St. Cadwallador, King of Wales
This holy king succeeded his father, Cadwallon ab Cadvan, about 634
A.D., and was the last Welsh king to have sovereignty over all Britain.
The Mediaeval "Chronicles of the Princes" of Wales opens with the end of
this King's reign.
In the Welsh Triads, he is said to be one of the "Three Golden-banded of
the Island of Britain", i.e. one of the three Kings who wore the golden
bands that were insignia of supreme temporal power, and were worn around
the neck, the arms and the knees. In another Triad, he is called one of
the three "Blessed" or canonised kings of Britain for the protection he
afforded to the fugitive Christians when dispossessed by the pagans.
Unlike his warrior father, he was a man of peace and piety; and embodied
the Biblical and Orthodox ideal of kingship according to which the king
is the servant of God and of God's people.
It was indeed providential that this Saint reigned at that critical time
in history. In 664, a plague broke out which desolated Britain and
Ireland and in which the Saint himself probably died - but not before
having distributed his possessions to the victims of that plague and of
the pagan incursions.
He figures in Mediaeval Welsh poetry, and is regarded as an embodiment
of other-worldliness, compassion and humility, all of which are virtues
to which it is difficult to attain in such high office as St. Cadwaladr
Wherever the Gospel of Christ has been preached and has rooted, and
wherever people have responded by dedicating themselves to the Saviour,
certain souls have reached that closeness to Christ which we call
sanctity. Such faith and obedience, in co-operation with God's grace,
can produce a saint even in faithless and pagan times. In the early
years of Christianity, for example, when the Faith was persecuted by
cruel tyrants, thousands of Christians went to their death rather than
compromise their faith and worship the Roman Emperors.
Of course, it is not only at such times that saints have flourished; but
it was nevertheless at precisely such a time that here in Wales the Holy
King Cadwaladr the Blessed lived and shone as a beacon of Christian
virtue. We know little of the details of his life, but what we do know
is enough to show that he is a most significant person in Christian
history. So much so, that in the Welsh Mediaeval document known as the
"Triads", he is one of only three persons referred to as worthy of the
Saint Cadwaladr was king of Britain in the seventh century at the time
when the ancient Britons, the ancestors of the Welsh nation, were losing
supremacy over Britain. In fact, the history of the Welsh nation, as
recorded in the Mediaeval "Chronicles of the Princes" begins with the
death of St Cadwaladr.
"Six hundred and eighty was the year of Christ when there was a great
mortality throughout all the island of Britain... And in that year,
Cadwaladr the Blessed, son of Cadwallon ap Cadvan, king of the Britons,
died in Rome (This detail is uncertain and not confirmed by other
historical sources) on the twelfth day (from "the Calends of" - thus the
Peniarth Manuscript) of May, as Myrddin had before that prophesied to
Gwrtheyrn Gwrthenau. And from that time forth the Britons lost the crown
of the kingdom, and the Saxons gained it". (Red Book of Hergest, Mostyn
MS 116. 142a)
Thus we know that St Cadwaladr was of the lineage of the ancient and
noble family of Maelgwn Gwynedd, the ancestor of many Saints, and that
the mighty warrior, Cadwallon was his father, and his grandfather the
wise and famous Cadvan.
The period was one of instability and confusion. A man named Edwin had
been brought up in the court of Cadvan as a foster-brother to Cadwallon.
When he was older, Edwin took advantage of the political condition of
the areas of Deifr and Brynaich where there were divisions amongst the
Saxons. Edwin defeated his enemy, Ethelfrith, and became king of those
areas which correspond to Northumbria. But Edwin had further ambitions,
and disregarding the kindness he had received from Cadwallon's parents,
he attacked Wales; fought furiously against Cadwallon and defeated him.
The "Triads" tell us that the River Severn was stained with the blood
that flowed in this most vicious battle. Cadwallon and his family fled
to Ireland as refugees from the wrath of Edwin, and there they remained
for seven years.
In the year 632, Cadwallon returned: he formed an alliance with Penda,
King of Mercia, in the west of England, and they attacked and defeated
Edwin in the Battle of Hatfield in Yorkshire. They also won a number of
other battles in those areas during the course of a year. Once again, so
it seemed, there was hope that the Britons could again rule Britain. The
ensuing months were critical.
But hopes were shattered; Cadwallon was defeated by his enemy Oswald at
a battle near Denisburn near the Roman wall in Northumberland, and a
host of Briton soldiers fell in the year 634.
The Welsh bards extol Cadwallon and his bravery eloquently. The poet
Llywarch Hen, in his composition to Cadwallon mentions fourteen battles
in which he was victorious. His defeat was fateful. That was the end of
Welsh hopes: and that was the political situation and national mood when
Saint Cadwaladr came to the throne. Divine Providence had arranged that
this humble man of faith should reign at a time of despair.
