Thursday 31 August 2023

Hidden Hand - Manuel Alfonseca

Hidden Hand
Manuel Alfonseca
ISBN ???

Hidden Hand - Manuel Alfonseca

This is the twentieth volume I have read from the pen of Manuel Alfonseca since early 2017. His works were recommended to me by a friend on Goodreads. The English edition is not currently available, the Spanish edition was first published by Alfaguara in 1991 and was reprinted by Oxford University Press in 2012. It is a pity OUP did not bring out the English edition as well. The author is very active on Goodreads both in the Catholic Book Club and interacting with readers of his works. I have said in previous reviews that there is a certain sense of the works of Jose Saramango and Gabriel García Márquez in Alfonseca’s writings. And this one reminds me most of Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez. Alfonseca does his own translation work, and there is a newer translation of this volume that will hopefully be published someday soon. 

The descriptions of this volume states:

“The search for the loved one is unleashed, for a 17th century knight, from a mysterious apparition in an old castle in ruins. The desire to find an answer and the desire to improve will lead the main character to travel the world on a journey that transcends the geographical and becomes personal.”

About the author we are informed that:

“Manuel Alfonseca (Madrid, 1946) is a writer and professor in a Spanish university (Autónoma de Madrid) where he was director of the Escuela Politécnica Superior (2001-2004). He worked 22 years in IBM. He has published over 200 scientific articles and many papers and posts on popular science, in Spanish and English. He is the author of over 50 books on computer science, popular science, historic novel, science-fiction and young adult literature, published in Spanish, English, French and other languages. He was awarded the Lazarillo Award (1988) and the La Brújula Award (2012). He is the son of the painter and sculptor Manuel Alfonseca (Santana).”

The chapters in this work are:

The Ruins 
My Departure 
Lessons In Military Tactics 
In Action 
Because Of A Nail 
One Year Of Study 
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 
Towards The End Of The World 
The Indian Village 
A Dilemma 
Forest, Mountain, And River 
The End Of The Way

This story is like a classic fairy tale, written as an epic adventure, set as historical fiction. And Alfonseca pulls off that mash up masterfully. It was very hard to put down. And I can freely admit I stayed up way to late on a work night to finish it. 

Our quester is one Emiliano Ruiz and his life is set on this path after a strange occurrence in ruins near his home. Or I should say series of occurrences. It all began with:

“The castle had risen, several centuries ago, on a small hill that gave it a slight natural protection. Today the ruins were scattered over a much wider field, for time and the elements had spread the stones, torn by the war from their place. No doubt, when the castle was inhabited, the forest stopped a hundred paces from its walls, but today the trees and the weeds had regained the lost ground and invaded even the courtyard, which had witnessed the proud parades of the troops of a feudal lord whose name was lost in oblivion.

Only one of the sections of the rampart, the one at the west, remained partly upright. At the top, sharp against the blue, there were two or three battlements, remainders of the defenses of the castle. That was the point where I used to go during my visits. To get there, I had to climb the crumbling walls, but the unconsciousness of my few years ignored the danger. Luckily, nothing ever happened to me.

That day I climbed up to the battlements, preparing myself to play, as usually, at knights errant or moors and Christians, I do not remember what. In any case, I am certain that there was no trace in my thoughts of anything mysterious or beyond the reach of usual experience. Nothing had prepared me for what was going to happen: as soon as I reached the top of the wall, I looked inside the castle and saw her.

It was a girl about my age. She was looking up, straight into my eyes, with an angelic face that captivated me. She stood in what had been the courtyard, in so perfect immobility that, at first, she looked more like a statue than a human being, but one look at those eyes was enough to convince me that she was alive. Her hair, halfway down her back, was black as night. I remember that later, when I recalled the scene, I was surprised that not even one of the strands of her hair was moving with the winter breeze which blew from the forest, but at that time I just could stare at her. It’s funny, I never thought of saying something, even a syllable. Perhaps it was not necessary. A beam of understanding seemed to flow from her eyes to mine: a much more intense and intimate experience than can be expressed in words.”
I hope that sample grabs your interest. This was an amazing read. I wish it were in print so I could share it with friends and family. Once it is back in print I encourage you to pick it up and give it a read. And if you read Spanish maybe give the original version a try. Oh and I loved when we encountered the title of the book, in its pages. I am certain it will entertain.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Manuel Alfonseca in English:
Jacob's Ladder
The Ruby of the Ganges
The Last Dinosaur
Ennia in Faerie
The Heirloom of King Scorpion
Beyond the Black Hole
The Water of Life

