Pembrokeshire is blessed with a number of early saints such as St David, St Teilo, St Justinian, St Ishmael St Brynach and St Caradog and along with them come many colourful myths and legends:
St Davids Cathedral.
Christianity had been introduced into Wales during the late Roman period but was not widely practised until the 5th and 6th centuries. This became known as the ‘Age of the Saints’ when the country was evangelised by missionary monks from Ireland and the Continent.
Two pilgrimages to St Davids equalled one to Rome
The history of this period is fragmented, but the most important early Christian centre was St Davids. David was born around 530 AD at St Nons during a storm, when a spring – today’s holy well – sprung from the rocks. David’s family were of noble stock and after his education he set up his monastery at St Davids in circa 550 AD.
His monastic rule could be seen as being a little harsh: ‘He that does not work, neither shall he eat’ and monastic penance involved monks immersed in cold water up to their necks. David’s monastery had a strong following by the time of his death in 589, but when Pope Callistus II canonised David circa 1120 (decreeing that two pilgrimages to St Davids equalled one to Rome), the shrine of St David remained an important centre of pilgrimage throughout the medieval period.
In South Pembrokeshire, the areas of Caldey and Penally were important centres of early Christianity and almost contemporary with St Davids. Abbot Pyro set up a monastery at Caldey but was then succeeded as abbot by St Samson circa 550-2, while Penally was the site of a Celtic monastery and the birthplace of St Teilo in the 6th Century.
Many church dedications across the National Park are of early saints associated with David’s monastery. Elvis, Govan, Brynach and Madog were all sixth century saints of Irish descent, while Justinian and Ishmael were of Breton noble birth, converted to Christianity. Issell, along with his father Teilo, seemed to be native converts. The last of the Celtic saints was Caradog (c.1124), whose bones are said to rest in St Davids Cathedral.