took its title from its founder. A saint fasted for forty days on a site, and thenceforth it was consecrated to God, and became his own in perpetuity. Dedication during the Age of the Saints meant ownership, and implied therefore much more than is now ordinarily understood by the term. It was “ proprietary” dedication. In a poem by the Welsh bard, Gwynfardd Brycheiniog (flor. C. 11601220), written in honour of S. David, in which a number of churches "dedicated ” to him are named, it is repeatedly stated that “ Dewi owneth” (Dewi bieu) such and such church, some of which churches, among them, Llangyfelach and Llangadog, had evidently been “rededicated ” to him.
But although this is certainly true, yet it does not apply to all the churches named after a saint. For a piece of land granted to a saint's church when he was dead also acquired his name. A saint was a proprietor for all ages, whether on earth or in heaven. Thus, all the Teilo, Dewi and Cadoc churches were not personally founded by these three saints, but were, in most cases, acquisitions made by the churches of Llandaff, Menevia and Llancarfan in later times. Nevertheless, in general, the presumption is that a church called after a Celtic saint was of his own individual dedication. It is hardly possible for us to realise the activity and acquisitiveness of the early Celtic saints. They never remained long stationary, but hurried from place to place, dotting their churches or their cells wherever they could obtain foothold. No sooner did an abbot obtain a grant of land, than, dropping a few monks there to hold it for him, he hurried away to solicit another concession, and to found a new church.
The Lives of SS. Cadoc, David, Senan, and Cieran show them to have been incessantly on the move. S. Columba is reported to have established a hundred churches. S. Abban Mac Cormaic erected three monasteries in Connaught, then went into Munster, where he founded another; then migrated to Muskerry, where he built a fifth. Next he made a settlement at Oill Caoine ; then went to Fermoy and reared a seventh. Again he passed into Muskerry and established an eighth. Soon after he planted a ninth at Clon Finglass ; thereupon, away he went and constructed a tenth, Clon Conbruin. No sooner was this