The Sleuths of the Spanish Transition Series:
Quetzalcoatl's Zahir

The Mystery of the Haunted House
The Mystery of the Sapphire Bracelet
The Mystery of the Honeymoon
The Mystery of the Egyptian Vulture Country House

Chronicles of the Magic Jigsaw Puzzle Series:
The Journey of Tivo the Dauntless
The Mystery of the Black Lake
The Silver Swan
The Secret of the Ice Field
The Lost Continent

The Chronicles of the Aeolian Family Series:

Human Cultures & Evolution
World Population: Past, Present, & Future
The Fifth Level of Evolution

Hidden Hand - Manuel Alfonseca

Wednesday 30 August 2023

The Mystery of Matt Talbot - Father Morgan Costelloe

The Mystery of Matt Talbot
Father Morgan Costelloe
The Mystery of Matt Talbot - Father Morgan Costelloe

This is one of two volumes written about Matt Talbot by Father Costelloe, who at the time of writing this volume was the Vice-Postulator for the cause of Venerable Matt Talbot, the other is titled Matt Talbot: Hope for Addicts which had 2 editions in 1989 one by Veritas and one by Hyperion Books. This is one of several volumes I have read about Matt Talbot this year, this is the eighth such volume, and I have at least that many I would still like to track down. This is one I received a scanned copy of from the National Library of Ireland, for they will scan out of print volumes for a price. A service I am very grateful for. This volume received the Nigil Obstat and Imprimi Potest. The copy I have does not have a back cover, so I have no description from the dust jacket. The inside front cover has 5 quotes of how others saw Matt, they are:

“He was a pleasant man and would laugh and talk with visitors. He sought to conceal his prayers and fasts.”
Mrs Mary Andrews, his sister.

“He was a pleasant, approachable and kindly man. He had a lovely smile. He seemed completely oblivious of what happened around him when he was praying.”
Sean T. O'Cea llaigh, altar server, later President of Ireland.

“At our first meeting I tried to ascertain whether the Servant of Cod was quite a normal man - free from eccentricities and with commonsense views on religious matters. He made a most favourable impression on me. Th ere was nothing nervy or over-wrought in his manner.”
Raphael O'Callaghan, Company Director and a close friend.

“He carefully avoided all ostentation, especially as regards his penances. He was a good, conscientious workman. I never met anybody like him. He was totally wrapped up in Cod.”
Daniel Manning, fellow worker in the timber yard.

"Before I was married, I used visit him frequently, and I always found him very gentle, good-humoured and ready to enjoy a joke."
Mrs Annie Johnson, his niece.

The sections in this booklet are:

     Irish Monasticism
     Means Towards an End
     Well-tried Faith
     The ‘Hard’ Man
     Change of Life Style
     Hymns from the Top Flat
The Irish Way
     Praising God
     One Full Meal
     Monks at Work
     And So to School
     ‘Green’ Martyrdom
     Pilgrims for Christ
     Queen of Ireland
The Mystery of Matt Talbot
     ‘Old Reliable’
     Lost in Prayer
     The Word of God
     The Good Queen
     A Cluster of Books
     The Thought of Others
     Matt’s Menu
     Unskilled Labourer
     ‘No Time for Money’
     Mission to China
     The Folly of Christ
     ‘A Holy, Old Man.’
     Totus Tuus
     No Half-Measure
     The Irish Dimension

While reading this volume I highlighted numerous passages. Some of them are:

“As the Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Venerable Matt Talbot, I have heard similar remarks in Ireland and abroad. There is an aspect of his spirituality that appears forbidding and mysterious. Where did he get the idea for his fasts, his long night vigils and his awesome asceticism? The answer is that, under the guidance of a spiritual director, he imitated the life of the monks in the early Irish monasteries.”

“This booklet is not another biography of Matt Talbot. It presupposes that the reader has heard his life-story which is well told in Mary Purcell's Matt Talbot and his. Times and Father Edward O'Connor's Spotlight on the Venerable Matt Talbot. The purpose of this booklet is to explain the spiritual programme that led him to close union with God.”

