The Celtic Literature Collective

The Life of Elgar
The Book fo Llandaff


There was a man named Elgar, a native of England, and born in Devonshire, who, in his infancy, was taken prisoner by a set of pirates, and as was usual, conveyed to Ireland, where for some time he led a servile life. At length his master dying, he was released from captivity, and came into the possession of the king, when he was again obliged to bear the yoke of servitude; and so far that, during the reign of King Roderic, the grandson of Conchor, he performed with his own hands, the office of executioner on those who had been condemned to suffer death by the judgment of the regal court. Being greatly dissatisfied, and leading a life contrary to his inclination, in grief and sorrow, and among his enemies, he hoped for the mercy of God to release him by death, but he at length obtained his liberty. Having performed penance suitable to his state, he left the country altogether, and being mindful of his misfortunes, embraced the life of a sailor, when suffering shipwreck he landed on the isle of Bardsey; a place, which according to the British custom, was called the Rome of Britain, on account of the dangerous passage by sea to it, and its distance, being situated at the extremity of the kingdom, and for its sanctity and dignity, because there were buried therein the bodies of twenty thousand holy confessors and martyrs; it was surrounded on all sides by the sea, having a lofty promontory on the eastern side, its western coast was plain and fertile with a sweet flowing fountain; it was partly maritime and abounded with dolphins; was completely free from serpents and frogs, and no one died therein in the life time of a brother who was older than himself.

When he had a knowledge of the fertility, and especially of the sanctity of the place, he commended the sailors to Christ, and resolved to lead the life of a hermit, and being uninstructed from his having been brought up without education, he daily reaped improvement. Having spent the space of several years with a religious community of brethren, and sometime in solitude, led a holy, glorious, and chaste life, with scant food, slight clothing, and an emaciated countenance; he, in the following seven years, when all North Wales was desolated, dwelt in his hermitage, and had nothing for his maintenance, except the support which he received, through the providence of God, from the fish of the sea, and what the eagles, or, as we may say, angels, brought to him.

On a certain day, the Teacher Caradog came to see whether he were alive or dead; and, to his joy, finding him living, said to him, ‘O beloved! who has maintained thee, being so completely separated from all mankind? No one, I am certain, from our country, which is desolated, and for a long time estranged from thee through want of communication by sea.’ These, and other enquiries having been made, the good man, who was the most learned of all Wales, being skilled in the knowledge of both kinds of law, ancient and modern, descended from a noble family, and eminent in secular learning; with bended knees before the holy person, and with sighs, and the shedding of tears, strongly intreated him to give him an account of his life, which was unknown to man, and known only to God. Having been prevailed on at length by intreaty, he related to him the particulars of his solitary life, as to his lord and master. ‘Now, dearly beloved Father, I will make known to thee the mercy that has been shewn to me, not on account of my very inconsiderable merit, but through the bounty and goodness of God, who has always given comfort to me; holy Spirits, assuming to themselves, with divine concurrence, the likeness of corporeal substance, according to the belief supported by Scripture, which testifies that a Spirit hath not flesh and bones, do constantly day and night administer to me, as one poor and infirm, and suffering shipwreck; through whose care I know not the want of joy and prosperity, nor the presence of penury and poverty: they always declare to me what is true, and always promise what is right, describing to me the present life to be as a flower of the field, and the future as the odour of balm, comforting me that I might not faint in the way, who having vanquished the enemy, should be rewarded with a heavenly crown. Although separated from me when they meet together, I know them, by our frequent intercourse with each other, to be Dubricius, Archbishop of Western Britain, Daniel, Bishop of the Church of Bangor, St. Padarn, and many others, whose bodies are buried in this island. One of them told me on a certain time, “Go to-morrow to the cave of the confessor Greit; and when there, fatigued by the journey, and intent on prayer, lie down, and God will give thee, wherewith in those days thou mayest sustain thy body; and thus on every third day in the morning, God will give thee a fish from the rock, although it be apart from the sea, and elevated many paces above it.” The fish which was sent me in this manner, at length became tiresome, and the taste disagreeable, and my appetite failing, owing to the meagre and aquatic na­ture of its daily food, it was taken away, and I received nothing in consequence of the complaint which I made.

‘Another time, I was told, “Go to the harbour, and thou wilt have a sea-fish of great size, wherewith thou mayest be maintained”; and I pierced, with a small knife, the side of the fish I found, which feeling the wound, leaped, and precipitated itself into the sea, completely escaping out of my hands; and reflecting on my hasty and hostile act, I repented having inflicted the wound, and returned unprovided to my residence. And after some time, my appetite inciting me, I sought for aid as usual; on the following night the holy persons appeared, and said, “O thou incredulous person! Why wert thou so hasty? what God has sent to thee, he will not take away; what he has taken from thee today, he will restore tomorrow. Go to the same place, and there thou wilt find the said "fish dead, and also the knife.” And it was so.

‘Another time, when hunger was pressing me, the accustomed persons said, “Go thy usual road,” and I went, and found a large white stag, and I said, “What need have I of so much food, and of which I have not been accustomed to partake?” I returned to the oratory, and as usual, they said to their servant, “The Lord will give thee nothing else for food this time, besides what thou hast found today,” and returning to the harbour, I found the stag again, which was food for me for some considerable time. Sometimes the eagles administered to me, by divine appointment, of the fishes of the sea in the usual manner, and as was necessary, with likewise some herbs, and water, and small sea-fish.’

These and many other particulars having been related, the Teacher Caradog hastened to the harbour, and said to his brother, ‘O pious! O beloved! Leave the solitude, that thou mayest be comforted, and restored to thy former state, and thou shalt receive from me for some time the comforts of food, and clothing.’ Having heard these words, he hastened to the oratory, and having received an answer from the holy persons, said, ‘O Father, I have not so much liberty; nor rashness, as to follow thee any more in this life! Depart, Brother, with great speed, while the wind is favourable, on giving to thee my small blessing, and receiving from thee thy large one.’ After these things, he led his life, present to the Lord, and unknown to man; and having prepared a grave for himself in the oratory, he lay down close by it, and expired. While the body was yet warm, some sailors came to the place, and buried what they found there ready for sepulture.

On Friday, the 7th of May, in the year One thousand one hundred and twenty, being leap year, his teeth were removed from the island, on the same day that the relics of St. Dubricius were translated to Llandaff, by Urban the Bishop, with the consent of Ralph, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the assent of David, Bishop of Bangor, and Griffith, King of North Wales, and the applause of all the clergy and people; and on Sunday, the 23th day of May, they were received into the Church of Llandaff.


Translator: W. J. Rees

Date of Translation: 1840

This text scanned by: Jonathan M. Wooding (1/11/2004) – use permitted with acknowledgement

Web source:

As the Celtic Christian E-Library website is no longer active, I have taken them up on their fair-use permission and reposted the text here.--Mary.