The Celtic Literature Collective

The Life of Saint Wenefred

Here begins the Life of saint Wenefred, virgin and martyr.

§1. In as far as it is salutary to conceal the secret of a king, in so far is it painful not to disclose the mighty works of God. Wherefore whatever is known to us, by God’s favour, from the tradition of our forefathers concerning the blessed Wenefred, is meet we should undertake to recount to the praise of God himself in declaring the merits of his virgin, as indeed is due.

§2. In the days, therefore, wherein Cadfan was reigning over the provinces of Gwynedd, a certain strenuous soldier, the possessor of at least three vills, Teuyth son of Eylud by name, was abiding in Tegeingl. Of these the first was called Abeluyc, the second Maynguen, the third Guenphennaun.

§3. To this Teuyth there was given no progeny saving a daughter only, named Wenefred. She steadfastly from early age began to love intensely a heavenly bridegroom, and, rejecting mortal men, dedicated her virginity to him alone. Her father, discovering this, is partly distressed and unhappy, partly glad, as one to be congratulated. For sadness was on him in that he lacked offspring, she alone excepted, and in that she declined to marry a man to the maintaining of his patrimony in the future, which indeed he bore heavily. On the other hand he was glad that his child yielded herself to the rule of God, for which favour the warrior resolved to devote his daughter to the liberal arts.

§4. And while he was in this state of resolve, the blessed Bennon, Beuno, deprived of his dwelling by reason of the too numerous sons of Selym, came down to his house. Whom the warrior observing to be well learned and religious, he consulted him respecting his daughter, unfolding to him the desire of the same. Therefore, when the statements of the soldier had been well weighed, Bennon said ‘If for God thou wilt commit thy estate into my hand, I will dwell here with thee, instructing thy daughter in the divine law.’ To which Teuyth ‘Sir, if this stood in my power, none would perform such a thing more readily than myself. But now, servant of God, unless it seem to thee too long, I desire thee to tarry here, until I receive the king’s reply as to such matters.’ And he, ‘Most beloved son, go forward and may God precede thee that thou mayest attain thine end.’

§5. Teuyth, therefore, going forth from his own house to the house of the king, sought the court of his lord, appealing to him with all his might that he would do for him what he was deliberating respecting his patrimony. He answers, ‘0 venerable man, it is by no means to be decided by you or by me. Nevertheless to separate land from the common use of the province, let it not be useless to it or to my needs. But of these three vills I freely grant you whichever you choose for the divine office, if that will satisfy you, and pray leave to me the remainder.’

§6. So when he had heard the excellent reply of the king, he returned home, repeating to Bennon what he had heard from the king. ‘Therefore’, said he, ‘if thou desirest to abide with me, choose in my patrimony for the service of God where it may seem fit to thee.’ Blessed Bennon said ‘In the desert of Beluyc I resolve on a dwelling place for myself.’ Which too so happened.

§7. Bennon, therefore, with the patronage of Teuyth fashioned his hut in a ravine, which in the language of the Britons was called Sechnant. And he built in that place a little church, in which he was wont to celebrate mass, instructing daily the virgin Wenefred in the divine page. Also Teuyth and his house went daily to the service of the mass, where Bennon was wont to perform the celebration.

§8. At that time it happened on a certain Lord’s Day that Teuyth was with his wife hearing mass, and that Wenefred had remained in the house of her father for the purpose of bringing with her necessaries for the mass, to wit, fire and water with salt. In the meantime Caradog, son of Alauc, sprung of royal stock, fatigued with hunting the wild game, drew near to the house, seeking a drink, because naturally he was thirsty. When he had come up to it, he asked where was the possessor of the vill, for he had some secret which he desired to disclose to him.

§9. Therefore the girl, being alone in the house, ran quickly to meet him who was asking for her father, and saluting him politely, said that her parents had gone to hear the preaching of Bennon at mass. So Caradog gazing at the countenance of the girl made up of white and red, and admiring the whole of her, fair in form and face, his heart in desire of her began to burn exceedingly, and finding her alone in the house without the witness of another, forgetting his thirst by reason of the magnitude of his lust, he said to her ‘O damsel most dear, assent to my proposals by joining with me in the intimacy of wooers, for I desire thee vehemently.’

§10. To these things the virgin, ‘My lord, what utterance is this of a man so noble as thou to a handmaid so ignoble as I?’ Again, ‘By no means, Sir, can I do this, for I am betrothed to another man, whom now I ought to marry’. Hearing these things, filled with fury, Caradog said, ‘Cease talking these silly, frivolous, trifling things, and consent to be united with me. Marry me, and I will take thee for wife.’