“Many Irish persons today have lost a sense of history. They can name some of the great monasteries like Clonard, Glendalough and Clonmacnois, which became world famous through the visit of Pope John Paul 111979, but they know little about the life of the monks who lived there. They go on pilgrimage to Lough Derg. known as St Patrick's Purgatory, without realising that this penitential exercise has its roots in early Irish spirituality which has always emphasised the need for penance: ' Unless you repent you will all likewise perish' (Lk 13:3).”

“One of the extraordinary events in our history was the widespread interest in the monastic life which manifested itself within a hundred years of the death of St Patrick by the end of the sixth century there were thirty major monastic settlements scattered through the country and we are told of young men and women flocking to consecrate their lives to God. At first a hermit would set up his cell m a secluded spot to communicate with God in private; but the news would spread and others would gather around. him to seek his advice on prayer. Eventually small self-suff1c1ent communities were formed and the hermit's life, in the strict sense, was almost a thing of the past. The spiritual acorn became a mighty oak, some monasteries having as many as four thousand people including overseas students. Glendalough and Clonmacnois became university cities of their day, while remaining. like all the monasteries, places of prayer, solitude and study.”

“Life in the monasteries was summed up by St Columbanus as 'pray daily, fast daily, study daily, work daily' (Opera p.24). The great monks, who were proposed as models, were those who persevered in strict obedience to their Abbot, over forty or fifty years.”

“They held that if they could reduce its need for food, sleep and comfort to a minimum they would produce maximum response to God's inspiration for prayer and charity.”

“Asceticism was the order of the day in monastic I re land. It was so strict that scholars look to the Eastern Church to find anything like it Innumerable prostrations and genuflections during prayer were common.”

“This spiritual father was given the beautiful Irish title of 'anamchara', which translated into English, means ' soul-friend'. He was both confessor and advisor, who constantly reminded the monk that austerity was not an end in itself, only a means towards closer union with God. The need for an individual spiritual director was considered so important that novices were told that a monk without one was 'like a body without a head'.”

“There was nothing easy about life in these (Irish monastic) communities. Their ways of ascetic piety would be regarded by most men of the twentieth century as quite insane'. He goes on: 'All the monks submitted to a penitential regime, which seems astounding to our easy-going ways. The ideal of penance was what these men set out to find in cells lost in the midst of woods or in the most desolate countryside. The finest examples of a well-tried faith we reforged here' (Introduction to Ireland: Isle of Saints by G & B Cerebeland-Salagnance).”

“It was an unlikely beginning of a deep intimacy between him and his Saviour that would bridge the next forty years. To strengthen his resolution further, he decided to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion every day before work It was a revolutionary ideal In Ireland of the 1880's a good-living layman went to the altar just twice a year, at Easter and at Christmas. A nun or a Brother with religious vows went only on Sundays.”

“To fill in his time after hours and to satisfy his increasing interest in religious matters, he joined the Third Order of St Francis attached to the Franciscan Church, Merchant's Quay. He continued to go to Mass and Holy Communion every morning in the Jesuit church, Gardiner Street near his home and became a member of its Workingmen's Sociality dedicated 'to Our Lady Immaculate.”

“Although illiterate when he left school, he gradually learned to read and write. Matt became friendly with another priest, Dr. Michael Hickey, later Monsignor, of Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, who played a major role in his spiritual formation. An enlightened confessor and scholar, he became Matt's director, a true 'anamchara' guiding him in the way of Irish spirituality.”

“When we consider the principal elements in the life of the early Irish monk, it is easy to see how they were parallelled in the life of this Dublin workman. These were: prayer, fasts, mortifications, work, study, devotion to Our Lady and missionary drive. Let us consider each in turn.”

“The monk was a 'miles Christi', a soldier of Christ, who set out to conquer self in order to draw closer to God. It was a kind of martyrdom, as the monks acknowledged. Few Irish monks suffered red martyrdom -shedding their blood for the sake of the Gospel- although St Killian and his companions did when they travelled to Wurtzburg in Germany. But all the Irish monks were expected to achieve what was called 'white' martyrdom•- ·the renunciation of everything one loved, living in complete poverty of spirit. There was a higher stage on the way to perfection, however, for monks who performed additional penance by fasting and labour and sought the profoundest humility. The monks described this as 'green' martyrdom.”

“He continued to attend Mass and to receive Holy Communion at5 o'clock Mass every morning in Gardiner Street Church. But when the time of this first Mass was changed to 6.15 Matt discovered that he was unable to return home for his breakfast and get to work in time, so he changed his job.”

