The earliest mention of Illtud is in the Vita Sancti Sampsoni, written in Brittany, about 600 AD. According to this account, Illtud was the disciple of Bishop Germanus of Auxerre in north-central France.
It says he was the most accomplished of all the Britons, and was well versed in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as every type of philosophy, including geometry, rhetoric, grammar, and arithmetic. He was also “gifted with the power of foretelling future events”.
According to Life of St Illtud written circa 1140, Illtud was the son of a Breton prince and a cousin of King Arthur. Illtud’s parents intended him for service in the church, but he chose to pursue a military career, married and became a soldier, in service first to King Arthur.
He is sometimes called Illtud the Knight. Later it was the Abbot St Cadoc, based at nearby Llancarfan who told him to give up his selfish ways and go back to his religious upbringing. Inspired, Illtud gave up his wife, and became a hermit in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Illtud helped pioneer the monastic life of Wales by founding a monastery in what is now Llantwit Major. This became the first major Welsh monastic school, and was a hub of Celtic Christianity in post-Roman Britain.
Illtud’s own pupils are reckoned to have included sons of British princes, and scholars such as Saint Patrick, Paul Aurelian, Taliesin, Gildas and Samson of Dol. St David is also believed to have spent some time there. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in the Catholic past in our area.
Again according to legend, Illtud was maybe buried west of Brecon, in the church of Llanilltud, on a tract of moorland known as Mynydd Illtud. His feast day and commemoration is celebrated on 6 November.
There is no formal evidence for a devotion to Illtud surviving from before the 11 century. However, in Celtic countries it is the names of places that tell us most about the existence and veneration of the saints during the oldest times.
The town of Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) where Illtud’s college is located is of course named for him, and was the chief centre of the cult of St Illtud.
Many other places and or churches in Glamorgan are dedicated to him, such as Llantrithyd, Llantwit Fardre, Newcastle in Bridgend, several in the Gower and near Neath. Llantrisant’s three saints were Illtud, Gwynno and Tyfodwg.
A 13 century church on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire, is dedicated to Illtud. In North Wales, there is a Llanelltyd near Dolgellau, and even in Brittany there are many places dedicated to him. And, of course, there is my old school – St Illtyd’s!
Fr Matthew from sources.