Celtic] monk, lived in the 6th century. In the s - in the most aggressive language - he set out to denounce the wickedness of his times. He ended up being the only substantial source which survives from the time of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, and the best source before the much more impressive work of the Venerable Bede [who completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People almost years late in ]. At any event, the Anglo-Saxons began arriving in the s, perhaps imported as soldiers as Gildas suggests. Chapter
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Motives for writing stated. WHATEVER my attempt shall be in this epistle, made more in tears than in denunciation, in poor style, I allow, but with good intent, let no man regard me as if about to speak under the influence of contempt for men in general, or with an idea of superiority to all, because I weep the general decay of good, and the heaping up of evils, with tearful complaint.
It is not so much my purpose to narrate the dangers of savage warfare incurred by brave soldiers, as to tell of the dangers caused by indolent men. I have kept silence, I confess, with infinite sorrow of heart, as the Lord, the searcher of the reins, is my witness, for the past ten years or even longer; I was prevented by a sense of inexperience, a feeling I have even now, as well as of mean merit from writing a small admonitory work of any kind. I saw that in our time even, as he wept: The widowed city sat solitary, heretofore filled with people, ruler of the Gentiles, princess of provinces, and had become tributary.
By this is meant the Church. The sons of Zion, that is, of the holy mother the Church, famous and clothed with best gold have embraced ordure. What to him, a man of eminence, grew unbearable, has been so to me also, mean as I am, whenever it grew to be the height of grief, whilst he wailed over the same distinguished men living in prosperity so far as to say: her Nazarenes were whiter than snow, ruddier than old coral, fairer than sapphire.
These passages and many others I regarded as, in a way, a mirror of our life, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and then I turned to the Scriptures of the New; there I read things that previously had perhaps been dark to me, in clearer light, because the shadow passed away, and the truth shone more steadily.
I read, that is to say, of the Lord saying: I am not come but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And on the other side: But the sons of this Kingdom shall be cast into outer darknesses, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Also: Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. I heard: Many shall come from east and west and recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven; and on the other hand: And then shall I say unto them: depart from me ye workers of iniquity.
I read: Blessed are the barren and the breasts that have not given suck; and on the contrary: Those who were ready, entered with him to the marriage feast, then came also the other virgins saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; to whom the answer was made, I know you not. I heard certainly: He who believeth and is baptised, shall be saved, he, however, who believeth not shall be condemned. I knew the mercy of the Lord, 7 but feared his judgment also; I praised his grace, but dreaded the rendering unto each one according to his works.
I read, indeed: They had all things in common, but I read also: Why did ye agree to tempt the Spirit of God? I saw, on the contrary, what great indifference had grown upon the men of our age, as if there were no cause for fear.
These things, and many others which I have decided to omit for the sake of brevity, I pondered over with compunction of heart and astonishment of mind.
I ponderedif the Lord did not spare a people, peculiar out of all the nations, the royal seed and holy nation, to whom he had said: Israel is my first born if he spared not its priests, prophets, kings for so many centuries, if he spared not the apostle his minister, and the members of that primitive church, when they swerved from the right path, what will he do to such blackness as we have in this age?
An age this to which has been added, besides those impious and monstrous sins which it commits in common with all the iniquitous ones of the world, that thing which is as if inborn with it, an irremovable and inextricable weight of unwisdom and fickleness.
What say I? Do I say to myself, wretched one, is such a charge entrusted to thee as if thou wert a teacher of distinction and eminence , namely to withstand the rush of so violent a torrent, and against this array of growing crimes extending over so many years and so widely, keep the deposit committed to thec, and be silent?
Otherwise this means, to say to the foot, watch, and to the hand, speak. Britain has rulers, it has watchers. Why with thy nonsense art thou inclined to mumble? Yea, it has these; it has, if not too many, not too few.
But, because they are bent clown under the pressure of so great a weight, they have no time to breathe. My feelings, therefore, as if fellow debtors with myself, were alternately engrossed by such objections, and by such as had much sharper teeth than these.