“Even during the Easter Rising of 1916 he made his way through military barricades to attend Mass. Sunday was D-day. He went to first Mass and
stayed in the church until the last Mass concluded with Benediction. Since he was obliged to fast from midnight in order to receive Holy communion, he did not have his breakfast until after 1.30 p.m. Occasionally he moved from one church to another on Sundays, depending on where his various Sodalities met He might slip away from the Jesuit Church, Gardiner Street to the Franciscan Church, Merchant's Quay or to the Dominican Church, Dominick Street.”

“He made himself as inconspicuous as possible, a small, poor man. He never used a prayer book but prayed with his eyes shut He knelt erect in the bench, hour after hour, with his hands joined in front of him. He did not allow them to rest on the seat in front of him and so remained upright without support He did not stand for the gospel, a habit he learned from a saint to retain recollection. To the members of the Franciscan Church choir, who saw him from the gallery huddled in deep prayer, he was affectionately known as the ' old reliable'.”

“His visits to a church were not limited to Mass time. He paid a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on his way to work, 'to see the Lord on the way down', as he said, and again after work 'to see the Lord on the way home'. Remembering that as a rule he returned to a church after his evening meal for a Sodality meeting. he saw a lot of the Lord.”

“His little room at 18 Upper Rutland Street had the bare necessities of a monastic cell. He had an iron bedstead, a chair, a table, a crucifix and a few holy pictures. His bed covering was a sheet and a half blanket, supplemented by an old sack during the cold winter nights.”

“He recited fifteen decades of the Rosary and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin every day. He made Novenas for her feast days. He turned to her for guidance when a girl proposed marriage. There were five books about Our Lady found in his library and as we will see, it was through his devotion to her that his secret life of prayer, charity and penance was revealed to the world.”

“His spiritual books provided food for prayer, meditation and a deeper understanding of the Faith, but they provided a formidable challenge for a man, who could neither read nor write when he left school. He had painstakingly overcome these handicaps as an adult, but he explained that he read books very slowly, and prayed to the Holy Spirit {or enlightenment.”

“But there were not many ordinary days. Even in the early years of his conversion, be observed a ' black fast' during Lent and again during June in honour of the Sacred Heart. He had a ' black fast' during · Advent to prepare for Christmas and another after Easter in preparation for Pentecost Every Saturday he fasted on dry bread and black tea in honour of Our Lady.”

“He was agreeable and cheerful with the other workmen. He was more silent and recollected than they were but they liked him and respected him.”

“He lived his life of asceticism for almost forty years, largely unnoticed by his workmates and neighbours. On reflection, he struck them as the perfect example of self-abasement - poor, clean and shabbily dressed, but always alert to the needs of others. Towards the end of his life he seemed to live in the presence of God.”

“He concealed his life of asceticism and settled into the _routine of patients, receiving Holy Communion just once a week and eating the ordinary hospital meals. Sister Mary Dolores, who looked after him during that time, was amazed when she discovered, years later, that she had nursed the Servant of God.' Matt Talbot never showed by his conduct' she said later at the sworn inquiry of the Ordinary Process, 'that he was anything more than a sweet-natured, holy, old

“In the sections 236 to 242 of the book St Louis Marie points out the difference between a child of Mary and a slave of Mary: a child has rights, a slave has surrendered all. It is summarised in the motto of Pope John Paul 11: Totus Tuus ‘Totally yours’. A Christian who considers himself a 'slave of Mary' will live very close to his mistress and therefore, very close to her Son.”

This was an absolutely fascinating read. It was as much a history of Irish monasticism, Irish spirituality, and history as the story of Matt. And being written by the then postulator it was intriguing to see what he focused on compared to other biographies of this saintly man that I have read.  

This book is an excellent resource and I believe a few different editions were published; I have seen at least three covers for this volume. It is an amazing read, and I can easily recommend it. Matt is a man whose witness we need today even more than in his time. My own brother overdosed at the beginning of the pandemic. I wish I had discovered Matt and his story years ago to share with my brother. The number of people addicted to alcohol, weed, opioids and other drugs are constantly on the rise. I wish this volume was back in print and available as an eBook, there are dozens of people I would recommend it to. It is well worth tracking down and giving a read. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan

For all reviews of books about Matt Talbot Click here.

