St. Cadfan of Wales, Abbot
Died probably at Bardsey in the early 6th century. A missionary from
Letavia (probably in Brittany but possibly in south-eastern Wales) to
Wales, Cadfan founded monasteries at Towyn in Merionethshire and
Llangadfan in Montgomeryshire, and later a monastic centre on the island
of Bardsey (Ynys Enlli), where he was first abbot. Bardsey developed
into a great centre of monasticism. It is said that as he went from
Towyn to Llangadfan he passed through Pistyll Gadfan, Eisteddfa Gadfa,
and Llwbyr Gadfan.
Bardsey Island is still a wild, isolated place - exactly the kind of
spot to which the Celtic monks liked to retreat. The first monastery
here was founded by St Cadfan in 429. Today's remains are 13th century
and are of the Augustinian abbey of St Mary, built on the site of the
original monastery. In time Bardsey became one of the most popular
places of pilgrimage in Britain and many went there to be buried so as
to be close to the numerous ascetic saints who died there. In time it
known as "The Island of 20,000 Saints." Human bones were so common that
they were used to mend fences!
Cadfan's holy well could be found in the churchyard at Towyn, near his
chapel (since destroyed), where many were cured of rheumatism, scrofula,
and skin diseases. It continued to attract pilgrims long after the
Reformation. Baths and changing-rooms were added until it went into
disuse about 1894.
In the church at Towyn, there is a stone pillar, called the Cadfan
stone, with an ancient inscription that marks the place of his burial:
"Beneath a similar mound lies Cadfan,
sad it should enclose the praise of the earth.
May he rest without blemish."
A Cadfan also has an active cultus in Finistere and Cotes du Nord,
Brittany. While it is generally held that this is the same Cadfan (the
reason for thinking that he was a Breton), there are still problems in
making the connection between the two. The question may never be
settled. The Breton Cadfan is the patron of a church at Poullan, near
Troparion of St Cadfa
Leaving thy native Brittany for the love of Christ, O Father Cadfan,
thou dost teach us not to love places or things more than Him.
Wherefore, O holy one, intercede for us that we may be faithful to our
calling and found worthy of great mercy
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content © 2008, Ambrose Mooney
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Page last updated: 31 October 2008
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