At length the creditor prevailed and conquered. He said: If thou hast not the boldness to feel no fear of being branded with the mark that befits golden liberty among truth-telling creatures of a rational origin second to the angels, at least shrink not from imitating that intelligent ass, inspired, though mute, by the Spirit of God.
Unwilling it was to be the carrier of the crowned magician about to curse the people of God; it bruised his feeble foot in the narrow path near the wall of the vineyards, though it had on that account to feel his blows like those of an enemy. She pointed out to him the angel from heaven, as if with the finger, holding his naked sword and opposing them whom he in the blindness of cruel stupidity had not observed , though the magician, ungrateful and furious, was unrighteously beating her innocent sides.
The work is, in fact, poor, but, I believe, faithful and friendly to all noble soldiers of Christ; 2 but severe and hard to bear to foolish apostates. The former of these, if I am not mistaken, will, peradventure, receive it with the tears that flow from the love of God; the others, also, with sorrow, but the sorrow which is wrenched from the anger and timidity of an awakened conscience.
Before, however, fulfilling my promise, let me attempt to say a little, God willing, concerning the geographical situation, the stubbornness, the subjection and rebellion of our country; also of its second subjection and hard service; of religion, persecution, and holy martyrs, of diverse heresies; of tyrants, of the two nations which wasted it; of defence and of consequent devastation; of the second revenge and third devastation, of famine; of the letter to Agitius; of victory, of crimes; of enemies suddenly 11 announced; of the great well-known plague; of counsel; of enemies far more fierce than the first; of the ruin of cities, of the men who survived; of the final victory won by the mother country, which is the gift granted by the will of God in our own times.
Preliminary cc. Reference to the rise of Christianity under Tiberius, and its progress in Britain inserted cc. Description of Britain.
De situ. THE island of Britain is situated in almost the furthest limit of the world, towards the north-west and west, poised in the so-called divine balance which holds the whole earth. It lies somewhat in the direction of the north pole from the south-west. It is miles long, broad, 4 not counting the longer tracts of sundry promontories which are encompassed by the curved bays of the sea. It is protected by the wide, and if I may so say, impassable circle of the sea on all sides, with the exception of the straits on the south coast where ships sail to Belgic Gaul.
It has the advantage of the estuaries of two noble rivers, the Thames and the Severn, arms, as it were, along which, of old, foreign luxuries were wont to be carried by ships, and of other smaller streams; it is beautified by 28 cities, 5 and some strongholds, and by great works built in an unexceptionable manner, walls, serrated towers, gates, houses, the roofs of which, stretching aloft with threatening height, were firmly fixed in strong structure.
The flowers of divers colours on these, trodden by human footsteps, gave them the appearance of a fine picture, like a chosen bride adorned with various jewels. It is irrigated by many clear springs, with their full waters moving snow-white gravel, and by shining rivers flowing with gentle murmur, extending to those who recline on their banks a pledge of sweet slumber, and by lakes overflowing with a cool stream of living water. Character of people. De contumacia. This island, of proud neck and mind, since it was first inhabited, is ungratefully rebelling, now against God, at other times against fellow citizens, 7 sometimes even against the kings over the sea and their subjects.
I, therefore, omit 8 those ancient errors, common to all nations, by which before the coming of Christ in the flesh the whole human race was being held in bondage; nor do I enumerate the truly diabolical monstrosities 9 of my native country, almost surpassing those of Egypt in number, of which we behold some, of ugly features, to this day within or without their deserted walls, stiff with fierce visage as was the custom. Neither do I, by name, inveigh against the mountains, valleys or rivers, once destructive, but now suitable for the use of man, upon which divine honour was then heaped by the people in their blindness.
I keep silence also as to the long years of savage tyrants, who are spoken of in other far distant countries, so that Porphyry, the rabid eastern dog 10 in hostility 19 to the Church, added this remark also in the fashion of his madness and vanity; Britain, he says, is a province fertile in tyrants.
