The Celtic Literature Collective

Vita Sancti Bernachius
The Life of St. Brynach

Here begins the life of saint Brynach, confessor [April 7th] 

1. The Lord chose for himself from the sons of Israel a man according to his heart, Brynach by name, adorned with pleasing manners, and excelling in tokens and signs of virtues, seeing that he vowed a vow to the God of Jacob, which he observed unblamably even to the last. From his mother's breasts, therefore, embracing the name of his God, and not neglecting his commandments, he chose rather to be of no account in his house than to dwell more luxuriously in the palaces of princes. Tracing his descent from an illustrious stock of progenitors, and obtaining no little merit of laudable fame, much enriched too with wealth, with which the minds of worldlings are wont to be allured, also endowed with broad patrimonies, he would not be captivated by the solace of ancestry or the extension of fame or the delights of riches or be restrained by the rights of hereditary estates. What therefore? Deeming not the land of his birth as his own, taking himself outside his country, he would acquire a country by pilgrimage, he would return to that country. According to the word of Christ, by following the footsteps of Christ, by relinquishing all things, he greatly desired that all things should be given him. He went forth, he proceeded on his journey, he came to the sea. He went on board ship, he sailed over, God disposing, with tranquil course. By crossing stretches of lands, by sowing the seeds of Christ's words, he entered Rome. There eagerly receiving from certain people cups of the doctrine of God in a thirsty heart, he more eagerly, if he could, administered the whole of the like to very many from the affluence of the heart.

2. At that time a certain pestiferous beast was raging in the parts of Romania, which either lacerated with bloody jaws, whatever persons it saw, or infected them unto death with its poisonous breath alone. Also numberless bodies of animals it tore in order to satisfy its rage, but its innate fury could not be appeased in any way. So much fear did it strike into the inhabitants, that in every respect did he esteem himself happy, who by leaving his dwelling and the adjoining neighbourhood could escape a dire pest of this kind. But the holy man, desiring to relieve the miseries of men, which the multitude of people could not do, on the bare urgency of prayers threw the deadly beast to the earth and killed him off; for which and also for other notable deeds all magnified the saint and extolled him continuously with loud praises. The man of ' God, seeing that as long as he had lived in Rome, where too he had prepared for himself as it were a fixed dwelling, he was more known than usual, and preferring to please God alone in secret to whom the hidden things of the heart are open, than to dwell more famously in the mouth of the people, who are wont to consider outward things alone, privately left.

3. Then undertaking a long journey, and, wherever he came, giving an example of goodness to be imitated of all, by travelling towards the western parts of the world, he entered Lesser Britain. There having remained for many years, he performed greater services and mighty miracles. Sick people flocked to him to recover the health of their bodies. Healthy people flowed to him, that they might, learn salutary instructions of heavenly doctrine for the cure of their souls. Britannia, Britanny, rejoiced for the presence of so great a man, by means of which health was for this reason diffused freely. The saint rejoiced, because by the grace of God he was able to profit the poor. Nevertheless he was sad, and bore it ill, because flying fame ceased not to make him known to all. Wherefore, avoiding that as an implacable monster, secretly and alone he approached the sea. And as he did not find a ship, he aptly placed a certain rock on the surface of the water, faithfully considering that he who from the rock produced water in the desert was able even to make a rock to swim on the water. The saint of God, full of faith, committing himself wholly to God, whose way is in the sea and his paths are in many waters, mounted the rock, because he was founded on a firm rock, that is, Christ. He, who governs all things, the most high God, who holds the earth in the palm [of his hand], weighs the mountains, who makes firm the sea by his power, the surface of the ocean being smoothed, bore his saint over the length of the British Sea. And he landed in the harbour of Milford in the country of Dyfed on the bank of the river Cleddyf.