Books about Matt Talbot:
Matt Talbot and His Times - Mary Purcell
Matt Talbot: His Struggle, His Victory over Alcoholism - Susan Helen Wallace 
Matt Talbot - Xavier Carty 
Spotlight on Matt Talbot  - Edward O'Connor, S.J.
Matt Talbot - Simon O'Brynne 
The quest for Matt Talbot - Philip Rooney 
We knew Matt Talbot - Albert H Dolan
Matt Talbot - James F. Cassidy. 
An address to Pope John Paul II from the Parish of Matt Talbot, The Worker. 
Matt Talbot : the Irish worker's glory - James Francis Cassidy 
Matt Talbot - Albon White 
The Story of Matt Talbot - Malachy Gerard Carroll

The Mystery of Matt Talbot - Father Morgan Costelloe

The Mystery of Matt Talbot - Father Morgan Costelloe

The Mystery of Matt Talbot - Father Morgan Costelloe

Tuesday 29 August 2023

In Service of Death - J.D. Kirk - DCI Logan Book 17

In Service of Death
DCI Logan Book 17
ISBN 9781912767717

This was another volume from Kirk that I eagerly anticipated. From its announcement until the day it dropped. I picked it up the day after it released. Last year I discovered the writings of J.D. Kirk. I read about a book a week after reading my first DCI Logan novel. And this marks the 23rd under the Kirk name and almost 20 under the names Barry Hutchison and Barry J, Hutchison. So this is the 40th volume from this author in the last year that I have read. I have now read the first 17 in the DCI Logan series and all 4 in the Robert Hoon series, The first in the DI Heather Filson series as well as stand alone VIP exclusive short story. I picked the first for a few reasons, but mainly because authors Alex Smith and JE Mayhew have both recommended the author and series. I am a big fan of Smith’s DCI Kett novels and Mayhew’s DCI Will Blake Series. I have been hooked since that first read. I had no idea how addictive Kirk’s books would be or that like Mayhew and Smith, Kirk publishes under three different names. Kirk publishes children books as Barry Hutchison, and other adult fiction as Barry J. Hutchison. He has published over 200 books across the three pen names. If I had known that or I might not have picked up this first one. Friends call me a ‘completionist’ in that when I find an author I like, I try to read everything they have published. Being caught up now on his works as J.D. Kirk I will have to wait for each new one to come out, and this volume was well worth the weight. But back to this volume.

The description of this novel is:

“It all started harmlessly enough. An egged window. A deflated car tyre. A few garden gnomes knocked over. But then, the silent calls began - late nights and early mornings, to landlines, and mobiles, and to numbers that no one should have access to.

At their wits' end, three former British Army soldiers, now living in the Highlands of Scotland, have no choice but to turn to the police for help.

And that is when the killing starts.

Brought in to lead the case, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Logan finds himself locked in a battle of wits with a meticulously organised murderer.

A murderer who has been planning all this for a very long time...”

This story starts with a single murder on Detective Constable Tyler Neish first day back with the team after paternity leave. But like many of the team’s cases something about this one seems off. Three men have all been harassed for over a year now. Prank phone calls, property damage, and more. But now one of their wives have been murdered. At first the team has some suspicions, but though the men have something to hide it is not what they expected. As the investigation proceeds Logan takes a beating, a team member is captured. And soon Sinead and Hoon have joined the team to put extra boots on the ground. 

This is a police procedural that gets in the dirt and grime. Both of the case, and while on this case, history of the war in Bosnia. Sometimes crimes long thought forgotten come back to haunt you even twenty years later. 

I am beginning to feel like Tyler is the red shirt in the Kirk novels. If something can so sideways and it often does, it seem to happen to him more often than not. And this time might be the worst.

I stayed up way to late finishing this story. I just could not put it down. And when I had to it was constantly on my mind. This is another excellent read in a great series. I love the three series written under the pen name J.D. Kirk are definitely Scottish Mysteries, and I can see the comparisons with Smith’s and Mayhew’s works, as well as several other more mainstream names. Each time I finish a book by Kirk it takes willpower not to just pick up the next one and keep going, no matter what name they were published under. I have now read all the books published buy this author under this name, and I am looking forward to that new series that has been teased. I love that the stories are set in Scotland! This book and series would be great reads for fans of Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, or Temperance Brennan. I state it again this is a great read in an excellent series!  One of the best in the series! It will leave you desperate for the next one, A Dead Man Walking.     