Those evils only will I attempt to make public which the island has both suffered and inflicted upon other and distant citizens, in the times of the Roman Emperors. I shall do it, however, to the best of my ability, not so much by the aid of native writings or records of authors, inasmuch as these if they ever existed have been burnt by the fires of enemies, or carried far away in the ships which exiled my countrymen, and so are not at hand, but shall follow the account of foreign writers, which, because broken by many gaps, is far from clear.
Subjection by Rome. De subjectione. The Emperors of Rome acquired the empire of the world, and, by the subjugation of all neighbouring countries and islands towards the east, secured through the might of their superior fame their first peace with the Parthians 11 on the borders of India.
When this peace was accomplished, wars ceased at that time in almost every land. The keenness of this flame, however, in its persistent career towards the west, could not be checked or extinguished by the blue tide of the sea; crossing the channel it carried to the island laws for obedience without opposition; it subjugated an unwarlike but faithless people not so much as in the case of other nations by sword, fire, and engines, as by mere threats or menaces of judgments who gave to the edicts merely a skin-deep obedience, with resentment sunk deep into their hearts.
Insurrection against Rome. De rebellione. Immediately on their return to Rome, owing to deficiency, as they said, of necessaries provided by the land, and with no suspicion 21 of rebellion, the treacherous lioness 12 killed the rulers who had been left behind by them to declare more fully, and to strengthen, the enterprises of Roman rule. After this, when news of such deeds was carried to the senate, and it was hastening with speedy army to take vengeance on the crafty foxes, as they named them, there was no preparation of a fighting fleet on sea to make a brave struggle for country, nor a marshalled army or right wing, nor any other warlike equipment on land.
They present their backs, instead of their shields, to the pursuers, their necks to the sword, while a chilling terror ran through their bones: they hold forth their hands to be bound like women; so that it was spread far and wide as a proverb and a derision: the Britons are neither brave in war nor in peace faithful.
Item de subiectione ac diro famulatu. The Romans therefore, having slain many of the faithless ones, reserving some for slavery, lest the land should be reduced to destitutionreturn to Italy leaving behind them a land stripped of wine and oil.
They leave behind governors as scourges for the backs of the natives, as a yoke for their necks, so that they should cause the epithet of Roman slavery to cling to the soil, should vex the crafty race not so much with military force as with whips, and if necessary, apply the unsheathed sword, as the saying is, to their sides.
In this way the island would be regarded not as Britannia but as Romania, and whatever it might have of copper, silver, or gold would be stamped with the image of Caesar. Rise of Christianity. De religione. Meanwhile, to the island stiff with frost and cold, and in a far distant corner of the earth, remote from the visible sun, He, the true sun, even Christ, first yields His rays, I mean His precepts. He spread, not only from the temporal firmament, but from the highest arc of heaven beyond all times, his bright gleam to the whole world in the latest days, as we know, of Tiberius Caesar.
At 23 that time the religion of Christ 14 was propagated without any hindrance, because the emperor, contrary to the will of the senate, threatened with death informers against the soldiers of that same religion.
Evangelization of Britain. The Diocletian persecution. De persecutione. What flights there were then, what slaughter, what punishments by different modes of death, what ruins of apostates, what glorious crowns of martyrs, what mad fury on the part of persecutors, and, on the contrary, what 25 patience of the saints, the history of the church narrates. Holy Martyrs. De sanctis martyribus. God, therefore, as willing that all men should be saved, magnified his mercy unto us, and called sinners no less than those who regard themselves righteous.
He of His own free gift, in the above mentioned time of persecution, as we conclude, 18 lest Britain should be completely enveloped in the thick darkness of black night, 27 kindled for us bright lamps of holy martyrs. The graves where their bodies lie, and the places of their suffering, had they not, very many of them, been taken from us the citizens on account of our numerous crimes, through the disastrous division caused by the barbarians, would at the present time inspire the minds of those who gazed at them with a far from feeble glow of divine love.
The former of these, through love, hid a confessor when pursued by his persecutors, and on the point of being seized, imitating in this Christ laying down his life for the sheep. He first concealed him in his house, and afterwards exchanging garments with him, willingly exposed himself to the danger of being pursued in the 29 clothes of the brother mentioned.
