The Celtic Literature Collective

The Life of Saint Tatheus

Here begins the Life of saint Tatheus, confessor, December 26th.

§1. [Of his youth in Ireland.]
A certain king of Ireland, the most noble of the kings of that island, sprung from a royal line, Tathalius by name, had an only son, named Tatheus, adorned with regular morals, and from earliest age unstained by any allurements, pure, and conspicuous as metal of gold. Remaining in this virginal purity, none observing in him what might be unseemly, he used to pray with assiduity, inspired by divine love and heavenly longing. Therefore the parents, whilst they beheld the boy despising secular things and aiming at things heavenly, were desirous to give back to God him whom he had chosen, because the boy was trying to ascend thither whence he had come at the first. Forthwith the matter comes to a head. Their son was committed to the study of letters. He was instructed anew whilst his natural ability flowered. Whatever he heard from those teaching him, was not followed by forgetfulness. He studied incessantly without aversion, until that well-ordered knowledge shone in him as fruit emerging from the best of flowers. The fame of the very famous youth sped through all Ireland. When this was heard, innumerable youths crowded together from every side to listen to his teaching. In the meantime the king being ill, his only son, devoted to communion with God, was by the common counsel of citizens called to the court, that he might receive from his father the care of government. But that worshipper of God, despising an earthly kingdom, and choosing a heavenly one, was unwilling to take their advice of receiving it then, lest he might be held back against his will. He asked them to allow him, having considered the matter, to fulfil the precept of Solomon, who said, ‘Do all things with counsel, and after counsel thou shalt not repent.

§2. Of the angelical vision.
On the following night the voice of an angel addresses him, while sleeping, ‘Behold, I stand and counsel thee not to set aside thy original intention. Cherish not a decaying inheritance. Lose riot an endless country. Whatsoever things ye see in the world vanish away with grief and danger. Grievous are all things which ye have heard, dangerous everything which ye look at. Look ye, therefore, at things which last that thou, being in the right, mayest be placed anew on the right side. For so and such should be thy force inwardly that the hidden plotter and foe might be driven out. Tomorrow without delay proceed to the sea harbour, and thou wilt be able to cross over to Britannia, as is arranged for thee in whatever way I bid.

§3. Of the crossing over to Britannia.
When he awoke he called his dream to memory. With joyful mind he arrived at the shore of the sea with eight disciples accompanying him. When they had so arrived, they found a little ship unprovided with shipping tackle. Rejoicing they entered, and without rower and sail and oar, wherever the blowing of the winds directed them, they arrived by ship prosperously, God favouring them, in Britannia, at the Severn. At last along the length of the channel they approached Gwent, and landed at the haven called after the name of the people arriving. The eight landed on the shore, the little ship being left without cable, being in number like unto the eight virtues, wherein they were conspicuous from the first beginning of their earliest age.

§4. Of their first entertainment.
Acertain rich man in the neighbourhood, having prepared a bath, as was his custom on Saturday, saw them coming, wearied with their journey and voyage. Seeing them, he refused to bathe, until first the strangers, more worthy of bathing, had entered the bath. After they had arrived and had entered, they were honourably received by his servant as strangers ought to be received, for he remembered the word of the Lord, who shall come as judge on the last day, who shall say, ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in. Whilst they rested, one was sent to the haven to tie the loose little ship with a rope. He coming up and arriving on the sea shore, saw a stag holding the rope with his feet in a human manner, lest the little ship should be sunk and lost. Wondering and very amazed he returned with speed, and related to the master and the rest what a marvel he had seen.

