Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Samson (fl.550)

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SAMSON (fl. 550), British saint, appears to have been the son of Amon of Dyfed and Anna of Gwynedd, parents of noble but not royal rank. Dedicated from his infancy to a clerical career, he was sent to the monastic school of Illtud [see Illtyd or Iltutus] at Llantwit Major, where he made rapid progress, and was in course of time ordained deacon by Dubricius (Dyfrig) [q. v.] His rise was so marked as to attract the jealous notice of Illtud's nephews, who feared he might oust them from the succession; but they plotted against him in vain. Having received priest's orders from Dubricius, he withdrew to the monastery of one ‘Piro’ (possibly on Caldy Island). In the course of a visit to his home he persuaded his father, mother, uncle, aunt, and brothers to take monastic vows. Not long after he became ‘pistor’ or steward of his monastery, and, on the disgrace of Piro, succeeded him as abbot. A visit to Ireland resulted in his receiving the submission of a monastery there; on his return he sent his uncle across the Channel to take charge of the new acquisition. He resolved himself to found a new cell, and, journeying to the banks of the Severn, established there a small community in a ‘castellum’ far from the haunts of men. Discovered by his fellow-countrymen, he was appointed by a synod abbot of the old monastery of Germanus, and there consecrated bishop by Dubricius, with no reference, it would appear, to any special see. Warned by an angel that he was to be ‘peregrinus,’ he crossed the Severn sea, but for some time got no further than the shores of the English Channel, where he founded another monastery. Finally, however, he set sail for Brittany, landing near Dol, where he built the monastery which served as his centre during his Breton ministrations. Iudual (Idwal), the rightful heir of ‘Domnonia,’ having been dispossessed by ‘Conmorus’ (Cynfor?), Samson visited Paris in order to aid him, and, with the aid of Childebert (511–558), restored him to his territory. He died on 28 July, and was buried at Dol.

He was no doubt the ‘Samson peccator episcopus’ who in 557 (or 555) signed the decrees of the council of Paris. Dol, nevertheless, did not become a regular episcopal see until 850, and in Samson's time the place was only a monastery. His archiepiscopate (in the modern sense) is a late fiction; Geoffrey of Monmouth makes him, first, archbishop of York (viii. 12, ix. 8), and then, after his expulsion by the Saxons, of Dol (ix. 15); Giraldus Cambrensis asserts, in defiance of chronology, that he was twenty-fifth bishop of St. David's, whence, at the time of the ‘yellow plague,’ he carried off the pall to Dol (Itin. Cambr. ii. 1; de Jure et Statu Men. Eccl. ii.).

The Welsh hagiologies connect Samson and his father with the princely family of Emyr of Brittany, but their authority must yield to that of the early lives (Myvyrian Archaiology, 2nd edit. pp. 415, 431; Iolo MSS. 107, 111, 132). There are no Welsh dedications to St. Samson, but, according to Borlase (Age of the Saints, p. 140), he is patron of Samson Island in Scilly and the Cornish churches of Golant and South Hill.

[Samson is the subject of several lives, though all appear to be derived from one early and fairly trustworthy legend. The oldest ‘life,’ that printed by Mabillon (from a manuscript of Citeaux) in Acta Sanctorum (i. 165), and reprinted by the Bollandists (28 July, vi. 568), claims to be written by one who had obtained his information from Samson's contemporaries, and is accordingly dated at about 600 (Cymrodor, xi. 127). Another and fuller early ‘life’ is that printed (from MS. Andeg. 719) in Analecta Bollandiana (vi. 77–150); this is regarded by the editor, Plaine, as anterior even to Mabillon's, and is certainly older than the beginning of the tenth century. It was versified at that time at the request of Bishop Lovenan of Dol, and in the twelfth century re-edited by Balderic, another bishop of the same see. Later lives appear in the Liber Landavensis (ed. Evans, pp. 6–24), Bibliotheca Floriacensis (pp. 464–84), and Capgrave's Nova Legenda Angliæ (pp. 266–8). The manuscripts are described in Hardy's Descriptive Catalogue (i. 141–4). See also authorities cited, and Haddan and Stubbs's Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents, i. 158–9, 149, ii. pt. i. pp. 75–6, 92; Rees's Welsh Saints; Dict. Christian Biogr.]

J. E. L.