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Vita Sancti Cadoci (Life of Saint Cadoc)

Vita Sancti Cadoci

Vita’s Composition Date, Author, and Purpose

The story of Saint Cadoc is told in Vita Sancti Cadoci, written by Lifris of Llancarfan probably not much before AD 1086.  The text is Latin, and it was “written at Llancarfan” to honour the house and confirm “its endowments”, says John Strong Perry Tatlock in July 1939.  Consequently, Vita is of limited historical merit though some details are of interest, especially Cadoc’s dealings with Arthur.

Llancarfan did not survive the conquest of the Normans into South Wales, being dissolved c AD 1086.  The date of composition for Vita, being before Llancarfan’s dissolution, was argued for by J S P Tatlock in his “Caradoc of Llancarfan”.

Birth and Childhood of Cadoc

In Vita, Cadoc began his life within an atmosphere of violence.  His father, Gwynllyw the Bearded, was one of the lesser kings of Wales, a brother of Saint Petroc(k) (Pedrog, Petrocus, Perreux), and a robber chieftain.

Gwynllyw wanted to propose to Princess Gwladys, daughter of King Brychan (Brecon, Brocanus, Brenin) Brycheiniog (Brecknock), a neighbouring chieftain, but Brychan turned away many suitors asking for Gwladys’ hand.  Madly in love, Gwynllyw and Gwladys eloped from her father’s court at Brecon, escaping over the mountains (according to Madeleine Gray) during a raid in which 200 of Gwynllyw’s 300 followers perished.

It is said that Cadoc worked miracles even before his birth.  Strange lights were seen in his parents’ house, and the cellars were supernaturally filled with food.  Note that this Cadoc was the grandson of Brychan Brycheiniog (as will become significant in the discourse concerning multiple Cadocs).

According to Dmitry Lapa, this Cadoc was born in Monmouthshire, Wales, c AD 497.  An angel announced his birth and called Meuthi the hermit to baptise and teach Cadoc.  Madeleine Gray tells us that a holy well sprang up for his baptism and afterward flowed with milk and wine.

It is thought by some that Cadoc was baptised as Cathmail (Cadfæl).  After the birth of his son, Gwynllyw went on a frenzied celebratory raid with a new band of courageous warriors.  Among other livestock, he stole the cow of an Irish monk, Saint Tathyw of Cærwent.  Tathyw is probably Tathan, a reputed early Abbot of nearby Cærwent whose dedications appear around Llantwit Major (Llanilltud Fawr), Wales.  Being unafraid of Gwynllyw, Tathyw went to face him, demanding the return of the cow.

On an impulse, or perhaps guided by divine inspiration, Gwynllyw decided that Cadoc would go to live under the monk’s care.  So, Cadoc was sent away to be educated at Tathyw’s monastery in Cærwent.  He picked up a fundamental knowledge of Latin and received a basic education that prepared him for further studies in Ireland, Scotland, and Brittany (not to mention Wales itself).  Most importantly, Cadoc learned to value the life of a monk and priest.

Origins of Llancarfan

Lifris of Llancarfan tells us that one day, while in the Cardiff district of Glamorgan, Cadoc was being pursued by an armed swineherd from an enemy tribe.  As he ran through the woods looking for a place to hide, Cadoc came upon an agéd wild boar.  Disturbed by his presence, the boar made three fierce bounds in his direction, but Cadoc’s life was spared when the boar suddenly disappeared.  Cadoc took this as a divine sign and marked the place with three tree branches.  The valley was owned by his uncle, King Pawl of Penychen, who made a gift of the land to his nephew.  The location later became the site of the great church college and monastery at Llancarfan.

Gilbert Huddleston states that most Welsh writers specify Llancarfan’s founding to the time of Saint Germanus’ visit to Britain in AD 447, stating that the first principal was Saint Dubric(ius), on whose elevation to the episcopate Saint Cadoc (Cattwg/Cadwg), succeeded.  On the other hand, G Huddleston notes that the Life of Saint Germanus, written by Constantius (a priest of Lyons, about fifty years after the death of the saint), says nothing at all of any school founded by Germanus or under his auspices, in Britain, nor is mention made of his presence in Wales (as Huddleston states in the entry for “Llancarvan” in The Catholic Encyclopedia).