Books by J.D. Kirk:

DCI Logan Series:
A Killer of Influence

Robert Hoon Thrillers:

DI Heather Filson Series:

Contributed to:
Everyday Kindness: A Collection of Uplifting Tales to Brighten Your Day

Books as Barry J. Hutchison:
Dan Deadman Space Detective Series:

Space Team Series:
The Search for Splurt 
Song of the Space Siren 
The Guns of Nana Joan 
Return of the Dead Guy 
Planet of the Japes 
The Time Titan of Tomorrow 
The King of Space Must Die 
Sting of the Mustard Mines 
Sentienced to Death
The Hunt for Reduk Topa
A Lot of Weird Space Shizz: Collected Short Stories

Sidekicks Initiative Series:

The Bug Books Series:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Complete Season One

Other Books:

Children’s books as Barry Hutchison:
Invisible Fiends Series:
The Crowmaster 
Doc Mortis 
The Beast 
The Darkest Corners 

The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse
The Book of Doom 

Benjamin Blank Series:

Beaky Malone Series:

Generator Rex Series:

Living Ted Series:
Revenge of the Living Ted
Invasion of the Living Ted

Spectre Collectors Series:
Too Ghoul for School
A New York Nightmare!

Other works:

Monday 28 August 2023

Dewi Sant Saint David - E. G Bowan

Dewi Sant: Saint David
E. G Bowan
ISBN 0708308392
ISBN 9780708308394

This is one of a number of books I have read about Saint David of Wales, or Dewi Sant. Most of the books I was able to find were for young readers. This is one of three written for adults I have tracked down, the other I have read was the first book I ever read about Saint David of Wales, read Dewi Sant: St David Patron of Wales, by J.B. Midgley. This is also the second volume that I have read that was a parallel edition of Welsh and English on facing pages. There is another volume by Bowan I am trying to track down called In Pursuit of Saint David.

My my son found out this past fall that the patron saint of his school, Saint David’s in Waterloo, Ontario Is Saint David of Wales. This one was harder to track down and as such is the seventh volume about David I have read, six of them this year to.

Description on the back of the book:

“A new assessment of Dewi Sant— the sixth-century Celtic Saint and Patron Saint of Wales. Drawing on recent advances in Celtic scholarship and other studies involving disciplines as varied as folklore and archaeology, history and historical-geography, Professor E. G. Bowen here skilfully separates fact from fiction,  myth and legend. He describes Dewi's battles against paganism and confrontations with Irish settlers, and traces his emergence as a great national leader in Church and ‘State’ alike, both in his own lifetime and throughout subsequent centuries.”

The chapters in this volume are:

I Homeland
II Pastures New
III The Synod of Brefi
IV Gloria Postuma
V Patron Saint

This was by far the most academic of the works I have read about Saint David to date. But it was also a work of faith. I was particularly drawn to the different pilgrimage routes. I highlighted numerous passages while reading this volume. Some of them are:

“There have been many books and articles about Dewi Sant, especially in modern times, and we know today very much more about his life and times than our parents did. This is due to the fact that there has been a considerable increase in our Knowledge of many subjects that throw light particularly on the period of history which the older historians called the Dark Ages — the period in which St. David lived.”

“It is therefore appropriate that this booklet in the St. David's Day series initiated by the University of Wales Press should now present the story of our National Saint from a modern point of view, making the fullest use of interdisciplinary studies.”

“This book is about Dewi Sant (St. David), a famous Celtic Saint and the Patron Saint of Wales who lived in the sixth century. We feel, however, that in spite of his eminence and the wealth of tradition concerning him which is grounded in a rich antiquity, it is difficult to write a satisfactory biographical account of him as has been done for so many other distinguished Welshmen throughout the ages in this series. This is particularly unfortunate as Dewi Sant is in many ways the patron of this series of booklets published in his honour every St. David’s Day.”

“There are other early (pre-Rhigyfarch) references to Dewi in both England and Wales. In England, the cult of Dewi appears in Wessex as early, at least, as the eleventh century and possibly before this. His name is recorded in the English Calendars of this region at this time, usually in the Welsh form of his name — Dewi.”

“All early references to the Saint are important in showing that he was, indeed, a very real person before Rhigyfarch wrote, but they are now eclipsed in importance by what is almost certainly an important contemporary reference.”

“This is fully two hundred years or more earlier than the date now assigned to the Catalogue of the Saints of Ireland which was previously thought to contain the earliest reference to St. David, and it cannot be more than a few decades later than the death of the Saint himself, or possibly, even contemporary with his old age. The fact that we have his name inscribed in this way on a near contemporary stone memorial at Llanddewibrefi is, indeed, of the greatest significance.”