4. When he was sojourning some time in the same place serving his God, the old adversary of human kind, ever forming new plans for his wickedness, always ready to attack more boldly the purity of chastity, sharply urged the daughter of a nobleman, who ruled that land, into love of the saint. She, in fact, as almost every woman is for the devil old armour, a vessel full of malignity, and prepared invincibly for every crime, tries in every way to bind the servant of God alluringly with the snares of her charm, and attempts to divert him from the consummation of a better design. To serve her wantonness she mixes wolf's-bane, and being gaily clothed in alluring attire she ceases not to give him to drink what she improperly mixed. The holy servant of God thirsted not for a cup of this kind, but refused it, and, as the apostle advises, he flies from the assaults of fornication. For in this conflict he fights better, who retires, than he who resists; he conquers more bravely, who more bravely flies. The girl, in fact, rejecting girlish modesty, who could not bend his firm mind to impious love, turning her love into hatred of the holy man, would separate his holy body from his soul. A woman, rejected in love, excogitates every evil, and whom a little before she had loved to the dividing of body and soul, she now, inflamed into hatred of , tries to lead to every kind of death. For, as that distinguished instructor of morals, Seneca, says, 'A woman either hates or loves; there is no medium.' Therefore she sent certain cruel men to persecute the saint, fiercely bidding them that, if they could not bring him back alive, they were not to suffer him to go away alive. ' The wicked men hasten, and rush blindly to their evil deed. Whom they follow, they find, and first with soft words entice to return, but, because he refuses to go back with them, one of them pierced the meek man with a dreadful wound from a spear. The others, too, rush in desiring to slay him, but by the will of God certain present assist, who hasten to snatch the holy man from the hands of the scoundrels. But he who inflicted the wound, being immediately struck by the vengeance of God, beset on his whole body by winged lice, after he had been long afflicted by weakness and poverty at length finished his wretched life with a miserable death. The holy servant of God went to a well, which was near, and going into the water, washed away the blood. Wherefore unto this day that well is called Fons Rubeus, red well, where also in honour of the saint the merciful God bestows many benefits of health on the infirm, the healing of wounds through the mediation of the Lord being received without delay.

5. Saint Brynach, proceeding farther, came to a place by the river Gwaun, which now is called Pons Lapideus, Pontfaen, where, fixing his residence, he freed that place from unclean spirits. They, roving about it every night with dreadful outcries, and filling it with horrid howlings, rendered it uninhabitable till that day.

6. But because Divine providence had not designed that this place should be inhabited by him any longer, he began to go farther, and came to a certain place on the river Neuer, Nevern, which is called Saltus Ueteris Ecclesie, the grove of the old church, llwyn hen flan. And as that place seemed fit for men living in religion, he and his companions girded themselves, and, taking axes and other tools, for three whole days cut down [trees], and the timber being cut and partly hewn they carried to the place, where they wished the buildings to be put. Rising to their tasks on the fourth day, they saw nothing whatever of the things they had prepared the three days before, and on seeking, they find not even a vestige, as if all things had been absorbed by the earth. To whom, completely astounded on account of this sight, Saint Brynach said, 'There is no need to wonder at the marvellous works of God, notwithstanding they seem wondrous, since he performs them who is declared Almighty. Let us, therefore, humble ourselves under the powerful hand of God, let us fast, let us watch, and let us pray that that illustrator of all things might will to show us what this may portend.' Which, too, was done.

7. Therefore, on the following night, whilst Saint Brynach was procumbent in prayer, an angel of the Lord appeared, saying, `This place is not the place of thy dwelling, but go along the bank of the river as far as the second rill, which falls into the river, and ` watch the bank of that rill until thou seest a wild white sow with white piglings, and there place for thyself a fixed station.' Therefore the saint proceeding, gladdened by the angelic address, found the promised sow with her piglings in the place, where in his name a church, having been built, is now served on the bank of the Caman, which, formerly a deep torrent, was so called, not on account of its depth, but on account of the hollowness of its valleys. Wherefore he rendered devout thanks to God, because by his angel he distinctly deemed the place worthy, wherein without change he wished perpetual service to be rendered by him. A fire was kindled, and he and his companions passed almost the whole of that night, attending to prayers, without sleep.