An alternate tradition holds that the Llancarfan monastery, or “Church of the Stags”, was founded in the latter part of the Fifth Century AD by Cadoc.  He established a monastery and college, which became the religious school of many outstanding and blessed men.  This particular location seemed an unworkable one, an almost unapproachable marsh, but Cadoc and his monks emptied, tamed, and civilised it.  It was transformed into one of the most celebrated and captivating religious environments in South Wales.  Peter Chandlery tells us that the plan included a monastery, a college, and a hospital.

Having established the community, Cadoc departed for Ireland to study and teach.  When he returned three years later, he found the monastery in decay and ruin.  Enraged, he forced the monks back to manual labour, dragging timber from the woods to begin the work of reconstruction.  According to Madeleine Gray, two stags came out of the forest to help them, which is said to be why the stream running past the monastery is called Nant Carfan (supposedly meaning “Stag Brook”).  Reverend William Jenkins Rees suggests that although the monastery was said to have been placed at Llancarfan, the particular spot on which it stood was called Llan-feithin.

Cadoc’s Journeys

Preferring “to fight for Christ”, the adult Cadoc refused to take charge of his father’s army.  Having founded his first monastery at Llancarfan in the Valley of Glamorgan, Cadoc had gone to Ireland to study for three years.  Returning to Wales, he studied with Bachan (Pachan), a teacher of rhetoric from Italy, according to Peter Clement Bartrum.  Cadoc then travelled to Scotland where he founded a monastery at Cambuslang.

Back at Llancarfan, his influence helped it to grow into one of the primary monasteries in South Wales.  One tradition has it that Cadoc went on pilgrimage to Rome, but more certain is the knowledge of his time spent in Brittany.  He settled there on an island in the Etel river, now called L’Ile de Cado, where he built an oratory, founded a monastery, and devoted himself to spreading Christianity.  There are houses of prayer in Brittany dedicated to Cadoc at Belz and Locoal-Mendon in Morbihan, and at Gouesnac’h in Finistère, where his name is invoked to cure the deaf.  Additionally, “Cadoc” is the base linguistic root of some thirty Breton place-names.

After his father’s death (c AD 528), Cadoc is said to have built another monastery in Scotland, probably at Kilmadock (named for him).  Its location being north-west of Stirling, where the Annant Burn flows into the River Teith.  This is supported by at least three references: The New Statistical Account of Scotland; Moray S Mackay in Doune Historical Notes, 1984; and Kilmadock in Dunblane Diocese, 1972.  Near the ruins of the old Kilmadock church and graveyard is Hermit’s Croft, thought to be where Cadoc lived for seven years.  Seven local churches that were built in his name came under the authority of Inchmahome (Innis MoCholmaig) Priory.

Cadoc’s monastery was “below Mount Bannauc” (being the hill southwest of Stirling, down which the Bannockburn flows).  It has been suggested that this monastery was where the town of Saint Ninians now stands, two kilometres south of Stirling.  Scottish followers were known as “Gille Dog”, Servants of Cadog (Cadoc), which appears as a surname: first as Dog, then later as Doig, Doak, and Dock.

Cadoc and Arthur

Vita Sancti Cadoci depicts Arthur as great and bold, but wilful.  Lifris writes that Cadoc gave sanctuary to a man who had killed three of Arthur’s warriors.  As recompense, Arthur was awarded a herd of cattle from Cadoc.  He delivered them, but when Arthur took possession of the herd they were transformed into bundles of fern.  Similar incidents are often described in mediæval biographies (Lives) such as those of Carantoc (Carannog), Paternus (Padarn), and Goeznovius (Gwyddno): miracles in dealings with temporal authority bolster the case for church freedom.  In later Arthurian Welsh Triads (and echoed by Alban Butler in Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Volume 11), Cadoc, Illtud, and Peredur are the three knights said to have become keepers of the Holy Grail.  The kings Mælgwn of Gwynedd and Rhain Dremrudd of Brycheiniog also feature in Vita.  Saint Cadoc’s Church at Cærleon is of Norman origin and has been rebuilt on several occasions.  Yet it does stand on the foundations of the Roman legion headquarters there and may memorialise an early dwelling of Cadoc’s.  In this particular case, tradition suggests that the name Cadoc is a corruption of Cadfrod.  Remember, Cærleon is also associated with Arthur.