§11. So the girl, seeing that the man’s mind was moved unto strife, purposely changing her attitude, lest she should be overcome by the man’s violence, said, ‘Suffer me, Sir, to enter my dressing chamber, that, being fitly attired, I may the more suitably unite with thee, for I will abandon the occupation enjoined on me, as is necessary, and will be at your will.’ Caradog answered the girl, ‘If thou makest no delay, it will not seem to me too much to wait for thee a little.’ So availing herself of the permission, the girl went with quick steps through the chamber to the valley, desiring to be out of the man’s gaze as soon as possible.

§12. So Caradog seeing that he was cheated by the diligence of the virgin, full of fury, briskly pricked his horse with his spurs, desiring to overtake the girl. But the girl had gone before the man until she had arrived as far as the door of the monastery, anxious to gain the protection of peace from God and Bennon. And when she would place her foot within the threshold, the man anticipated her with a sword, cutting off her head.

§13. Her parents seeing this were awhile in a stupor, and recovering themselves were drowned in piteous tears. Bennon also perceiving this calamity was enmeshed in very great grief and leaving the altar proceeded quickly to the door, desiring to know who had committed a murder of this sort. And his eyes being raised, he saw bloody Caradog still standing with his gory blade in hand, and understanding that the deed was done by Caradog he cursed him on that very spot. And immediately he melted in his presence, as wax before fire.

§14. Then Bennon, returfling to the corpse, adjusted the head, which had been thrown within by the sword’s stroke, to the body which was lying without, earnestly beseeching God to vivify that body, lest the enemy should rejoice over it. And directly on the prayer the body with power received back the soul, not a scar showing except a thin one on the neck. But the ground stained with her blood cracked, and a rapid spring gushed out in that place full of water, the stones of which to this day are seen bloody as on the first day. The moss also smells as incense, and cures divers diseases.

§15. Bennon, therefore, perceiving that God had performed a miracle of this sort on her account, addressed her in the hearing of her parents, ‘My sister, God has appointed this place for thee, and it behoves me to go elsewhere, where God might provide for me to dwell. But do thou this for me every year about this day, send me a cloak of your own work.’ ‘My lord,’ said she, ‘to do this for thee is not troublesome to my heart, but that seems to me a very great difficulty how it shall reach thee, for I know not where thou wilt be dwelling.’ To which the saint, ‘As to this let care be far from thee. A rock there is in the midst of the stream from the spring, whereon I have been wont to repeat my prayers. On this place thou the cloak at the appointed time, and if it shall come to me, let it come.’ So after mutual benediction they separated from one another.

§16. But the blessed Wenefred lived her life many days in the aforesaid desert, as Bennon had counselled her. Also every year on the vigil of John Baptist she used to send a cloak to Bennon in this manner. She placed it on the rock, and the rock gliding with the streams from the spring bore it as far as the sea, dry within and without, and so through the sea as far as the Harbour of Sachlen to Bennon. So Bennon was wont to receive the gift of the virgin every year.

§17. So great virtue was in this cloak by reason of the virgin’s merit, that, wherever Bennon might clothe himself therewith, neither could it be wetted by rain nor could its nap be moved by wind. In consequence of this Bennon was surnamed ‘dry cloak’, casul sych.

§18. At that time, as they relate, she went to Rome to visit the sites of the holy apostles, that there in the presence of the relics of the saints she might reverently offer herself entirely to God. This being done, she returned to her original desert.

§19. In those days the saints of the whole of Britannia were called together to the Synod of Wenefredus, to which also the blessed Wenefred with other saints went up. And there all things were religiously appointed by synodal arrangement, to wit, that saints, who previously were living dispersed by themselves, having no rule but their own inclination, should hereafter assemble in groups in places suitable for this purpose, and should amend their manner of life under priors raised to preside over them. Whence it was that blessed Wenefred was chosen to preside over eleven virgins, that they might take from her an example of life and holy conversation.

§20. With what knowledge and eloquence this virgin shone it is not in our power to set forth. For her words and utterance were accounted in the thoughts of her hearers sweeter than honey and brighter than milk. Wherefore also she was openly by all named White Wenefred, for she discoursed with radiance of wisdom and lived steadfastly thereby. The place where she abode with the virgins is called Gwytherin, where also after the close of life, buried with her fellow virgins on the eighth day before the Kalends of July, she rests in Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Here ends the life of saint Wenfred virgin and martyr.

Here begin the miracles of the same.

§21. Certain things known to the people or seen of them, worthy of mention, we have decided to relate.

