Life of St. Cadoc
St. Cadoc (also called Cadog, Cadfael, Cadvael, Cadvael, Cadvael, Cathmael, Cattwg, Catwig, Docus) is one of the greatest of the Welsh saints. His life dates are given as c. 497 - c. 580, and most of the knowledge we have about him comes from an account of his life written by Lifricus, or Lifris, in 1100. St. Cadoc began his life under a cloud of violence. He was the son of a robber chieftain named King Gundleus (better known as Woolos, “the warrior”) & Queen Gwladys or Gladys; (both of them later in life became hermits and were venerated as saints after their death). Gundleus was one of the lesser kings of Wales, who with an armed band of 300 men had stolen the daughter of a neighbouring chieftain for his wife. In this ugly incident, some 200 of his 300 followers perished, and out of this unpromising union was born St. Cadoc, the Welsh saint, founder of the famous monastery in the present-day Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. It is hardly credible that from so wild and barbarous a background should have come such a gentle prince. Surely it must have been the hand of God that transformed St. Cadoc into a gentle and enlightened man out of such a barbaric background.
St. Cadoc was born in Monmouthshire and was baptised by a certain religious Irish hermit, Meuthi by name, in a well which, according to legend, had sprang up specifically for his baptism and afterwards flowed with wine and milk. Meuthi, who is usually identified with St. Tatheus (Tathyw) of Caerwent, went on to educate St. Cadoc from the age of seven. From this good man St. Cadoc learned the rudiments of Latin, and after pursuing his studies in Ireland, he decided to serve God all his life; he preferred the life of a monk to that of a prince.
Stories are told of how, one day in an impoverished state during a famine, whilst St. Cadoc sat with his books in his cell, a white mouse suddenly ran on to the table from a hole in the wall and put down a grain of corn. St. Cadoc followed it and found, in the cellar beneath him, an old Celtic subterranean granary loaded with grain. It is also said that he once hid himself in a wood to escape an armed swineherd of an enemy tribe. Whilst there a wild boar, white with age, disturbed by his presence, made three fierce bounds in his direction and then disappeared. St. Cadoc marked the spot with three tree branches, and it later became the site of his great church and abbey of Llancarvan, and he became the first abbot. The monastery of Llancarfan he founded in 518 became one of the best-known in Wales, and was also lauded as a great centre of learning. Some early sources say that about 1000 monks lived in the Llancarfan monastery at any one time. The name “Llancarfan” derives from the Welsh language and means “a deer church.” Tradition tells us that two tame deer, harnessed to a carriage, helped St. Cadoc build the monastery. Apart from the church, the monastic buildings and the seminary, the monastery also had its own hospital and was also noted for the tradition of serving the needy.
In adulthood St. Cadoc refused to take charge of his father's army, “preferring to fight for Christ”. After he founded his first monastery at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan, he went to Ireland to study for three years. During his time in Ireland, he visited many Irish monasteries and there are stories of him making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome in, or about, the year 562. Returning to Wales, he studied with Bachan or Pachan, a teacher of rhetoric from Italy. He then travelled to Scotland where he founded a monastery at Cambuslang. Back at Llancarfan, his influence helped to grow into one of the chief monasteries in South Wales.
Later in life St. Cadoc (perhaps together with St. Gildas, a close friend) led a solitary existence on an island off the coast of Brittany, not far from Vannes. It should be mentioned, that a great many Welsh and Cornish saints moved to live in and evangelize Brittany, whilst a considerable number of Britons came to lead the ascetic life in Wales. These two lands were very closely linked spiritually. In Brittany, St. Cadoc was a very active missionary, and he may have founded a chapel and a monastery there.
Among other monasteries possibly founded by St. Cadoc, we can mention the monastery of Brecknock, as well as numerous chapels, churches and monasteries in Dyfed, Cornwall, Brittany and Scotland. This reflects the influence that he and his followers have had on the faith in this area, as well as in other places. It is also said that he constructed a stone monastery in Scotland probably at Kilmadock and was thought to have lived here for seven years. Seven local churches that were built in the area were dedicated to him. It is also said that a monastery of St. Cadoc was situated “below Mount Bannauc” (generally taken to be the hill southwest of Stirling down which the Bannockburn flows)—in the present-day St Ninians near Stirling.
According to evidence from that time, St. Cadoc was famous for his outstanding intellect and so he was called “Cadoc the Wise” by his contemporaries. Later there even appeared collections of his sayings. St. Cadoc is usually depicted with a lance and a crown near his feet, or, sometimes, with a deer, mouse or pig. (All of these animals helped the saint in his life. A mouse during the famine showed the monastery’s brethren an abandoned and very rich granary, and a sow pointed out to the saint the spot where he was to build his monastery).
But the best story is that of his parents’ conversion. St. Cadoc prayed for many years for his father to find Christ and give up his violent ways. It was a happy day when, by the river, they made public profession of their faith and were baptized at the river’s edge. It is recorded that on this glorious occasion father and son together recited the opening verse of Psalm 20: “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble.” Later in life they both lived in religious seclusion as hermits. Both Gundleus and Glwadys were eventually revered as saints in their own right.
In his later years St. Cadoc deliberately cut himself off from the shelter of his own monastery of Llancarvan, and lived among the Saxon settlements to console the native Christians who had survived the massacres of the pagan invaders. At the end of his life, he went to Bannaventa (Weedon) in Calchfynedd on the very edge of Saxon territory. Here he was elected Abbot of a large body of monks. The city was in ruins, but St. Cadoc inspired the inhabitants to set about rebuilding it. In thanks, they created him their first Bishop. It was at Weedon where he met his martyr's death. According to tradition, St. Cadoc was slain by a pagan while celebrating Mass one day. For many years the invaders would not let the British claim his body, but eventually he was transferred to Llancarfan where he now lies buried. St. Cadoc died on January 24, 580.