The Celtic Pilgrimage, Wales
Wales was a land of saints, by saints I mean holy men and women who lived and spread the Gospel in the mid 5th century onwards. These men and women did not go through a process of canonization. This Age of Saints saw (according to some) over 800 saints, with 600 associated with feast days. Legend has it that there were over 20,000 saints buried on Bardsey Island, Lleyn peninsula, North West Wales.
Let us not be so preoccupied with the accuracy or otherwise of the 20,000 saints buried on Bardsley Island that we miss the point that it was an Age of Saints. This age came after the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century. It was in this dark and unsettled period that Celtic Christianity was able to grow. The small ports and the coastal rural setting were an ideal location for the missionary work to flourish.
In terms of this pilgrimage to Wales the sheer number of saints and sites does present some issues, who do you focus on and where do you start? You can so easily become overwhelmed. Pilgrimages do not always go smoothly, the unexpected does happen perhaps nothing more than a nuisance, but sometimes potentially more serious. But also, pilgrimages can drive you into information overload and ending up with a cacophony of images and words that can so easily turn into a spiritual jumble.
St Illtyd’s Church, Llaniltud Fawr or Llantwit Major
So, hopefully to avoid that happening let us visit Llaniltud Fawr or Llantwit Major (English) in South Wales and be introduced to Saint Illtud (also spelt Illtyd)
This was the site of the school and monastery established by St Illtyd in the early 6th century. It is one of the oldest academic centres in Britain The curriculum included Old and New Testament studies, philosophy, geometry, numeracy, geometry, grammar and rhetoric.
Amongst his students were Samson, one of the patron saints of Cornwall, there are also claims that David and Patrick were also students. Many of the Church Fathers of Wales also attended St Illtyd Monastery and their influence was to spread through Wales, into Devon and Cornwall and beyond to Brittany.
There is a legend that Illtyd married a devout women called Trynihid. Their marriage was a happy one, but after what has been described as a miraculous incident they decided to separate and live lives dedicated to the Lord. Illtyd went on to establish the monastery at Llaniltud Fawr while Trynihid to the Welsh mountains and founded a convent and refuge for women. (source https://orthochristian.com/87874.html )
There is no doubt that St Illtyd was one of the most influential saints of Wales. His monastery was a site of learning and of prayer. It is said that there was continuous prayer of by monks 24 hours a day
To add to your knowledge of Celtic Christianity in Wales you could visit https://www.visitwales.com/search?search=celtic+wales+and+Christianity or https://sacredsiteswales.co.uk/ this site has a multi-faith dimension.
Pause and Pray
St Luke’s Gospel Introduction, Lindisfarne Gospels
While our knowledge of so many Celtic saints is shrouded in this mist of not knowing, we do, however, see women and men who so often did not seek greatness. They were journeying, or as Samson of Dol put it being a ‘Pilgrim of Christ’. They tried to live out the Gospel message.
Many of the saints from the Age of Saints, the great cloud of witnesses from Wales, left their mark, not in the stone of the many graves but in lives they lived and the light of Christ they shared with others and continue to share today.
Being on a pilgrimage should involve, besides the physical journey, both times of stillness, of reflection and making connections with life today. Today we can reflect on places of learning and the men and women who teach. We can give thanks for our education and those who contributed to our formation as members of the communities we live with.
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+ In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Word of the Lord
Psalm 27 (9-14)
Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call; •
have mercy upon me and answer me.
My heart tells of your word, ‘Seek my face.’ •
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
Hide not your face from me, •
nor cast your servant away in displeasure.
You have been my helper; •
leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
Though my father and my mother forsake me, •
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord; •
lead me on a level path, because of those who lie in wait for me.
Gospel Reading Luke 13 (31-34)
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Bless the strangers I meet today, Lord; in café, bakery, bus stop, car park, or crowded street. Their lives a mystery, sorrows, joys, loves and deep concerns so well disguised. But bless them, Lord, these unknown faces, make this day one of encounter, not only with strangers but also with you. (John Birch)
Guide us, gracious Lord, as we make our way through this week, your feet revealing safe paths to follow, your calming voice giving confidence to continue, through unfamiliar, challenging and often beautiful places. (John Birch)
Oh, that a busy world might pause to glance through Scripture’s window and see within its pages not just history, prophesy, signs and wonders, beautiful poetry or even controversy; but simply hands that from the formless created a universe, raised a people, embraced the poor, lifted the weak and, even now, held out for all to touch still show the scars of a Saviour’s love. (John Birch)
Let us draw into our circle of prayer our:
Family and Friends
Local church and its leaders
widening our circle to include:
those in government and positions of authority
those who are oppressed, those who are hungry and homeless
those who are ill, those facing death
Merciful Father, accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
The Lords Prayer
May the Father’s hand keep you from stumbling, the footprints of Jesus give you confidence to follow, and the fire of the Spirit keep you warm and safe in your walk with God this day. (John Birch)
You may wish the finish this time of reflective prayer sitting silently and enjoying a peaceful moment or two. You may also think about listening to some music that has touched you or a favourite hymn or song. Enjoy these moments! God bless!
(Derek is a retired Anglican Parish Priest and a member of the congregations of All Saints & St James)
Collect Lent Year C – Liturgy © Common Worship, The Archbishops Council, 2000
The prayers by John Birch are from ‘Ripples’ and are reproduced with his permission
Parish of Kirklees Valley, Bury, (All Saints, Elton & St James, Woolfold)
In the Diocese of Manchester
CCLI Licence Number 1243418 Church Copyright and Streaming Licence
St Illtyd’s Church, Llaniltud Fawr or Llantwit Major (Stevieb3945 Wikimedia Commons)
St Luke’s Gospel Introduction,Lindisfarne Gospels, Public domain