8. There was at that time a certain lord of that territory, Clechre by name, a man just and fearing God, who was advanced in days, wherefore he was also named Senex, Old. This man, rising in the morning and seeing the smoke from the fire, which the man of God had lit in the deep valley, rising to be spread abroad, and to cover the adjoining parts of the earth, being urged by the Spirit of God, calls together the twenty sons, whom he had, and said to them, `My sons, give ear, because that man is arrived, whom we have long known to have been promised to us, the report of whose goodness will be spread abroad on the face of the earth and will be celebrated in the highest, and as ye see his diffused smoke to be spread out, so will be the power of his preferment, and much more widely. Let us, therefore, go, and fall down before his face, and let us submit ourselves to him, because we ought by no means to contradict the divine will, or to resist it.' Going, therefore, unanimously, they came to the man of God, and falling down at his knees they prayed that he would have mercy on them. Saint Brynach, as he was also of pleasant speech, blessed them, and with modest voice asked them what they would. The old man answered and said, 'Sir, for a long time have I been lord of this territory, but because I know that by the providence of God this place is meant for thee, I yield to the will of God, and I yield to thee. But these my sons I commend to thee, that under the protection of thy paternity they may be able to adhere to our God.' He received them with joy, and he had them as faithful partners of his labour, instructed in monastic training. The old father bidding farewell, and all being kissed, withdrew into the parts of Cornubia, Cornwall; serving God in that same place, he gave back his blessed soul to the Lord.

9.Saint Brynach, being a devoted performer of divine service, strove so much to restrain the superfluities of bodily affection, as he aimed to live pleasing to the divine will. He wasted his body with continual fastings, and reduced it with frequent vigils. He checked the insolence of the flesh with the ` roughness of his garments, and in the chilliness of cold water which he entered daily. What he withdrew from his mouth, what from his hand, what from his whole body, he converted to the use of the poor. If he could acquire any thing, he reserved it to relieve their need. He was incessantly engaged in prayers, save when he was refreshing his body with food or sleep. He led a life so pleasing to God, that he attained to enjoy frequently the sight of angels and also their discourse. Wherefore, too, that mountain, whereon they met, to wit, at the foot of which a church has been built, is called Mons Angelorum, Carningli.

10. The Lord so magnified his saint in the sight of the people, that he made wild beasts tame at his bidding, their savage way of life being laid aside. Therefore, if ever he wished to go from abode to abode, he called up from a herd the two stags which he desired to draw the car, wherein the furniture to be carried away was placed. When loosed from the yoke, they returned to their wonted pastures. Also, a Cow, which he had segregated from the others, as if unique and singular for his need, both on account of the size of her body, because she was larger than the rest, and also on account of the abundance of her milk, he deputed to the custody of a Wolf, which in the manner of a well-trained herdsman drove the Cow in the morning to the pastures, and in the evening brought her home in safety.

11. It happened at that time that the King of Cambria, Maelgwn, was making a journey not far from the cell of the saint, and sent to him, ordering that he should prepare for him a supper. The saint, wishing that he and his and also his loca, monasteries, should be free from every suit, asserted that he owed no supper to the king, nor was he willing in any way to obey his unjust command. Those who had been sent returned to their lord, saying that the man to whom he had sent, would prepare him no supper. The king, as he was easily moved from tranquillity of mind, and was known to be more prone to hurting than prompt to succour, conceding nothing to piety, nothing to sanctity, nothing to modesty, sent his satellites, who should fetch up the saint's Cow, and there from prepare victuals for him. Without doubt he would not have spared the others either, but they were kept in distant pastures. And he was fiercely adding threats to threats, that on the morrow he would banish the saint from his kingdom, and utterly raze his loca to the ground.

