Orthodox America

  Two Celtic Saints:  St. Nectan and St. Samsom

Although many of us are descendents of the early inhabitants of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, we know very little about the saints who lived in the land of our ancestors.  In the history of the British Isles, the sixth century was especially rich in the number of saints who labored in the Christian life.  Some of them even travelled long distances and returned to tell of monks who lived in deserts and caves, and of others who bore the yoke of obedience in large monasteries.  These accounts inspired many of their fellow-countrymen - both men and women - to follow the path of the Egyptian and Gallic saints, and separate themselves from the ways of the world.  Below are the lives of two saints of Wales in which we see fine examples of the fervent spirit and the enrgetic and fruitful activity in the service of Christ, for which Celtic saints are justly praised.


Commemorated June 17

 Saint Nectan was the first-born of the children of the pious King Brychan of Brecknock.  He had a very large family and all the children dedicated themselves to God:  some lived as recluses, still others founded monasteries and churches.  Saint Nectan heard of the great hermit of the Egyptian desert, St. Anthony, and was inspried to imitate his way of life.

With faith in God, St. Nectan set sail, intending to settle wherever his boat should come to rest.  Given a good wind and a safe passage, he arrived on the north coast of Devon at Hartland.  There St. Nectan settled and lived in solitude for many years.

It happened that St. Nectan found a stray sow.  He returned it to its rightful owner who in gratitude sent a gift of two cows to the Saint.  The Saint was a strict faster, but he appreciated the intention of the giver.  After a while the cows were stolen by two robbers and when St. Nectan went in search of his beasts, he also fell into the hands of the wicked men.  In spite of the danger, the old hermit began to boldly preach the Gospel to his pagan captors, who, losing their patience with him, struck off his head.  Immediately a miracle occurred for the Saint picked up his head and carried it to the nearby fountain and there laid it down.  At this amazing sight he who had struck the blow went out of his mind and the other, seeing this, followed St. Nectan and reverently buried him at his dwelling.  “Surely it was the effect of God’s mercy that he who had been the author of the crime should become the first herald, witness and preacher of the martyrdom.”  From that day henceforth many miracles occurred at the place where the holy relics of St. Nectan reposed.  And each year all his saintly brothers and sisters would have a reunion at St. Nectan’s hermitage at Hartland. 


Commemorated July 28 

St. Samson was born in South Wales c. 480 of noble parents who dedicated their son to God, entrusting him at the age of five to the care of St. Illtyd who foretold the future greatness of the Saint.  He lived with his tutor in the monastery of Llantwit Major where he remained for many years during which time he was ordained deacon by St. Dyfrig, the “Father of Welsh Monastcism” (d. 545), and later received the grace of priesthood.  Eventually he retired to the island monastery of Piro to lead a stricter life.

Receiving news that his father, Amon, was ill, the saint went to visit him and encouraged him to embrace the monastic life.  Amon’s family supported this development and so all his family, with the exception of one daughter, became monks and nuns.  Miraculously Amon completely recovered from his illness upon receiving the tonsure.  This miracle caused Samson’s uncle, Umbraphel and his wife Afrelia and their three sons also to enter monasticism.  Thus all of St. Samson’s relatives devoted their time and wealth to the founding of monasteries and the building of churches.

On returning to his monastery, St. Samson was elected Abbot.  He raised the spiritual standard of the monastery, wisely guiding the monks and himself setting a good example of humility and self-discipline.  About this time some Irish pilgrims happened to visit the monastery and so impressed the saint that he decided to travel with them to their native land, and so he stayed some time at Dun Etair near Dublin.  Having returned to Wales, he was overjoyed to hear of the progress which his father and his uncle had made in the spiritual life.  As soon as Umbraphel was ordained a priest, St. Samson sent him to rule a monastery in Ireland which had come under his authority.

Already St. Samson’s fame as a wonderworker had attracted so much attention that, together with his father and two other monks, he retired to a remote hermitage in the Severn Valley.  He established his three companions in a deserted fortified place and then withdrew to a nearby cave.  There he spent his time in contemplation and prayer.

At Llanwit it was the custom to ordain bishops on the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair.  As this feast approached, the aged Bishop St. Dyfrig had a dream in which he was ordered to raise St. Samson to the episcopate.  Simultaneously the Saint was visited by an angel in a dream and told that he was soon to be made bishop.  And so it happened.

On a certain Pascha night after the services, St. Samson was praying alone in the monastery church when an angel appeared with instructions that he should no longer remain in South Wales but travel to Brittany.  The Saint obeyed but not without first visiting his mother and aunt (both were then nuns) and consecrating churches which they had built.  Eventually St. Samson arrived in Brittany.  There he established large monasteries at Dol and at Pental.  The Saint visited King Childebert in Paris who nominated him as Bishop of Dol.  There he spent the remaining years of his life.  The Saint is also known to have been present at the Council of Paris in 560.  He died in old age in 565.

 (Drawn from Saints of the British Isles, by A Bond and N. Mabin)