§5. Of the stag that was tamed.
These things being related, he gave great thanks to the Creator, who had tamed the wildness of the untamed. Therefore he sent back for the gentle animal, praising and magnifying the clemency of the Supreme Being who made it gentle. The stag, tamed and retained by a cord, is brought back, all persons wondering at his coming. It is ordered to kill him, and to prepare him for the morrow’s dinner. No one however dared to hurt him or to lay hand upon him on account of the miracle which was shown on him. God, willing to show a sign for his slaying, constrained the beast to lie down and to stretch forth his neck, which was the 

§7. Of the rich man and his son. 
A certain rich and landed person, having ten sons, vowed to commend the tenth to the study of letters and to serve God, that through the one son the nine might prosper the better. With him there was given to his teacher one cow, so abounding in milk that by her the seven disciples with their master had food through summer and autumn time. She was kept daily in charge of a herdsman in a meadow near the city. When esquires from the court came to the meadow with a hundred and forty-seven horses, and the horses had been let loose, by dashing in and trampling they destroyed the whole. The herdsman observing that such mischief was done, went to his master, Tatheus, and told him of the intrusion of the household and horses.

§8. Of the death of the horses.
But the saint bore it patiently, refusing to be angry, but prayed for the malefactors that they might be converted and alter for the better. The prayer being heard by the supreme Auditor, who has said, ‘Vengeance is mine and I will repay’, all the horses, which had injured the meadow, were found dead. The very wicked esquires, seeing that meet vengeance was taken for the spoiling of the meadow, quickly informed the king of the deadly sickness of the horses. The king, understanding this to have happened for the offence they had committed, expelled the offenders from the court, afflicting them with threats and stripes. And forthwith with bare feet, the household following him, he came hastily to the pious and most chaste priest, kneeling and craving forgiveness, offering and promising to amend according to his will whatever wrong his men had done. That elect servant of God pardoned what injury they had done, unwilling to pray that they should be damned, although they were worthy of damnation, remembering the evangelical word of the Lord, who says, ‘I desire not the death of the wicked, but that he should be converted and live.’

§9. Of the resuscitation of the horses.
When amends were made and completed, the horses, in the sight of all there, were made alive in a wonderful manner. Wherefore all glorified God and praised the most glorious vivifier after such a miracle. This miracle being seen, the king granted to saint Tatheus the whole city and territory freely for a perpetual inheritance. Also, being admonished by angelical admonition, he again besought the worshipper of the heavenly One that he should ride forth on the morrow and show him a place for building that it might be given to God and to himself for a royal and civic palace. He very early in the morning mounted his horse, and without bridle and halter suffered him to go wheresoever God might direct and lead him. Therefore he began to take his journey from the city, the supreme Ruler ruling and leading, until he well-nigh came to the bank of the Severn.

§10. Of the golden fetter.
When he had arrived thither, the horse stood with his feet fixed to the ground and bound with a golden fetter. Although he was urged, he went no further. Looking at his horse so standing, he said,

‘Observe the signs of God; the horse stands; here is the place to abide.
So he exhorts thee to build and here be thy royal habitation.'

Afterwards they made a bachall of the fetter, wherewith the sick were healed of all manner of diseases. The place of his habitation pleased king Caradog, if only a spring of water had flowed, which might benefit them who dwelt there. Having said this, The horse pressed the earth with his feet, the dry soil yielded water, Clear spring-water, as a vein in the arm.

§11. Of the taking away of the cow.
One night robbers came from the region of king Gwynllyw to Gwent, and stole the aforesaid cow. Leading her to his court, they killed her so led, and placed her cut-up flesh into a pot, which flesh by how much the more it was cooked, by so much the more was it raw in the pot. On the morrow the venerable servant of God, hearing from the herdsman that the cow was taken away, found the footprint of the cow near the monastery marked in a wondrous manner in a stone. Wherefore the most holy man exclaimed

‘This stone soft to the tread in the midst of it and hollow within,
Footprints by the foot of a cow are imprinted in it to the view.