Multiple Cadocs?

This Cadoc (Cadfrod), a grandson of Brychan Brycheiniog (to whose progeny a large number of south-west British cultus sites are consecrated), may be confused with or identical to Cadoc son of Brychan, for whom the churches at Llanspyddid near Brecon and Llangadog, Carmarthenshire, Wales are named (along with a former chapel in Kidwelly parish, also in Carmarthenshire), says Rice Rees in his essay on the Welsh Saints.  According to Serenus de Cressy, this Cadoc died AD 490, was buried in France, and commemorated on 24 January.  The epithet of Doeth (the Welsh word for ‘wise’) induced some writers to conflate him with the Bishop of Beneventum in Italy: Saint Sophias (Sophia is the Greek word for ‘wisdom’).  Some say he died at Bannaventa (Weedon, five kilometres east of Daventry in Northamptonshire, England).  In 1939, J S P Tatlock is quoted as saying: “Certain innocent moderns … have tried to identify ‘Beneventana civitas’ with some place in Britain.”  Tatlock goes on to say that the circular Lombard church in Benevento, Campania, Italy was consecrated to Saint Sophias.  Some Welsh visitor to Benevento could have found a name or story to defend the seductive fiction that Cadoc had been there and was indeed Sophias.

In an episode toward the end of Vita, Cadoc is carried off in a cloud from Britannia (“de terra Britannie”) to Beneventum (meaning “good wind” in Latin), where a certain prior is warned of the arrival of a “western Briton” who is to be renamed Sophias.  In this way, Sophias Cadoc becomes Abbot, Bishop, and Martyr.  A Magna Basilica was built over his shrine, which visiting Britons were not allowed to enter.  A fictitious “Pope Alexander” is included in the narrative.  In Lives of the Cambro British saints (1853), Reverend William J Rees wrote: “The genealogy of the blessed Cadoc arises from the most noble emperors of Rome, from the time of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Augustus Cæsar, in whose time Christ was born, begat Octavianus, Octavianus begat Tiberius, …” and this continues through thirty-two generations until it reaches Maximianus, thusly “… Maximianus, therefore, begat Owain, Owain begat Nor, Nor begat Solor, Solor begat Glywys, Glywys begat Gwynlliw, Gwynlliw begat the most blessed Cadoc of whom we are speaking”.


We know that Vita Sancti Cadoci was written by Lifris of Llancarfan, most likely shortly before AD 1086.  This Latin text is of limited historical worth, though Cadoc’s dealings with Arthur are important.  Vita represents an amalgam of multiple Cadocs: Caradoc/Caradog, Cathmail/Cadfæl, Cattwg/Cadwg/Cadog, Cadfrod, Cadoc son of Brychan, Cadoc son of Gwynlliw, and Sophias Cadoc.  In linking Arthur to Cadoc, one must determine which “Cadoc” is involved.  A supposition could be made that if we consider the Arthur in question to have had his headquarters at Cærleon, then the corresponding “Cadoc” would be Cadfrod of Cærleon (the grandson of Brychan Brycheiniog).

This Cadfrod may or may not be the same person as Cadoc son of Brychan.  This “Cadoc” could also correspond to Cathmail (Cadfæl).  One of these Cadocs could even be connected to the Holy Grail as one of its guardians.  Ultimately, Vita only gives us glimpses into multiple people who are candidates for “the real Cadoc” (who may indeed be a composite figure), thereby giving us clues to the identity of the Arthur mentioned in Vita’s text.  So, if the riddle of the true nature of “Cadoc” can be deduced from and supported by independent evidence, then the identity of this Arthur, as presented in Vita Sancti Cadoci, could be determined with a greater sense of accuracy.  This would contribute a valuable piece to the puzzle of the amalgam that is “King Arthur”.