From the day on which the spring began to flow, where the blood of the martyr had streamed forth, there was a miracle, unheard through the ages, wonderful to relate and amazing to the ear, within the bubbling of the spring, to wit, three very bright pebbles ascending and descending with the gushing of the spring after the manner of balls tossed by a thrower meeting each other on their upward and downward course. And so it continued for many years. But in the time of the Danes in Tegeingl who were subject to the Britons, a certain luckless woman went down to the spring, and seeing the pebbles playing before her, kindled with desire of them, took away one, and directly each of the other two vanished. Then, having returned home, she was seized with a sudden disease, and died within a few days. Nevertheless having confessed before her death, she returned the pebble, but what happened before entirely ceased. It is not wonderful, however, brethren, that stones by their testimony demonstrated the power of the martyr, since we read that holy fathers have carried stones as a testimony to them.

§22. Also it happened one time that a man, accused of theft, committed perjury on the well and on the holy places of the church of the martyr. But it was soon clear how the blessed virgin agreed with high-handed sinners! For a goat already eaten gave forth a bleating in the belly of the thief, and so it was clear that he was guilty. What a dreadful thing! This which is denied by a rational creature with an oath, is revealed by a brute and, what is more unusual, by one already eaten. Nor is it to be doubted but that God performs wonderful things on account of his saints, since he is altogether wonderful in his saints.

§23. Nay, even in the days of the French in that same land condign vengeance was done by God through that same martyr. For a certain matron, stirred by a zeal of malevolence against her female I servant, was rending her with harsh stripes, and continuing to strike her as she fled to the church of the virgin for protection. But the wretched girl, coming to the sanctuary and trying to enter, found the door firmly fastened, and hoping before for protection within the basilica, is then at a loss what to do. Nevertheless she kept close to the door, but the matron spared the lash not at all. The martyr of the Lord assuredly observing the violence inflicted on her, condoling with her shame, and having compassion on her wretchedness, straightway obtained vengeance from the Lord. So the captive girl long lacerated, prostrate under foot, at last, as God would have it, got up, and pushed her head against the cheek of her mistress who was pressing on her, by which push, her cheek-bone being loosened from its joint and her throat twisted back to the other ear, she so remained deformed till death. For it was fit that there should be no desisting from I the reproof of her, who was unwilling to cease from blows before the stifling of breath, even to the separation of body and soul. So are the faces of those, who do not reverence the tabernacles of God and his saints, filled with ignominy.

§24. Again, when an interval of time was gone, the law of peace being everywhere violated through the country, the French and the Welsh attacking each other, innumerable robbers from Gwynedd ravaging the whole of Tegeingl despatched eight sacrilegious persons to plunder also the habitation of the virgin, Wenefred, together with her vill. These hastening took away with them even the animals tied to the wall of the sanctuary, but not for long did they rejoice on this account, for in truth within a brief space a horrible death was inflicted upon them. But the principals of the outrage also, who put the matter forward, before a year was completed, were overtaken by an abominable death. What shall I tell you? Hardly one from so great a number escaped, who even merely kept company with them. And since the zeal of the Lord’s house consumed him, they were cast down while they were raised on high.

§25. Again in those days a certain deacon of the same church with sacred signs suspended on his neck for protection, carrying home on horses the tithe from a certain hamlet of his parish, and arriving as far as within the bounds of the estate of the martyr, fell by chance among thieves, who, paying no respect to the martyr or to her sacred things, spoiled him, and compelled him with the spoils to go along with them, whilst he implored them for the sake of God and his martyr to spare him. But none the less was he taken a good way off, when it entered his mind by the direction of God and the martyr, that he should take to flight. This being entered on, he was tracked step by step by the leader of the thieves himself. But thereupon as that same man was seeking to apprehend him, he was hindered by a disaster, and pierced in the leg by his own lance he lost the vigour of his thigh, so as to be unable to proceed. And so, one being chastised in the body, all the rest were reproached in mind, and the deacon, giving thanks to God and the martyr for the deliverance bestowed on him, returned home safely with his goods. How indeed doth the Lord send his angel into the midst of those who fear him, and rescue them! As for those who have not the fear of the Lord and his saints before their eyes, their iniquity is discovered of them unto aversion and descends on the head of them.

§26. At that time, too, a certain French knight, possessor of that same estate, planning a mill on the stream of the spring, caused the water to make a pond. The knight, perceiving the water to burst towards the rock of Beunon, which chanced to be in the midst of the stream close to the pond, ordered it to be removed thither. But although a hundred yoke of oxen were brought up, it certainly would not rise from its place. For it was as immobile as if with fixed roots it could not be pulled out. At last however the knight, thinking his workmen were feigning, urges them again and again, and supposing that he alone could roll away the stone with his foot, moved by wrath of mind, struck the rock with his foot. But immediately, the sinews in the knee being bent back and becoming hardened, he was rendered lame as long as he lived.