St Cadwaladr inherited the throne in dark times. The enemy was powerful;
but worse than that, pagan and only too ready to attack the Faith of
King Cadwaladr's people. The king faced religious persecution as well as
political attack. Political hopes were slender, but St Cadwaladr was a
man of strong and vibrant faith. The natural human instinct would have
been to save his own skin, and protect his own possessions, but God's
grace was manifest in the Saint and as an obedient disciple of Christ,
he gave him possessions and his lands to his people who were in such a
lamentable state - people who sought refuge from the violence and
cruelty of the enemy. "For whoever would save his life will lose it, and
whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25)
With spiritual joy, St Cadwaladr did what Christ commended the rich
young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. He disposed
of his possessions as an act of Christian love and mercy, and that is
primarily the reason that he is called "Blessed" in the Welsh Triads.
The historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth adds that the Saint then became ill.
Divisions appeared amongst the Welsh. Plague and famine followed, and
indeed it seemed that no further calamity could occur, and in the year
664, according to the historian Nennius, Cadwaladr died in the plague.
Humanly speaking, there was nothing notable about the Saint's death or
even his life. But that is not the verdict of the Church. (Such Saints
are far from unknown in Orthodox Church history. We are reminded of St
Lazar of Serbia who died in battle and of the many "fools for Christ"
whose lives make little sense to the worldly-wise.) St Cadwaladr is
regarded as one of the most noteworthy of saints. His life is a
remarkable example of faith, hope and love. He could have allowed
selfishness and self-interest to get the better of him, and bitterness
to permeate his life, but with the joy that springs from faith, he
departed this life despising earthly honour and power and inheriting
that Kingdom where there is "neither sickness nor sorrow nor sighing,
but life everlasting".
St Cadwaladr has special significance for this age. It is easy to become
disheartened as we see the powers of evil flourishing; virtue despised
and faith receding. But the times of St Cadwaladr were worse and he kept
faithful to his vision and to his conviction that Christ is the Way
whatever the difficulties, trials and dangers that face Christians. His
voice resounds down the centuries urging us to be obedient to the
commands of Christ for the salvation of our souls and to the glory of
the One God in Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
All earthly honour and power you regarded as nought,
and did not set your heart on the wealth of this world.
You gave your possessions to the destitute and grief-stricken
and your obedience to Christ made you a consoler
of the pitiful and a comfort to the sick.
Therefore you inherited the heavenly Kingdom,
and are called 'Blessed', O Cadwaladr, righteous king.
Pray before Christ our God for the Orthodox faith to flourish in our
land, and for our souls' salvation.
This Life (and Icon) is available on the Net at
For readers who understand Welsh Fr. Deiniol has sent us a prayer to
Diacon: Ar y Brenin Sacntaidd Aurhualog a Gweithiwr Gwyrthiau Prydain
Gyfan Cadwaladr Fendigaid gweddwn.
Cr: Cadwaladr Fendigaid, gwedda drosom at Dduw.
Offeiriad: O Gadwaladr Fendigaid, ein cymorth, ein cusur, ein
hamddiffynnydd, na waradwydda ni bechaduriaid, dy bobl a drown atat gan
ddeisyf dy ymgeledd. Eithr yn dosturiol, gwrando arnom ac amgylchyna ni
th ymbiliau sanctaidd. Canys tydi, yn dy ddaearol fuchedd oeddit yn
noddfa ddiogel a hawdd ei chael ir rhai a droent atat; ac nid anwybyddir
rhai sydd yn awr yn troi atat mewn gweddi. Clyw ein cri ni bechaduriaid
truenus; gwl ein hadfyd; tosturia wrth ein gwendidau, canys yr ydym yn
llesg ac yn mynych gwympo i bechod a chrwydro oddi wrth orchmynion ein
Duw. Ac megis y tywelltaist gynt helaeth drugaredd a chariad ar y rhai
anghenus a dirmygedig, gwna felly I ninnau, ni a ddeisyfwn. Ac O Frenin
Cyfiawn, yr hwn wyt yn sefyll gerbron Gorseddfainc y Gogoniant, gwedda y
bydd inni dreulio gweddill ddyddiau ein heinioes mewn heddwch, gweddi,
elusengarwch, edifeirwch a phob duwioldeb. Tywys ni at Grist ein Duw, a
deisyf ger Ei fron Ef ar inni dderbyn trugaredd, tosturi a maddeuant ein
holl Sanctaidd Dduw, Dad, Mab ac Ysbryd Gln ir Hwn y byddor gogonint,
anrhydedd ac addoliad, yn awr a hyd byth ac yn oes oesoedd. Amen
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Page last updated: 01 November 2008
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