Lives of Orthodox Western Saints

Reader Daniel Lieuwen

Dates of some of these may be Western. These are grabbed from various newsgroups, mailing lists, and so errors certainly possible. However, we can repair them over time if that is the case.


Holy Well of St. Winefride in North Wales (SAINT WINEFRIDE, VIRGIN and MARTYR)

[Daniel Lieuwen: St. Winefride's relics play a prominant role in one Brother Cadafel mystery.]

The Holy Well, in the hills overlooking the River Dee, is the oldest place of unbroken and continuous Christian pilgrimage in Britain and its story may perhaps be of interest to List members who do not know it.

St. Winefride was the niece of St. Beuno (pron. Bye-no) near whom she lived. Caradoc, the son of a local prince, attempted to seduce her with promises of marriage. Already vowed to a life of virginity, the maiden rejected his advances and fled for safety to her uncle's church. Caradoc pursued her and struck off her head in his rage. A fountain sprang up where her head touched the ground, but St. Beuno restored her to life. In gratitude for God's mercy, St. Winefride became professed as a nun and established a convent at Holywell. She remained there for many years as its abbess, but when St. Beuno left to create a monastery at Clynnog Fawr on the Lleyn peninsula, St. Winefride too left Holywell and under the direction of St. Eleri (who had professed her) she moved her community to the remote village of Gwytherin, high in the hills above the Conwy valley. She reposed there in the year 650.

The many miracles of healing worked at her well (which continue to our own day) brought an ever-increasing number of pilgrims to bathe in its water. Her Holy Relics were translated to the Benedictine monastery at Shrewsbury in 1138 and in 1398 her Feast (November 3) was extended to the whole Province of Centerbury. In 1416, King Henry V made the pilgrimage on foot from Shrewsbury to give thanks for his victory at Agincourt. Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, built over the Holy Well the gem of a chapel where we now worship. Completely empty and unused, the chapel becomes an Orthodox Church for one day each year as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy in it, before processing to the Well below for a Molieben to the Saint and a Blessing of the Waters. We end the day with Great Vespers, after which we dismantle the furnishings of the church and take them back to Chester. The local Roman Catholic church is responsible for the Well and a short service is held there daily during the summer months. The parish priest kindly entrusts us with the Relic of the Saint for our pilgrimage. It lies on the Holy Table during the Liturgy and is afterwards carried to the Well, where it is offered for the veneration of the Faithful.

Holy Winefride, pray for us! All the Saints of Britain, pray for us!

Troparion of Saint Winefride (Tone 2):

Suffering death for thy virginity, O Holy Winefride
through God's mercy thy body was made whole and restored to life
Thy healing grace flows in streams of living water
pray to God for us
that our souls may be saved.

SYLVESTER OF ROME (30 DEC 335) (transferred to Fri 31 Dec)

Sylvester (or Silvester) was Bishop of Rome from 314 to 335 - that is, from just after the Emperor Constantine's Edict legalizing Christianity to just before the death of Constantine. He was represented by delegates at the regional Council of Arles in 314 (called in an attempt to heal the Donatist schism) and at the ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 (called to decide the Arian question). Constantine gave him the Lateran Palace, which became his cathedral. Little else is known of him. There are later stories of his dealings with Constantine, but these are totally unhistorical. We remember him chiefly as a representative of Christian leaders faced with the problem of how the Church ought to relate to a surrounding society at least superficially friendly to it.

