Illtyd was born in the late 5th century.
He became a follower of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was held in high esteem by the Celtic people, setting up the first educational college in the UK in a small village called Llantwit Major in Cymru/Wales*. This occurred in the early 6th century, 300 years before Oxford and over 600 years before Cambridge.
It is believed to be Britain’s earliest centre of learning and, in its heyday, was thought to have had over 1000 students. Many well-known Christians of the time emerged from this centre of learning.
It is worth noting that there was no Cymru/Wales, Scotland or England at this point. The Welsh and Scottish saw themselves as Britons and were in tribes, clans and smaller family units. The onslaught of the Anglo-Saxons eventually pushed the Britons into the western and northern wild places of Britain.
Into this early medieval feudal period, groups of followers of Christ sought to live out their faith and follow the way of Jesus by grassroots interaction. One of their strategies was to create safe spaces that supported the local rural population.
In Cymru/Wales today, there are over 600 villages and towns starting with the word Llan and in our current context, the word Llan is often thought to translate to mean church.
Llantrisant – the church of the three saints
Llantysiliol – the church of Saint Llantysillio
However, to the ancient Britons, the translation of Llan meant an enclosure of an area where people could meet to be close to God. The location, like an Anglican parish or valley, could be small or more significant. The settlements may have arisen by a stream, well, wood, or a crossroads.
The students that Illtyd trained in his college travelled through Britain and Europe and helped create these communities.
The communities focussed on everyday life’s spiritual, physical and practical aspects and sought to create integrated centres for all, those with faith and those without faith.
Eventually, due to the impact, respect and integrity of the person or the group that inhabited the space, they became places where the surrounding inhabitants could see the reality of God in the way they were shown love. They were places where business could be undertaken, and as it was a holy place, people would have been encouraged to act with integrity. Llans were places where people (rich and poor) were taught the language of the day. They were places where travellers could find rest and where herbal pain remedies were available and shared with the local community and all the sick and poor were cared for and helped; where beer, mead, wine and other herbal drinks were produced as the water was unreliable; and where the ostracized were supported, fed and cared for.
They were spiritual and practical places whose influence extended beyond the area of the Llan.
These communities sought to help develop and support the local rural social and economic well-being and, in some cases, created an urban community identity and developed into towns and villages.
Today people know the names of some of these villages and towns but are unaware of how they developed.
What’s so special about this?
As we engage in various community initiatives, we can imagine that we are forging new ground, creating something unique.
However, this story reminds us that we are reconnecting with God’s call on this land and people.
A call that is hundreds of years old involves creating authentic, integrated, loving, supporting and sustainable communities where all people will be safe, although uncomfortable. But they will be places where people can experience a sense of shalom from where they can develop the hopes, passion and dreams that God has placed within them.
Join us as we seek to walk alongside people, organizations, charities and faith communities as they embrace what it means to walk in the fullness of Christ and become people who build bridges, restore broken places and help influence their local environment and culture.
*Cymru is an ancient word that comes from the old Brittonic language and translates to mean “Land of fellow-countrymen or compatriots”. However, Wales is a Saxon/English word that translates to mean “land of foreigners”.
There are several books and articles that I read which were informative in helping me think through the positives and negative and aided my imagination concerning the above and some are highlighted.
- Exploring celtic spirituality – Ray Simpson
- Visions and voyages – Fay Sampson
- Early celtic christianity – Brendan Lehane
- Celtic Fire – Robert Van De Weyer
- Illtud – two lectures given 6th May 2000 by Reverend Canon Dr Patrick Thomas
- BBC ‘ The Story of Wales’