Mael (Mahel), Ascetic on The Isle of Bardsey

May 13 is the Commemmoration of Saint Mael (Mahel), Ascetic on the Isle of Bardsey.
mael 2
Maël was a fifth-century Breton saint who lived as a hermit in Wales. He was a follower of Cadfan from Brittany to Wales, ultimately to the Isle of Bardsey. Mael is believed to have been a Briton, and to have been related to St Patrick.
“Saint Cadfan, (Latin: Catamanus); (English: Gideon) was the sixth century founder-abbot of Tywyn and Bardsey, Wales, primarily accepted as the founder of the monastic settlement on Bardsey Island in north Wales, in 516 according to multiple sources, serving as its abbot until 542.”

“During the fifth century [Bardsey Island] became a refuge for persecuted Christians, and a small Celtic monastery existed. In 516 Saint Cadfan arrived from Brittany and, under his guidance St Mary’s Abbey was built. For centuries the island was important as “the holy place of burial for all the bravest and best in the land”. Bards called it “the land of indulgences, absolution and pardon, the road to Heaven, and the gate to Paradise”, and in medieval times three pilgrimages to Bardsey Island were considered to be of equivalent benefit to the soul as one to Rome. In 1188 the abbey was still a Celtic institution, but by 1212 it belonged to the Augustinians. Many people still walk the journey to Aberdaron and Uwchmynydd each year in the footsteps of the saints, although today only ruins of the old abbey’s 13th-century bell tower remain. A Celtic cross amidst the ruins commemorates the 20,000 saints reputed to be buried on the island.”
“Ynys Enlli [Bardsey Island] is an ancient Holy Island whose religious associations pre-date the Christian era as indicated by the name given to it by raiding Vikings, Bardsey – the “Bards’ Island”. As with so many pagan centres, the Christians took the site over and St. Cadfan and his companions founded a monastery there in AD 546. It became a sort of Iona of Wales, a holy burial place for Royalty and holymen alike. Some 20,000 saints are said to lie beneath its soil: an assertion which led to the Pope proclaiming three pilgrimages to Ynys Enlli to be equal to one to Rome. The place has always been considered something of a health spot. Giraldus Cambrensis declared of the island that “no one dies except from old age”.”
Bardsey Island is a small island off the coast of the Llyn Peninsular in North Wales. Its Welsh name is Ynys Enlli. It is also known as The Island of 20 000 saints since, it is said, the graveyard holds the bodies of 20 000 people who lived and prayed on the island over the centuries. As the whole island measures only 1½ miles long by ½ mile wide, this may be an exaggeration! Whatever the truth of it, Bardsey was one of the most important places of pilgrimage of the Middle Ages. Its remoteness and its reputation as a place of prayer led to its being called the “Rome of Britain” since three (some even suggest two) pilgrimages to Bardsey were considered to be the equivalent of one to Rome.
The community was established by St Cadfan in around 430 AD and is believed to be the first monastic settlement in the whole of Britain. The pattern of monastic life was rather different from that of today’s monks and nuns. There would have been a church but the monks themselves would have lived in individual circular huts – not unlike old-fashioned beehives. The life was austere and demanding physically as well as spiritually. However, people were attracted to the solitude and peace of the island and, as the figure above suggests, many people lived and died there.
In the 7th century, it offered refuge to the monks who fled from Ethelfrid’s pagan army. It had conquered Chester and destroyed the monastery of Bangor Is-coed where over 1000 monks were killed.
The remoteness of the island and the treacherous waters that separate it from the mainland made it an ideal refuge. Eventually, the form of monasticism we are more familiar with was introduced to Bardsey and in the twelfth century, the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary was built.


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