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Saint Malo was a courageous Celtic Christian during the Dark Ages

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Saints on Wednesday, 31 July 2013

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This edited article about Saints originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 356 published on 9 November 1968.

Saint Malo, picture, image, illustration

Saint Malo escapes from marauding Vikings attacking the Isle of Aleth

In the centuries between the time when the Romans left Britain (A.D. 410) and the Norman Conquest, Christianity flourished vigorously among the Celtic tribes of the North and West. The Welsh, Scots, Irish, Cornish, and even the Bretons of what is now a part of France, had more in common with one another than they had with the Angles, Saxons and Danes, who invaded them at various times, and who at first were without any religion other than worship of the old Norse pagan gods.

Today, the various Celtic languages such as Breton, Welsh and Gaelic have much in common. In the Dark Ages, they were practically the same language. The peoples of the countries where these languages were spoken felt that they all belonged to the same family and kept in close touch with one another. Members of the monasteries in the Celtic countries paid regular visits to one another also, and it was quite common to find Welshmen in Brittany, or Irishmen in Scotland.

It is, therefore, not surprising to learn that a saint commemorated on 15th November spent most of his life in France, although he was born in a Welsh valley and was brought up under the care of an Irish monk! Known officially by his Latin name, Machutus, he is more widely known as Saint Malo. A town on the French coast is called after him because he lived for many years on a little island nearby, called Aleth.

Born in about A.D. 600, Machutus (or Malo) was baptised and educated at a Celtic monastery in the Welsh valley of Llan Carvan. Because there was a risk of even this remote spot being invaded by the Danes, he was sent to Brittany, and there settled on Aleth, being eventually made bishop of the part of the mainland around the modern town of St. Malo.

Even there, he was not left in peace, and, when persecution of the Church broke out, he had to flee for his life to a different part of France, returning to his chosen home only in old age.

According to one account, Saint Malo accompanied another Celtic bishop, Saint Brendan, on an adventurous missionary voyage to the Hebrides and the Orkney Islands, in the course of which they visited the famous monastery of Iona, founded about a century earlier by another Celtic saint, called Columba (A.D. 563).

Saint Malo’s life and travels are vital evidence of the important part Christianity played in the lives of these Celtic people during the Dark Ages. They also show how Christian art and culture were kept alive in times when, in the rest of Britain, Christianity often seemed likely to be blotted out by heathen invaders such as the Norsemen and the Danes.

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