PRAYER (traditional language) O God, our Heavenly Father, who didst raise up thy faithful servant Sylvester to be a bishop and pastor in thy Church and to feed thy flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of thy Holy Spirit, that they may minister in thy household as true servants of Christ and stewards of thy divine mysteries; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Genevieve (Genofeva): died c. 500, feast day January 3rd.
St. Genevieve (Genofeva): died c. 500, feast day January 3rd. Virgin, patroness of Paris. Born at Nanterre, Genevieve took the veil at the age of about fifteen; on the death of her parents she moved to Paris, where she continued her chosen life of prayer and austerity. She was supported by St. Germanus of Auxerre, who had apparently known her from childhood. When the Franks under Childeric besieged Paris, Genevieve is said to have personally made a sortie with an armed band to obtain provisions by river from Arcis and Troyes. She won Childeric's respect, however, and she built a church in honour of St. Denys. Clovis also, we are told, venerated her and released prisoners at her request. She is also said to have encouraged the Parisians to avert the coming of Attila and his Huns by the frequent use of fasting and prayer: in the event they changed the route of their march and Paris was spared. After her death Genevieve was enshrined in the church of SS. Peter and Paul (later St. Genevieve's), built by Clovis, where her miracles made it famous. The fabric eventually decayed and a new church was begun in 1746, but was secularized at the Revolution and is called the Pantheon, a burial place for the worthies of France. During the Middle Ages the feretory of Genevieve was carried in procession at times of disaster: her most famous cures were from an epidemic of ergotism in 1129, but over and over again Parisians have invoked her in times of national crisis. Several churches were dedicated to her there and two in medieval England, where at least five abbeys celebrated her feast. Her cult also spread to SW. Germany in the Middle Ages. Her shrine and relics were largely destroyed at the Revolution, but this by no means finished her cult in France. Many of the most notable artistic representations of her, continuing traditions from the late Middle Ages, date from the 17th-19th centuries, including the frescoes of Puvis de Chavannes in the Pantheon. Her most usual emblem is a candle, with or without the devil, who was reputed to have blown it out when she went to pray at night in the church. Her name is in the martyrology of Jerome, so her cult is ancient, but the Life which purports to be contemporary was written some centuries after her death. Consequently little can be asserted about her with certainty, but her cult has flourished on civic and national pride.

(from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints).

St. Peter of Canterbury (died 607): feast day 6th January: abbot.
St. Peter of Canterbury (died 607): feast day 6th January: abbot. First abbot of St. Augustine's (then called SS. Peter and Paul), Peter was probably the monk of that name who was sent by Augustine to give news of the first Anglo-Saxon conversions to Gregory the Great and who brought back to England Gregory's replies to Augustine's questions. Peter was sent later on a mission to Gaul (i.e. modern-day France), but was drowned in the English Channel in the bay of Ambleteuse (Amfleet). The local inhabitants, according to Bede, buried him in an 'unworthy place' but, as the result of a prodigy of mysterious light appearing over his grave at night, translated his relics to a church in Boulogne with suitable honour. At St. Augustine's, Canterbury, his feast was kept on 30 December; other authorities give 6 January.

(from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints).


Chad, Bishop of Litchfield, is perhaps best known for NOT being Archbishop of York. He received his early training under Aidan at Lindisfarne, and after further studies in Ireland he became head of a small abbey near Whitby. He was elected to the See of York and duly installed, but various persons raised objections (on the grounds that his consecrators were bishops who (like Aidan, though not like Chad) followed the old British customs on such things as the Church calendar rather than following the customs then being imported from the continent), and rather than cause division in the Church he withdrew. He was soon after made Bishop of Litchfield in Mercia. He served there for only two and a half years before his death, but he made a deep impression. He travelled throughout his territory on foot, preaching in every town and village that he came to. In the following decades, many chapels, and many wells, were constructed in Mercia and named for him.

PRAYER (traditional language) Almighty God, whose servant Chad, for the peace of the Church, relinquished cheerfully the honors that had been thrust upon him, only to be rewarded with equal responsibility: Keep us, we pray thee, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and ready at all times to step aside for others, that the cause of Christ may be advanced and thy blessed kingdom enlarged; in the name of him who washed his disciples' feet, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


When the pagan Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, many British Christians sought refuge in the hill country of Wales. There they developed a style of Christian life devoted to learning, asceticism, and missionary fervor. Since there were no cities, the centers of culture were the monasteries, and most abbots were bishops as well. Dewi (David in English) was the founder, abbot, and bishop of the monastery of Mynyw (Menevia in English) in Pembrokeshire. He was responsible for much of the spread of Christianity in Wales, and his monastery was sought out by many scholars from Ireland and elsewhere. He is commonly accounted the apostle of Wales, as Patrick is of Ireland. His tomb is in St. David's cathedral, on the site of ancient Mynyw, now called Ty-Dewi (House of David).

Vigil of the Nativity of the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary

Includes material on St. Sergius and St. Willibrord.

Since many participants on this list are on the Julian Calendar, it is appropriate to write about an observance for Sept 7.