Being in this way well pleasing to God, during the time between his holy confession and cruel death, in the presence of the impious men, who carried the Roman standard with hateful haughtiness, he was wonderfully adorned with miraculous signs, so that by fervent prayer he opened an unknown way through the bed of the noble river Thames, similar to that dry little-trodden way of the Israelites, when the ark of the covenant stood long on the gravel in the middle of Jordan; accompanied by a thousand men, he walked through with dry foot, the rushing waters on either side hanging like abrupt precipices, and converted first his executioner, as he saw such wonders, from a wolf into a lamb, and caused him together with himself to thirst more deeply for the triumphant palm of martyrdom, and more bravely to seize it.
Others, however, were so tortured with diverse torments, and mangled with unheard of tearing of limbs, that without delay they raised trophies of their glorious martyrdom, as if at the beautiful gates of Jerusalem. Those who survived hid themselves in woods, deserts, and secret caves, expecting from God, the righteous ruler of all, to their persecutors, sometime, stern judgment, to themselves protection of life.
They repair the churches, 31 ruined to the ground; they found, construct, and complete basilicae in honour of the holy martyrs, and set them forth in many places as emblems of victory; they celebrate feast days; the sacred offices they perform with clean heart and lip; all exult as children cherished in the bosom of their mother, the church.
De diversis haeresibus. For this sweet harmony between Christ the head and the members continued, until the Arian unbelief, fierce as a snake vomiting forth upon us its foreign poison, caused deadly separation between brethren dwelling together. In this way, as if a path were made across the sea, all manner of wild beasts began to inject with horrid mouth the fatal poison of every form of heresy, and to inflict the lethal wounds of their teeth upon a country always wishful to hear something new and, at all events, desiring nothing steadfastly.
The tyranni, particularly Maxi mus. De tyrannis. This man, through cunning art rather than by valour, first attaches to his guilty rule certain neighbouring countries or provinces against the Roman power, by nets of perjury and falsehood. He then extends one wing to Spain, the other to Italy, fixing the throne of his iniquitous empire at Trier, and raged with such madness against his lords that he drove two legitimate emperors, the one from Rome, the other from a most pious life.
Though 33 fortified by hazardous deeds of so dangerous a character, it was not long ere he lost his accursed head at Aquileia: he who had in a way cut off the crowned heads of the empire of the whole world. Picts and Scots. De duabus gentibus vastatricibus.
The Ruin of Britain
Hagiography[ edit ] Differing versions of the Life of Saint Gildas exist, but both agree that he was born in what is now Scotland on the banks of the River Clyde , and that he was the son of a royal family. These works were written in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and are regarded by scholars as unhistorical. He is now thought to have his origins farther south. Illtud , where he chose to forsake his royal heritage and embrace monasticism.
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I saw moreover in my own time, as that prophet also had complained, that the city had sat down lone and widowed, which before was full of people; that the queen of nations and the princess of provinces i. I knew the mercy of the Lord, but I also feared his judgment: I praised his grace, but I feared the rendering to every man according to his works: perceiving the sheep of the same fold to be different, I deservedly commended Peter for his entire confession of Christ, but called Judas most wretched, for his love of covetousness: I thought Stephen most glorious on account of the palm of martyrdom, but Nicholas wretched for his mark of unclean heresy: I read assuredly, "They had all things common:" but likewise also, as it is written, "Why have ye conspired to tempt the Spirit of God? Hold thy peace: to do otherwise, is to tell the foot to see, and the hand to speak. Britain has rulers, and she has watchmen: why dost thou incline thyself thus uselessly to prate?
The usual date that has been given for the composition of the work is some time in the s, but it is now regarded as quite possibly earlier, in the first quarter of the sixth century, or even before that. I tend towards this interpretation, although it cannot be proven. The Annales Cambriae gives the year of his death as ; however the Annals of Tigernach dates his death to Vitellius A.