Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Gildas, monk of Bangor
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Gildas, monk of Bangor
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Gildas (Gildasius, Gildus, Gillas), commemorated Jan. 29. In medieval Lives Gildas appears in a well-defined individuality, but a more critical view detects so many anachronisms and historical defects that it has been questioned, first, whether he ever lived, and secondly, whether there were more Gildases than one. Though he is mentioned by name, and his writings quoted from by Bede, Alcuin, William of Newburgh, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Giraldus Cambrensis, there is no memoir of him written within several centuries of his supposed date, and the two oldest, on which the others are based, are ordinary specimens of the unhistorical tone of mind of the 11th and 12th cents. To surmount the chronological and historical difficulties, Ussher, Ware, Bale, Pitseus, Golgan, and O'Conor have imagined at least two of the name, perhaps even four or six, about the 5th and 6th cents. These have received distinguishing designations, and thus have obtained a recognized position in history. But the more probable and more generally received opinion is that there is but one Gildas, who could not have lived earlier than about the end of the 5th cent. or later than that of the 6th. The oldest authority is Vita Gildae, auctore monacho Ruyensi anonymo, ed. by the Bollandists (Acts SS. Jan. 29, iii. 573 seq.), and attributed to the 11th cent. or earlier. The other was written by Caradoc of Llancarvan in the 12th cent. (Engl. Hist. Soc. 1838). (For pub. and MS. Lives see Hardy's Descript. Cat. i. pt. i. 151–156, pt. ii. 799.) With what seems more or less a common groundwork of fact, these Lives have much that is irreconcilable. "Nor need this seem so very strange," says O'Hanlon (Irish Saints, i. 473–474) "when both accounts had been drawn up several centuries after the lifetime of Gildas, and when they had been written in different centuries and in separate countries. The diversities of chronological events, and of persons hardly contemporaneous, will only enable us to infer that the sources of information were occasionally doubtful, while the various coincidences of narrative seem to warrant a conclusion that both tracts were intended to chronicle the life of one and the same person. It deserves remark, however, that" (quoting from Mon. Hist. Brit. i. pt. i. 59, n.) "both are said to have been born in Scotland. One was the son of Nau, the other of Cau: the eldest son [? brother] of one was Huel, of the other Cuil. Both lives have stories of a bell, both Gildases go to Ireland, both go to Rome, and both build churches. The monk of Ruys quotes several passages from Gildas's de Excidio, and assigns it to him: and Caradoc calls him 'Historiographus Britonum,' and say that he wrote Historiae de Regibus Britonum." Bp. Nicolson (Eng. Hist. Libr. 32, 3rd ed.) concludes that Gildas "was monk of Bangor about the middle of the 6th cent.; a sorrowful spectator of the miseries and almost utter ruin of his countrymen by a people under whose banner they had hoped for peace." Those who believe there was only one Gildas do not entirely agree as to his dates, one for his birth being sought between a.d. 484 and 520, and one for his death between a.d. 565 and 602. In his de Excidio Britanniae he says he was born in the year of "obsessionis Badonici montis" (c. 26). The Annales Cambriae place the "bellum Badonis" in 516, and the Annales Tigernachi Gildas's death in 570: these dues are probably nearest the truth. By
those who suppose there were two or more bearing the same name, "Albanius" is placed in the 5th cent. (425–512, Ussher), and "Badonicus" in the 6th (520–570, Ussher).
The writing ascribed to Gildas was long regarded as one treatise, de Excidio Britanniae; but is now usually divided into the Historia Gildae and Epistola Gildae. The former is a bare recital of the events of British history under the Romans, and between their withdrawal and his own time; the latter a querulous, confused, and lengthy series of bitter invectives in the form of a declamatory epistle addressed to the Britons, and relating specially to five kings, "reges sed tyrannos," named Constantinus, Aurelius, Conan, Vortiporus, Cuneglasus and Maglocunus. Many, though probably without quite sufficient reason, regard the latter as the work of a later writer, and as intended in the ecclesiastical differences of the 7th and 8th cents. for purely polemical purposes, while others would place it even later still. See useful notes on both sides in Notes and Queries, 4th ser. i. 171, 271, 511, and on the side of genuineness and authenticity, Hist. lit. de la France, t. iii. 280 seq. Bolland. Acta SS. Jan. 29, iii. 566–582; Colgan, Acta SS. 176–203, 226–228; Lanigan, Eccl. Hist. Ir. i. c. 9; Ussher, Brit. Eccl. Ant. cc. 13–17, and Ind. Chron.; Wright, Biog. Brit. Lit. Ang.-Sax. per. 115–135. See Haddon and Stubbs, Councils, etc. vol. i. pp. 44–107; Th. Mommsen (Mon. Ger.); Dict. of Nat. Biog. vol. xxi. An Eng. trans. of Gildas's work is in Bohn's Lib. (O. E. Chronicles).
- Skene (Four Anc. Books of Wales, i. 63, 64) regards them as contemporary rulers, living, one in Devon and Cornwall, two in Wales, and two probably in the N. of Ireland.