Wherefore tracking with his companions the way along which the robbers had gone, he skilfully traced the one cow, and one only, until he arrived at the palace gate. King Gwynllyw, who was still wicked, seeing the innocent man and his associates approaching, ordered his servants to set down a pot full of hot water, and to cover it with rushes, with a linen cloth on top, to form a false seat. The holy and most just man, as he entered, placed himself by such tricks on the pot, whom the succour of heaven delivered. Whilst the deceitful knaves are thinking that he would fall into the boiling heat, the seat was made solid as though it were of stone. The king seeing that the lover of the Godhead had been protected by divine guardianship, fell on his knees, beseeching him to grant mercy for that most wicked trickery. He for his part in the manner of a most religious man forgave the evil deed on this condition, that his servants should not repeat their robbery. After these affairs the cow was restored to him. These things being said, they put the flesh and bones upon the hide. These being so put together, the cow lived again, and rising in the sight of them all returned in company with them.

§12. Of the miraculous fire.
Saint Cadog, in the youthful flower of his age, abiding at that time in the court of his father, after having seen the remarkable miracle, joined himself to the most learned teacher, having obtained his father’s permission that he might be instructed in the knowledge of the scriptures. One day, when the fire was extinguished in the master’s dwelling, the youth, Cadog, was sent to procure fire to an oven close by belonging to a certain rustic, who proved stubborn and inexorable to his request. And as he was unwilling to give it, unless he carried it in his cloak, he carried it given on such condition to his master, the mantle, however, being uninjured by the fire. The remaining coals, as long as they continued preserved, used to expel diseases, and were called and held to be health-giving by all those peoples. This wonderful miracle having been performed, the most renowned teacher Tatheus was unwilling that saint Cadog, the mild and obedient, should remain longer in obedience to a master, because he had seen and heard that God wrought for him so great miracles. Then he departed, unwilling and tearful, from his most dear master, being instructed beyond all the disciples and those who had been brought into the school. On his return he suffered not his father to live iniquitously, the while he did penance for every unlawful deed. He admonished him to pray, diligently to keep vigil, to feed the needy, to repeat his fastings, and, while he kept fast, to eat every ninth hour a little ashen bread, that is, mixed with ashes, and a drink of water after. And he being converted obeyed his son’s admonitions, despising earthly things, he also adhered to things heavenly.

§13. Of the martyrdom of a maid.
A maid, Machuta by name, kept sheep committed to her care. Whilst she kept them, two robbers, and the two of them brothers, had often come, desiring to steal a three-year old ram, great and very fat, and they had not been able. When they could not take it away without her knowing, they drove the maid by force to a wood together with her flock. The ram being stolen and killed, they beheaded the innocuous girl, lest she should make known the robbery and rapine. Afterwards the flock, unguarded and dispersed, returned at the evening hour to the sheepfold, which the meek holy man heard had arrived without maiden and ram. On hearing these things he grieved, and all condoled with him for the loss of the most faithful virgin. Next night, as they kept vigil, praying that God would declare of what they doubted, whither the maid had gone, the two brothers, the murderers, came to the door of the habitation, confessing that they had stolen the ram, and what was worse, that they had committed the murder. Stricken by grief they cried aloud, requesting him to grant absolution for their crimes, saying, ‘We disclose the place of the martyrdom, that ye be no longer in doubt.’ Having heard these things, he bade them go to the bishop, and after confession to fulfil the penance imposed. As dawn arose, he proceeded, the clergy accompanying him, to the place which they had indicated, and they found the martyred virgin, as they had foresaid. In that same place he founded a church built in honour of the virgin Machuta. He refused to allow there the virgin’s body, but only in the place where alone it ought to lie. Therefore it was carried to Caerwent, and buried in the floor of the church, and may her soul rest in eternal rest.

§14. Of a spring.
The swineherd, Tecychius, who afterwards lived as a holy hermit, complained to saint Tatheus respecting the dryness of the land where he kept a herd of swine. The words of his complaint and his prayer having been heard by the supreme Auditor, a most clear spring flowed, and flows without defect.