§27. Nay in that same course of time the wife of that same knight, having intruded with rash daring upon the very brink of the spring, which is strictly for the sick, unlawfully bathed there. But not with impunity did she so, for she remained barren to the end of her life, for which cause she grieved before all. For it was right that all, who, coming to the heritage of the martyr, unlawfully polluted her sanctuary, should thereafter be encompassed by mocking and derision, jeering and opprobrium.

§28. With such and endless more wonderful miracles than these against the wicked did the virgin of the Lord shine. All of which, if they were committed to literary memorial, time would sooner be wanting than supply of information. But for the castigation of the wicked, lest they might delight to do some mischief against the right of the virgin, for the present let these suffice, because it behoves that our plough be conveyed to make furrows elsewhere, namely to make known the mercies of the virgin towards the sick.

§29. It was in that time of the French, in that same region, that a certain sick rich man, having much money, but not in possession of himself, hearing of the virgin’s fame, went thither as quickly as possible, conveyed in a carriage. Arriving at the memorial of the blessed virgin, the whole of his goods being bestowed on the church and the needy, he makes himself poor, delighting no more in the pleasures of the world, but trusting in the Lord. Then having washed himself thrice in the water of the spring, and having kept watch for three nights in the church with prayers, you could hear there at that time in wondrous fashion a vast turmoil among feet and legs and arms, which previously hideously curved and contracted to the buttocks from birth now extended their bones to the right position of the limbs. Thinkest thou not that thou mightest see there at that time a company of bystanders joyful and rendering thanks to God and the virgin? Thou wouldest see without fail. O how just a recompense! He who had stripped himself of his private property, the same receives back the property of his own body entire in sensation and strength. What he had loved he gave away; what he had ever desired, he found. And so he who, lacking the use of his feet, had come in a carriage, returned sound and entire, using his feet fully and perfectly.

§30. A certain man, doing penance for his crimes, constrained for many years in iron bands, his arms wretchedly corroded with the rust of iron, came to the same sanctuary. And having passed a night there in watchings and prayers, he went at daybreak to the well. Moreover washing his hands in it and thrusting his arms forward into the well, two hands are seen by him slowly to loosen the bonds from his arms. Who, brethren, doubts the virgin was present there at that time? The man actually going forth bound from the church to the well, but returning from the well to the church unbound, thanking God and his martyr, suspends there for a sign those same bonds. These were seen hanging there for many series of years. Consider, ye men, consider, ye women, how with veneration and how with reverence this virgin of the Lord and martyr is meet to be honoured by all, who so clearly comes to the aid of those who cry to her.

§31. Nor is it to be omitted what she did in the matter of the dropsical person coming to her, dragged with difficulty to her hands. For, the watchings being done and the ablutions in the waters of the well, she so relieved him of superfluous fluid, that nought remained but what naturally sufficed the human constitution.

§32. Also an epileptic no less felt the hand of the martyr. For being brought as usual to the church, he spent a night there watching and praying. Wonderfully it happened to him, for the disease attacked him twice, but on either occasion prevailed nothing. For one evening he perceived the epilepsy coming to him, and ran hastily into the church. But the name of the Lord and the martyr being invoked over him by the presbyters, Immediately the evil, which had begun, left him. Another day at dawn when the disease was on him, he was plunged into the spring, and never afterwards did it attack him.

§33. Likewise, two boys, brothers, the same infirmity attacking them, being plunged into the spring, were wholly cured. But also many others of this sort and innumerable [have been healed].

§34. For they aver that the virgin by virtue of her merits destroys this disease in particular, although she also heals others. For none is more destructive than this, which destroys the mind, corrodes the heart, almost casts out the soul, shatters the brain, bites the tongue, foams, roars, distorts the limbs, destroys itself wholly. And because it is so, she is particularly bent on curing this.

§35. Also a certain woman brought with her a boy, her son, dumb from his birth, to the memorial of the blessed martyr. She, the solemnities of vigils being duly observed, when she bathed him in the well and put water in his mouth, heard her son uttering correct words and asking for his clothes. When this was seen, the bystanders wonder, glorifying God and the martyr, and rejoice with the mother.

§36. Also on another occasion certain youths in fellowship bent double came and descended together into the spring, but to one only was health vouchsafed, because he firmly trusted. This one having gone down, his limbs distending themselves, a groan so horrible is emitted by him, that the ears of those hearing this, situated near or far, tingle. For the virtue of the Lord, when it went out from him by the prayers of saints knew not by any means how to be concealed.