“The first of them points clearly to the fact that David's homeland and early education are associated with mid-Ceredigion. His father Sant is said to have been King of Ceredigion, son of Cedig, son of Ceredig, son of Cunedda. Divine power sent Sant to Non (a nun) who became the mother of the Saint. Afterwards, the father seems to have withdrawn from his Kingdom to take up the eremetical life. The most important point in the pedigree in its later stages shows that David would be a great-great grandson of Cunedda, the famous Celtic hero. David was educated at Vetus Rubus, the Welsh Henfynyw — the Old Mynyw, the name given to his monastery in later times to distinguish it from the New Mynyw, Menevia, which is St. David's. The little Celtic Monastery at Henfynyw had an excellent reputation as a place of sound education and learning under the care of a distinguished Bishop named Guistilianus. It seemed that David was sent from Henfynyw for a further period of preparation, or retreat, to St. Paulinus in a monastery located in what was later known as northern Carmarthenshire.”

“It was the coming of new ideas by sea from the homelands of Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean and their fusion with what remained of Christianity from Roman times in these far western margins of the Empire that, ultimately, brought into being the Celtic Christianity which surrounded St. David in his day. It is now thought that the sequence of events was as follows. Monastic life as developed at Henfynyw was certainly not a feature of the earliest Christianity in Britain, found during the period of the Roman occupation. However, during recent decades a new generation of historians and archaeologists has been attracted to the study of Early Christianity in Britain and it is safe to say that we know twice as much about this subject as we did before the Second World War. The conclusions of these workers (particularly those of Professor Charles Thomas) have given us a clearer understanding of the sequence of events relative to Early Christianity in the Celtic lands and to Celtic monasticism in particular.”

“All our evidence, therefore, points to the fact that there was organised Christianity in western Britain during the Roman occupation.”

“While Christianity was in difficulties in south-eastern Britain after the Roman withdrawal, we find evidence today that Church organisation was by the late fifth and early sixth centuries a regular feature of the west, inheriting from the Continental Church, and the British Church in Roman times, its ritual, liturgy and diocesan organisation. It was into this situation in the north and west that organised monasticism entered, to which David was so deeply committed, and whose origins must now be examined.”

“If this pottery could travel to the monasteries around the shores of south-western Britain (where many pieces have been recorded) so, too, could pilgrims, books, and ideas; so that there can be no longer any doubt that it was along these western sea-routes that full monastic life arrived on our western shores. The pattern spread rapidly from our Western Approaches to such sites as Llanilltud Fawr, Nantcarfan, Llandaf, Caldey, Glastonbury, Tintagel, St. David's, Llanbadarn Fawr, Tywyn, and other places in West Wales between AD 470 and 670 and it is to this movement that even small monastic cells like Henfynyw belong. In the heart of this movement we find St. David.”

“The all-important matter is that St. David and his colleagues were ‘campaigning’ here in south-western Dyfed. The word ‘campaigning’ is used advisedly in this context, for the Saints from Henfynyw were not only fighting a battle for Christianity against the paganism in their midst, but were campaigning also against a real physical enemy — the Irish settlers who had taken possession of the land. Archaeologists and historians have clearly established the fact that an extensive area in south-western Dyfed reaching from south of Aberaeron, on the coast, inland to include the lower Teifi valley and western Carmarthenshire, and most of north Pembrokeshire, was settled by Irish invaders in the fifth and sixth centuries.”

“It is not only the place-name evidence that indicates the Irish immigration into south-west Wales: in the same area archaeologists have recorded a large number of Early Christian inscribed stones, usually with bilingual inscriptions in Latin and in ogham characters. The ogham indicates the use of the Old Irish language on these tombstones.”

“It is clear, therefore, that in the days of St. David the lands around the southern Irish Sea Basin formed a Celtic Christian thalasocracy whose centre was unquestionably at St. David's. This accounts for its outstanding importance and that of its founder. We recall that after describing David's triumph over Baia and his wife, Rhigyfarch proceeds to depict the party establishing a large monastery on the new site.”

“Emphasis is placed on hard manual labour and on the austerities of the monastic life. The latter have distinct Egyptian undertones following from an adaptation to western conditions. David himself, together with his monks, practised severe privations, entering the river even in the depth of winter and standing there for long periods in the cold water. There was austerity also regarding food and drink. The monastery at St. David's supported itself— all sharing a simple fare with meals of bread, herbs and water varied only a little for those of advanced age or in poor health, when fish or other light food would be provided.”

