Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 1, Ch. 18: The antiquity of their faith

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Of the antiquity of their faith, their love of Christianity and devotion

In ancient times, and about two hundred years before the overthrow of Britain, the Welsh were instructed and confirmed in the faith by Faganus and Damianus, sent into the island at the request of king Lucius by pope Eleutherius, and from that period when Germanus of Auxerre, and Lupus of Troyes, came over on account of the corruption which had crept into the island by the invasion of the Saxons, but particularly with a view of expelling the Pelagian heresy, nothing heretical or contrary to the true faith was to be found amongst the natives. But it is said that some parts of the ardent doctrines are still retained. They give the first piece broken off from every loaf of bread to the poor; they sit down to dinner by three to a dish, in honour of the Trinity. With extended arms and bowing head, they ask a blessing of every monk or priest, or of every person wearing a religious habit. But they desire, above all other nations, the episcopal ordination and unction, by which the grace of the spirit is given. They give a tenth of all their property, animals, cattle, and sheep, either when they marry, or go on a pilgrimage, or, by the counsel of the church, are persuaded to amend their lives. This partition of their effects they call the great tithe, two parts of which they give to the church where they were baptised, and the third to the bishop of the diocese. But of all pilgrimages they prefer that to Rome, where they pay the most fervent adoration to the apostolic see. We observe that they show a greater respect than other nations to churches and ecclesiastical persons, to the relics of saints, bells, holy books, and the cross, which they devoutly revere; and hence their churches enjoy more than common tranquillity. For peace is not only preserved towards all animals feeding in churchyards, but at a great distance beyond them, where certain boundaries and ditches have been appointed by the bishops, in order to maintain the security of the sanctuary. But the principal churches to which antiquity has annexed the greater reverence extend their protection to the herds as far as they can go to feed in the morning and return at night. If, therefore, any person has incurred the enmity of his prince, on applying to the church for protection, he and his family will continue to live unmolested; but many persons abuse this indemnity, far exceeding the indulgence of the canon, which in such cases grants only personal safety; and from the places of refuge even make hostile irruptions, and more severely harass the country than the prince himself. Hermits and anchorites more strictly abstinent and more spiritual can nowhere be found; for this nation is earnest in all its pursuits, and neither worse men than the bad, nor better than the good, can be met with.

Happy and fortunate indeed would this nation be, nay, completely blessed, if it had good prelates and pastors, and but one prince, and that prince a good one.

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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