"Saints are persons believed to be connected in a special manner with what is viewed as sacred reality - gods, spiritual powers, mythical realms and other aspects of the sacred and holy." Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Edition, 1977
The significance of saints is generally based upon real or alleged deeds and qualities that become apparent during their lifetimes, for example the power to perform miracles. Miracles are also often associated with the saints after their death.
The veneration of martyrs as saints came about during the period of severe persecution of Christians through the 1st to 4th centuries AD. Christians believed that martyrs who had suffered for their belief in Christ would be accepted into Heaven and could therefore be useful allies to the living.
After death it was believed that the "holiness" of the saint remained in his bones and other material possessions (known as relics), which is why religious institutions were often built on the burial place of a saint and why people would make pilgrimages to saints' tombs to ask for their help and guidance.
Christianity had originally been brought to Britain by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, but after the departure of the Romans paganism enjoyed a revival and Christianity was mainly confined to those areas on the west and north of Britain, namely Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. When the Anglo-Saxons arrived they found a country rich in pagan ritual and superstition, much like the lands they had come from. It was not until the end of the 6th century that Christianity really made a comeback, with the mission of St. Augustine. As Herefordshire was on the border of the Celtic and Saxon territories it enjoyed a mix of both Christian and pagan religions. With the south-west of the county remaining Celtic the influence of the Church was visible, with many Celtic Saints being active in this area.
The "age of saints" is so interesting because it is a dim and distant reminder of life in the little-known period after the Romans (after 410) and before the Normans (1066), often called the Dark Ages. From around the 5th century a religious fervour took hold in Europe and holy men travelled across continents spreading the word of God and performing miracles. One of the centres of this spirituality was in Ireland and Wales, spreading just into Herefordshire. It is thought that some of our churches arose from early preaching places or monasteries of these first holy men, but it is very hard to prove. The dedications, shape of the churchyard and location by water are all clues that some churches are very early, possibly of the 5th to the 7th centuries, when the prevailing culture was British (i.e. "Celtic" or Welsh) rather than Anglo-Saxon. There are also clues in the Llandaff Charters (the Book of Llandaff, reproduced by J. Evans, © The National Library of Wales), though this book is difficult to interpret as it purports to be 7th century or earlier but was actually written in the early 13th century. In Herefordshire the following churches have been identified from the Llandaff charters:
|Book of Llandaff||Modern|
|lann custenhin||Welsh Bicknor|
|lann sanfreit vel bregit||Bridstow|
|lann mihacgel||St Michael's near Gillow (Hentland parish)|
|lann deui||Much Dewchurch|
|lann degui (cil pedec)||Kilpeck|
|lann santguainerth||St Weonard's|
|lann cinuac||Gunnock on the Garran (Llangunnock, Llangarron parish)|
|lann loudeu||Llancloudy (Llangarron parish)|
|Alkmund||born c. 774||Aymestrey|
|Beuno||born c. 560||Llanveynoe|
|Cynidir||?||Kenderchurch (now dedicated to St. Mary)|
|David/Dewi||died c. 588||Kilpeck, Much Dewchurch, Little Dewchurch and possibly Dewsall|
|Deinst||died c. 584||Llangarron (the only church in England with this dedication)|
|Dyfrig/Dubricius||6th century||Hentland, Ballingham, Whitchurch, St. Devereux and Hamnish (a 19th century dedication)|
|Ethelbert||died c. 794||Hereford Cathedral (joint dedication with St. Mary)|
|Giles||died 700||Acton Beauchamp, Downton, Goodrich, Mansell Gamage, Pipe Aston|
|Guthlac||c. 673-714||Hereford, Little Cowarne|
|Keyne/Cein||5th/6th century||Kentchurch (now St. Mary; village once known as Llancein or St. Keyneschurch)|
|Leonard||6th century||Blakemere, Croft and Yarpole, Hatfield and Newhampton, St. Margarets|
|Owen||c. 600-684||Hereford (destroyed in 1645)|
|Teilo||6th century||Hentland, Llanwarne (jointly with Dyfrig/Dubricius)|
|Tysilio/Tesilog||7th century||Sellack (the only church in England with this dedication)|
[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005]