§15. Of the pigeon restored by a kite.
The most blessed Tatheus had two tame pigeons, which were wont to descend and play on the table. Wherefore he was con­soled to watch and to hear their pigeon cooings. One day whilst they were flying between the refectory and the church, a kite took one away. The clergy seeing it take her, mentioned the taking to the master. Hearing this, he grieved, yet hoping that through the power of God it would still be restored to him. On the morrow, when he came to the hospice, the celebration of mass having been performed, the rapacious kite descended, holding the pigeon in its claws, and restored it free and safe before the feet of the most holy teacher. Seeing this, he rejoiced, saying,

‘Lo the pigeon now lives, that late was dead;
She flies, and plays, her breast preserved from a wound.
I praise the Creator, who gives consolation to his servant.
He has given this bird, He has sent it me from the strong­winged kite.’

§16. Of the fierceness of a she-wolf mitigated.
The aforesaid swineherd came one day to his lord, the most pious Tatheus, complaining exceedingly of the loss of his young swine. After he had come, he was asked by the lord what he was seeking or what had happened to him. And he answered, greatly fearing lest he should be angry for the words which he proffered, ‘A most fierce she-wolf’, says he, ‘has visited the herd of swine in the course of this week, and has taken off the young swine of a sow. Of seven that were alive there is none to-day. I follow the footsteps of the rapacious she-wolf. She enters a cave. I fail to stay her. So she nourishes her whelps with swine-flesh. I grieve for it. Now aid me because of my grief.’ These things being heard, he answered the complaining words of the swineherd, say­ing, ‘Go, faithful servant, and grieve no more, for God by my prayer will mitigate the fierceness of the she-wolf, that she injure no more, as she has injured heretofore.’ The swineherd, therefore, returned to the flock glad, and early on the morrow he saw the she-wolf coming, and holding her whelp in her mouth, and she let loose what she held, as if she left something not her own, at the door, and being tamed, not as a wild beast, she entered the forest. The whelp, having been left, by the divine power came forthwith to the sow, which had been deprived of her young, sucking her dugs as she stood by, as those of its own dam. Being nourished it grew up as a house dog, not as a wolf, and was a guardian in the forest. Then for the space of three years no wild beast injured the flock, nor robber. At the end of the third year, as was its custom every day, it visited the habitation of its lord, Tatheus, and for some cause which displeased a serving-man, he gave a blow on the wolf’s side. Being struck and offended, and turning itself three times, it went back to the wood, not returning to the flock again for anger and indignation. So the she-wolf restored the young swine to the venerable Tatheus. What has been heard more marvellous than so great a miracle?

§17. Of the passing of the soul of the most blessed Tatheus.
When the most holy Tatheus was emitting his last breath from his body, heavenly angels joined themselves unto him and were seen at the emission, for angelical light filled the chamber, odoriferous in the nostrils of all. Their nostrils filled with odour by the mellifluous odour felt its sweetness, as tasting of a honey-comb. Then was the passing of the soul of the most blessed confessor, Tatheus, without spot, whose festival today we celebrate with especial affection. Who would not celebrate with affection the celebrity of this day? Who would not honour and not laud the dignity of his honour and sanctity? For he was the father of all Gwent. Father the inhabitants called him, and call him still. None had dared injure any of his. If anyone had done an injury he would be visited with vengeance, as one guilty of a crime. He was the defender of a woodland country, the refuge of the same without violation. Patiently he bore all that befell him. Never angry, his mind was tranquil as a dove. Whatever was given to him, he gave bountifully, and to them that asked he denied nothing. There was no one more bountiful in the western region, receiving strangers and giving them hospitality. The hungry, beset with famine, and the thirsty with parching thirst, this man satisfied from his abundance. Expelling cold from the sides of the naked, he brought consolation to those punished in prison. To the sick and to widows he gave succour, seeking eternal things, not transitory. Saint Tatheus lived a virgin, serving God, following the Lord in celestial glory. After his death he was buried in the floor of the church, and his seven disciples, his companions, were present at the burial of the master, whom God chose and guided into the eternal land of glory.

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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