§37. Besides a certain lad, deeming his limbs to be useless, because they were almost dead, straightway obtained the helpful liberality of the virgin, for she at his prayers restored to him the natural state of all his limbs.

§38. Moreover one born blind, service being duly performed in the tabernacle of the virgin, went off to the well, and washed, and saw, and gave thanks.

§39. Also two boys, suffering with stone, praying to the virgin, obtained a natural dissolving. Of these one, when freed there from his ailment, was straightway intoxicated with the gift of the muse of prophecy.

§40. Like these many gnawed by worms even to the inmost parts acknowledged the aid of the virgin, for they returned home well, the worms destroyed.

§41. Some, feeble in mind, vexed with unclean spirits, tearing with their teeth, speaking everything vain, brought forward in chains with difficulty, returned home from thence, governing themselves with full reason.

§42. Frequently also she delivers fever-stricken folkwaiting on her gratuity and compassion, by an application of the sacred water, from fevers of every sort.

§43. And many times this most benign virgin relieves dropsical persons, restores the paralytic, heals the gouty, cures the melancholy. No less does she remove sciatica, eradicate cancer, cure shortness of breath, extirpate piles. Also she removes a hard cough, repels gripings of the stomach and fluxions, clears repressed menses causing barrenness, stops superfluous and excessive blood.

§44. Why by enumerating a few things do I try to mention all? So many and so great are the gifts of the virgin, that their infinity defies enumeration. But, that I may briefly sum them all up, she piously and most benignly and without any delay straightway aids all sick, diseased, ailing folk, gripped by any sort of infirmity, who ask in pure faith the support of this martyr with God, and she invests them to the full with the feelings and vigours pertaining to either sex.

§45. Nor is it to be buried in the silence of Lethean oblivion what it is agreed happened after the expulsion of the French from the whole of Venedotia to the spring of that same virgin. The spring of the martyr for the space of three days was seen to flow with milky liquor. In truth on the first of those days at dawn it retains the very colour of milk and taste. For a priest going forth in the very early morning from matins, duly celebrated in the church of that same martyr, to the very issue of the spring close by and finding such a thing, hurried quickly carrying with him a bottle, and kept it when filled carefully and diligently. Again hurrying with a sponge to fill that also, the liquor had already somewhat lost colour. So for three days little by little suffering the loss of milky colour with taste, it gained its former condition. And lest any should suppose that this happened from whirling of winds or inclemency of rains, let him know that there had then not been for some time before, and also afterwards, any commotion of the elements. And therefore in no wise ought any hesitation or doubt to arise, because it was heard also from the inhabitants to have happened often. The liquor received by the presbyter being transmitted everywhere to the sick and drunk, it afforded them the aid which the virgin was wont to grant, by healing these too. And well might her fountain appear milky and sweet of taste, she who, named White Wenefred, showed herself kind, gentle, meek, sweet, pious, benign, propitious, pleasant, and merciful to them who call on her!

§46. It is in no way to be despised what was further done by this virgin in the matter of a little girl. One day towards evening a man brought with him the corpse of a dead girl to the arbour of the martyr that it might be buried. And the priest seeing the night was come deferred her burial till the morning, leaving the body rigid in the coldness of death wrapped up in a cloth, covered over with bandages, within the church, and firmly fastening the doors. But the presbyter, entering the church at early dawn to celebrate the office of the dead according to wont, found the girl now living, freed entirely from the bandages and cloth, on haunches and palms crawling over the ground by reason of her still weak state, lacking every sign of death, and asking him for hospitality and food, and joyfully did he render thanks to God and the martyr. What wonder that she recalls the dead to life by her prayer, who herself dead had lived anew?

§47. It should be recalled to memory what we omitted above to the reproof of evil doers.
Two clerics to be sure on divers occasions had committed sacrilege within the cells of the virgin. Of these one, carrying off a manual book, was straightway caught with the stolen thing, and because a labourer is worthy of his reward, he was punished with stripes. And the other stealing a mass book, offering it to all everywhere for a price, found no one who would take it. Then by the direction of God returning and not being able to hide the sacrilege further, he was hanged, because he deserved it.

§48. He, who alone performs these wonderful miracles on account of his virgin and martyr Wenefred, ceases not to perform them either for the benefit of the forgiving or for the chastisement of the impious, God, who in perfect Trinity lives and reigns One for ever and ever. Amen.

Here ends the passion of saint Wenefred virgin and martyr June 22.

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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