Thursday, October 15, 2009

Abbot Illtud

Abbot Illtud c.475-525/537; This Abbot is no saintly monk to begin with, but was a knight and a warrior until a great tragedy overtook him when all his soldiers were drowned in a swamp.

It's difficult to start when myth and story are mixed up, that he seemed to have studied to become a monk at the monastery of Cassian, near Marseille, and that he is also of Breton origin is part of the story, his father being Bicanus a noble man and his mother the daughter of (Anblaud, Amlawdd Wledig) king of Britain.

That he was a warrior is down to the story that he served the king of Glamorgan, Pawl, and the following dramatic event happened. He lost 50 men, here the story diverges into the fact that they were either monks or soldiers, who were 'swallowed up into the earth'. Breverton goes with the story that they were soldiers, and it is well to remember that these 'celtic' monks were living in a time of turbulence and warfare, and were often of high class, as indeed Illtud was. Breverton speculates that the tragedy took place at Llancarfan, where 7 streams flow and the ford is often flooded there.

Anyway our knight turned monk was admonished by an angel to turn his wife away, Trinihid, and never communicate with her again. So our Illtud took himself off from the court of Pawl and became a monk on the banks of the river Hodnant, and of course eventually built the great monastery of Llanilltud.

He has had many churches dedicated to him, also in Brittany, here he was the patron saint of poultry. In some sources it is stated that he taught David, as well as Samson, Maelgwyn, and others and that he is buried at Bedd Gwyl Illytd in Brecon,

His legends are a touch unbelievable but are'nt they all he was often given to going on retreats to a cave. Basically because he got into trouble with the local king at Llanilltud Fawr - Merchwyn Wylt of Gorfnedd; firstly he seems to have melted the king's steward before a fire and Illtud was forced to flee to a cave. He returned to the monastery after a year but again found himself in trouble with another royal steward, who unfortunately got himself 'swallowed' by the marsh. The king furious and wanting revenge arrived at Llanilltud with his men but suffered the same fate as the royal steward, there was no end to Illtud's ability to kill those he found obstreperous, or maybe it was the divine hand of the angels or god according to the Life of St.Illtud here , which gives a long account of his various 'miraculous exploits.
He was credited as having invented a special plough, the fields around the monastery were full of limestone rock, and before his time it was customary to cultivate the land by mattock and an 'over-treading plough'; he also so it is said claimed land back from the sea.
There is such a lot of 'celtic' myth in the stories wrapped round Illtud, this of course because is story was recorded much later by the monks, so that there is that inevitable twinning of pagan stories being woven into christian angels, and 'miracles', that it is difficult to know where to begin. He is credited with taming a stag and saving it from the king who was out hunting at the time. This stag was to help pull his cart at a later stage, though another version of the story gives the animal as half horse/ half stag.

Maen Illtud at Llanhamlach is known as Ty Illtyd - a dolmen thought to be Illutd's hermitage, and a standing stone at Llanhamlach stands opposite Peterstone Court..ref: Breverton

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