Prior to A.D. 687, the Western Church did not observe four of the Feasts of the Mother of God:

  1. The Purification or Presentation of Our Lord (Candlemas) (Feb. 2)
  2. The Annuciation (Mar. 25)
  3. The Dormition of the Mother of God (Aug.15)
  4. Nativity of the Mother of God (Sep. 8)

In the calendar attributed to St. Willibrord (d. 739) we find the name of person who required their addition to the Ordo (Typicon of the West): Sergii, Papae on September 7, the Vigil of the Nativity of the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St. Sergius was born in Sicily to Syrian parents. He was a student of the Schola Cantorum (School of Chants) in Palermo. He served under two Popes, St. Leo II and Conon.

St. Sergius was perhaps the most important Roman Patriarch of the late seventh century. During his tenure (687-701) rifts within the Church were healed and missionary zeal flourished in the West.

The Nestorians in Italy (specifically in Aquileia) were converted from their error and were reunited to the Body of Christ. This was through missionary and not military action. St. Sergius always preferred the unity of Christ's peace to the false union of the sword.

St.Willibrord (the author of the calendar mentioned before) was consecrated Bishop for the Frisians in 695. The Frisians had recently been converted in 678.

The Wessex as a nation put on Christ in 689 when their King Caedwalla came to Rome to be Baptized at Easter Liturgy.

St. Sergius supported the cause of St. Wilfrid of York who had been wrongly removed from his diocese in the name of reorganisation by St. Theodore. St. Theodore had also removed St. Chad. It is to be noted that in his support of Wilfred, St. Sergius did not use claims of supremacy or infallibility, but actions of a mediator. He, like St. Gregory before him did not take the titles given to his position as seriously as did others. Being born in Sicily, he probably recognized Mediterranean posturing in grand titles. No certificates with titles such as "Supreme Pontiff" (later Papacy) or "Ecumenical Patriarch" (Rome then Constantinople), or "Judge of the Universe" (Alexandria) were hanging on his office wall.

His focus was always on the missionary work of the Church and the need to express the Christian Faith.

Along with the Feasts of the Mother of God mentioned above, he instituted the chanting of the Agnus Dei in the Liturgy:

Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

This hymn is chanted at the Fracture of the Body of our Lord and signifies the end of the Consecration and that Christ is truly present in the Body and the Blood. The Nestorians of Aquileia must have truly accepted the unity of the Natures of Christ if they accepted the Proper chants of those feasts and the addition of the Agnus Dei before the giving of the "Peace of Christ" (Pax).

Other major hymns are attributed to St. Sergius as well.

St. Sergius was a peacemaker. But this was not how his Pastorship began. When Pope Conon died the election conducted by the clergy and laity of Rome indicated that two candidates, Archdeacon Paschal and Archpriest Theodore had each the same number of votes. It was decided to hold a new vote and Sergius was selected. Theodore accepted the election and supported Sergius, but Paschal did not. Paschal had previously offered a bribe to the Byzantine governor who then agreed to support Paschal's election. The governor wanted his money and Paschal still wanted to be Pope.

Before the governor would accept the second election, the governor required that St. Sergius pay the sum offered by Paschal. The extortion was paid and peace was restored.

Another conflict was due to the 695 Quinisext Council. This council emphasized the differences between Eastern and Western liturgical usages and attempted to enforce uniformity to the exclusion of Western usages. It also contained rules which would have brought the northern mission work to an end: such as requiring the construction of massive church buildings after the imperial model before a single Baptism could occur. [Daniel Lieuwen: I eliminated some attacks in the original on the emperor that might or might not be accurate and in any case are irrelevant to the kind of man St. Sergius was. I'm not sure about the accuracy of the statement on northern missionary work.]

The problem was that St. Sergius objected to the articles forcing uniformity and endangering the missions. St. Sergius refused to sign. [Daniel Lieuwen: The Roman Church eventually accepted the Quintisext Council tentatively according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church under Trullan Council, accepting it as part of the sixth ecumenical council.]

Emperor Justinian II would not accept that position, so he ordered that St. Sergius be arrested and brought to Constantinople. The imperial army was routed by the people of Rome and the militia from Ravenna. The general of the force, Zacharias (chief of the imperial body guard) was hidden by St. Sergius in his own home when rioters wanted to kill the leader of the invaders. Zacharias and his army were sent back to Constantinople, avoiding a war.

St. Sergius believed in returning good for ill. As for Justinian II, he was deposed shortly after this. He was to be restored, but he never reachieved the power he had before.

