Text: Life of St. Illtud

Illtud was a Welsh abbot (feast day 6 November) who died in the mid-6th century. He founded Llanilltud Fawr in Wales (Glamorgan county) and taught saints such as Pol Aurelian, Samson of Dol (in Brittany), Gildas, and David (of Wales). Illtud was also recognized in Brittany. This life about him was composed c. 1140, showing clearly that his legend had accumulated many claims and ideas in the preceding six centuries, including the figure of King Arthur.

The following text was adapted by Michael Newton from the edition in Wade-Evans, Vitae Sanctorum.

§ 1. Regarding the union of his parents and the birth of the boy: Victorious Brittany, a rich and successful province, powerful in arms, none greater in warlike fame, took its origin from its mother, Britannia. The daughter was taught by the mother; full success in war attends the daughter. British princes full of vigour, noble leaders, but formerly most noble heirs; afterwards they were dispossessed and thus they lost their possessions, being aliens. Of these Bicanus was distinguished, a most famous soldier, illustrious by race and in military prowess. All his kindred were descended from conspicuous princes, but none was less of those who went before, for as the first were, so too was the last. Born so high and so famous from such, he was proud because he came of most noble ancestors. He flourished and excelled in the service of his king, loved by king and queen, for they all praised him, lavishing their admiration.

So great a man of highest nobility desired to marry and to be succeeded by sons; he fulfilled his wish, marrying Rieingulid, the daughter of Anblaud, the king of Britain. When Latinized her name means “modest queen.” The most worthy name was bestowed in accordance with her qualities, for sought only legal marriage. Despising games, keeping to her chamber, she always obeyed her mother’s commands. For whatever she said was appropriate, and in everything she did she acted advisedly, an excellent maiden, without reproach, marriageable, of ripe age, worthy of a husband. The people knew not of any more worthy of betrothal.

Therefore messengers crossed the sea, they bring back the maiden, as a pearl precious and excelling in beauty, and her whom they brought back most lovely and most docile they entrust to the aforesaid prince for honourable marriage. These things being legally performed, as lawful wife she conceived, and after conception happily brought forth a son, as a fruit-bearing tree gives forth a most excellent blossom. In baptizing the boy and after the washing of regeneration the infant was named Iltutus or Illtud, from the words ille “he” (who is) and tutus “safe” (from every fault). He was blameless in the five stages of life, praised and beloved by all his fellow-citizens.

His parents vowed to dedicate him to literature, and they dedicate him so vowed to be instructed in the seven arts. After instruction and after the knowledge taught was known to him, he laid aside the study of literature, applying himself to military training, not forgetting, however, through any negligence, anything which he had learnt. He was a man of such memory that once hearing an instruction of his master, he retained it in his heart ever after. To him were fully given the five keys, whereby he was wisely able to make known the unknown. None was more eloquent throughout Gaul than Illtud the soldier in discoursing philosophic eloquence.

§ 2. (Regarding his visit to the court of King Arthur and Poulentus): In the meantime the magnificent soldier, hearing of the magnificence of his cousin, King Arthur, desired to visit the court of so great a conqueror. He left what we call “Further Britannia,” namely Brittany, and arrived by sailing, and here he saw a very great company of soldiers, being also honourably received in that place, and being rewarded as regards his military desire. His desire to receive rewards being also satisfied, he withdrew very pleased from the royal court. Journeying he came to Poulentus, king of the Glamorgan folk, accompanied by his very honourable wife, Trynihid. The king, perceiving that he was a court soldier and honourable, retained him with much affection, loving him before all of his household and rewarding him bounteously. So he remained with very great honour until he deserved to be chosen and to preside over the royal household. He ruled the household without any strife, a peaceful governor and second from his master. Gospel precepts were stored (or hidden) in the soldier’s breast; incessantly he strove to recount them to those keeping them. The things recounted directed the hearers to perfect works; the perfect works raised those who fulfilled them to a heavenly reward. A soldier he was outwardly in soldier’s dress, but inwardly the wisest of British-born. For this reason King Poulentus made him master of the soldiers for his very fine fluency and incomparable mind. None of his peers could be compared with him for his intelligence; this has been proved and confirmed by the testimony of learned men.

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