“The description of day-to-day life makes little mention of book knowledge and book learning and nothing at all of lettering or artistic work, which characterised the great Irish monasteries across the water and his own father's monastery at Llanbadarn as well. All we are told is that “when outside labour was finished the monks returned to their cells and spent their time in reading or writing or praying'. Such was the concentration on work and worship that, at all times, no conversation beyond what was absolutely necessary was permitted. The lack of emphasis on book knowledge at St. David's in David's time stands out in marked contrast to the great learning of the Scriptures and the Classics associated with St. Illtud or St. Cadoc at their monasteries in south-eastern Wales at this time.”

“Above all else, David seems to be in contact with people outside the monastery. The monks of St. David's certainly did not forget the Christian virtues of helping the poor, the needy and the bereft. We are told that it was one of their daily functions to feed the orphans, widows, the weak and the needy, ‘and all pilgrims on their travels’. All such gathered daily beneath the monastic walls. Apart from the picture of St. David on a preaching crusade at home or overseas, these Celtic Christians also strongly believed that the good name of their leader Dewi Sant should be heard abroad, so that, in addition to the lowly and the dispossessed, ‘the Kings and Princes of this world would be encouraged to abandon their kingdoms for the monastic life as did Constantine, King of the Cornishmen’.”

“This became known as Semi- Pelagianism. This development is important as southern France was a springboard for the spread of Christian ideas first through Gaul and then on to Britain. This happened to Semi-Pelagianism and it took deep root here — so deep, in fact, that St. Germanus of Auxerre had occasion to visit Britain on two occasions (AD 429 and 447) to attempt, at the request of the Pope, to exterminate these heretical views. These visits are said to have been entirely successful, as mentioned by Rhigyfarch in this chapter.”

“The relics of Celtic Saints, in particular, proved to be objects of the greatest veneration, and it was fervently believed that the Saint, even after death, could work miracles from his tomb or the shrine where his bones were said to rest. In this way it is clear that a Saint's cult is centred at his tomb. It is for this reason that St. David's became a great centre of pilgrimage in medieval times.”

“With St. David's own background in mind we must not forget that with all these little landing places and small harbours, the St. David's peninsula jutting out westward was, above all, on the high road to Ireland, which was only some 47 miles away. Irish seamen and merchants as well as pilgrims were often to be found in the neighbourhood. St. David himself, as we have already seen, had very close associations with south-eastern Ireland, while on the other hand we hear of many Irish Saints who came over to St. David's and stayed under his tuition for long periods. One important Irish Saint — St. Finnian of Clonard — is said to have spent three years with David.”

“On the basis of circumstantial evidence and small sections of roads and trackways traditionally known as ‘pilgrim ways’ we can attempt a general reconstruction. It would appear that there were three major approach roads used by pilgrims to St. David’s from South and Mid-Wales. There was, first of all, the West Wales coast road and, secondly, a road that followed the edge of the South Wales Coastal Plain, and lastly a number of old roads and trackways lying between them.”

“The South Wales coastal route is even more clearly defined, following for much of its course older Roman roadways.”

“In the early twelfth century his supporters in high places succeeded in obtaining official recognition of his cult in Rome, and he was canonised during the pontificate of Pope Calixtus II between the years 1119-24. David was the only Celtic Saint ever to be honoured in this way, and at the same time the Pope ordained that two pilgrimages to St. David's would equal one to Rome and that three visits would be equivalent to one to Jerusalem itself. This great distinction increased the prestige and status of St. David still further and pilgrimages to his shrine increased in number and importance accordingly.”

“In this context Dewi emerges as a typical figure of the British Heroic Age, like King Arthur, fighting the Anglo-Saxons and assuring his men of the ultimate victory of their arms. It was this image of Dewi that did much in later years to ensure his emergence as Patron Saint and national leader of both South and North Wales.”

I hope those samples from my highlights give you a feel for the value and worth of this volume. I am very thankful I was able to track down a copy of this volume. It was well worth the effort and it is an excellent read. Saint David of Wales is a fascinating character, and historical figure. There is much in his life worth emulating. And this volume will challenge readers with a deeper understanding of David, his place in history, and of a Celtic spirituality we could benefit from today. An excellent resource, one I can easily recommend.