12. The servants of iniquity run, and quickly bring up the Cow. They make themselves ready for the plunder, and for future meals they tear away the hide from the ribs and make bare the entrails. A part they cut in pieces, and place on the fire in the cauldron. They apply wood to the fire, and on every side with inflated cheeks hasten to blow it. The keeper of the Cow, the Wolf, in the meantime runs to its master, and sad and sighing lies prostrate on the ground, as if about to ask pardon. One was present who should say that the Cow had been taken away by the servants of the king, and cut in pieces was placed for cooking. The saint, laying complaint before his God, committed the whole case to the Divine will to be ventilated.

13. The king and his household are tortured by hunger, but not yet is there given any hope of a meal. For indeed the water, wherein the flesh lay to be cooked, remained as. cold as when it was put in. Nor was it more moved to boiling, when incomparable fire was placed beneath, than if no small lump of ice were substituted for it, the fire being taken away. The king perceived, his men perceived the power of God, that the saint, whom they had heard previously was dear to him, was acting, and they were struck with vehement fear. Being immediately humbled, his regal pride being laid aside, and all his men being equally contrite of heart, going forward on bare feet, they came to the saint, and all having fallen at his feet on the earth, the king at the advice of his men being advocate, having confessed that he and his men had sinned against him, promising that he would not do such things again, besought with humble prayer and sincere devotion that having pity on him he should pray the Almighty on behalf of himself and his associates. Saint Brynach, being void of all bitterness, prayed his Lord, and taking his right hand raised the king, and indulged him with confident hope in the compassion of the Most High. In the sight of all he restored the Cow to her former state, and committed her again to the Wolf to be kept.

14. After these things, to make the king easier in his mind about obtaining pardon, he asked him to spend the night with '- him, and what shortly before he had refused with stubborn front, this he now offered gratis with overflowing charity and generous mind. The king gave thanks, and remained. What is he to do, ,, who has nothing or little in store, that he might place before them who recline at table, except to hope in God that he might do it, who sent food in abundance to the children of Israel in their hunger, and rained manna upon them for to eat? He went up, therefore, to an oak, which stood near, and plucked off wheaten loaves, which were hanging instead of leaves, as many as he deems necessary. Wherefore also that oak will be called Bread Oak, as long as it shall stand. He went up to the torrent, Caman, which flowed near. For water he drew wine in abundance. For stones he drew forth fish from the same torrent to repletion. He came to the king and to his men, and made them recline, and placed before them food in abundance. They did eat, and were filled sufficiently, nor were they defrauded of their desire. After supper, when the hour called, they lay down. They all went to sleep, and slept sweetly till the morning.

15. The king, rising in the morning, waked up his men, and in accordance with the law of hospitality giving thanks he said to Saint Brynach, 'Because I have received thy free beneficence, I do not refuse to bestow on thee freely my munificence. In the name of God and our Lord Jesus Christ I exempt for ever from all royal exaction thee and thy locus, monastery, and all the territory pertaining to thy locus and also all dwelling therein. Moreover I assign the land of the monk Thelych free to thy power. Who, therefore, shall have presumed in the future to contravene this my donation, may he quickly incur the malediction of God and of all the faithful of Christ and mine.' The saint of God gratefully accepting the king's gift, gave thanks, and blessed him and his followers with a devout mind. Then cheering each other, they parted the one from the other.

16. With how many and how great miracles this saint shone, while he sojourned in the body, with difficulty could any one tell. At last it pleased the Most High to snatch his saint from this preparatory and unstable habitation, and to place him happily in celestial glory among his holy and elect ones. He passed from this world on the seventh day of April, and his body lies buried below the eastern wall of his church. Brynach, saint of God, rejoices in heaven, and great wonders are frequently done on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ performing them.

Composed in Cemis, Pembrokeshire, in the 12th C. Found in the British Museum Cotton MS Vespasian A xiv.

Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae et Genealogiae. ed. A. W. Wade-Evans. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1944.

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