St. Sergius only taught the leadership of Christ. By that we escape the mechanations of world princes.

St. Adomnan (a.k.a. Adamnan, Adam, Eunan)
St. Adomnan (a.k.a. Adamnan, Adam, Eunan) 627-704, abbot of Iona. He was born in County Donegal (Ireland) and became a monk at Iona under abbot Seghine, whom he succeeded in 679. He became famous both as a writer and as a leading protagonist in Northern Ireland of the Roman system of calculating Easter. In 686 he came to Northumbria to obtain from his former pupil King Aldfrith the release of sixty Irish prisoners, captured during the reign of Egfrith (670-685). In 688 Adomnan visited Ceolfrith of Wearmouth, who converted him from the Iona tradition of Easter calculation and other practices. In 692 he took part in Irish synods and conventions as the ruler of Iona's monasteries in Northern Ireland. Then and in 697 he met with considerable success, pleading for the acceptance of the Easter dates which were kept by Rome and virtually all the Church in the West. Only his own monasteries stood out against him.

He was also responsible for the Law of Adomnan ("Cain Adomnain") which protected women by exempting them from going to battle and insisting that they be treated by all as non-combatants. Boys and clerics were similarly protected and provision was made for effective sanctuary. These rules came to be accepted all over Ireland.

Adomnan's principal work was the famous Life of Columba, abbot of Iona. This influential portrait of a charismatic pioneer is one of the most vivid Lives to be produced in its time. He also wrote a work on the Holy Places of Palestine, compiled from information provided by the French bishop Arculfus, who had been shipwrecked in western Britain. Bede knew this work, but not apparently the Life of Columba.

After Adomnan's death, Iona accepted the Roman Easter in 716. His cult flourished in both Ireland and Scotland with dedications to him in Donegal, Derry, and Sligo as well as Aberdeenshire, Banff, Forfar and the Western Isles. In 727 the relics of Adomnan were brought from Iona to Ireland to help make peace between the tribes of Adomnan's father and mother. They were carried round forty churches which had been under Iona's rule: the people swore to obey the Law of Adomnan. His shrines were desecrated by Northmen in 830 and 1030. Feast: 23 September.

St Boniface

In case no one posted this, St. Boniface was born about 675- 680 in Devonshire, England, and was baptized Winfrid. He was educated by the Benedictine monks of Exter. Later he went to Winchester diocese. He became a Benedictine monk.

At 30 he became a priest. In 716 his abbot gave permission for him to travel to Friesland as a missionary. He had little success and returned to his monastery in England, where he was chosen abbot.

IN 719 he went to Rome and obtained permission from Pope Gregory II to preach in Germany. He preached in Thuringia, and returned to Friesland where he found St. Willibrord preaching. He was consecrated bishop by Gregory II in 722, and made Mainz the center of his episcopacy in 745, and later he returned to Friesland.

In Hessia he felled an ancient oak sacred to the pagans at the town of Fritzlar near Geismar, and is said to have used wood from the great tree to build a chapel to St. Peter.

In 732 he was made archbishop and apostolic delegate. He organized the Church in Bavaria, and arranged sees in Thuringia and Hessia. In 743 he anointed Pepin of the Franks.

In later life he preached in Utrecth district of the Netherlands and on the east coast of the Zuider Zee, shere he was martyred with 52 other by pagans near Dockum.

His body was interred in the Cathedral of Fulda in 755. He is considered the Apostle of Germany.

Boniface is shown as a bishop with an axe in the base of a tree. He is often depicted felling an oak tree while pagan priests look on. Also he may be shown in a ship holding a book and a cross. He is the patron of brewers and tailors.

Another Account of Life of St. Boniface


Wynfrith, nicknamed Boniface ("good deeds"), was born around 680 near Crediton in Devonshire, England. When he was five, he listened to some monks who were staying at his father's house. They had returned from a mission to the pagans on the continent, and Boniface was so impressed by them that he resolved to follow their example. Although his father had intended him for a secular career, he gave way to his son's entreaties and sent him at the age of seven to a monastery school. He eventually became director of the school at Nursling, in Winchester, where he wrote the first Latin grammar in England, and gave lectures that were widely copied and circulated.

At thirty, he was ordained and set out to preach in Friesland (overlaps with modern Holland), whence he was soon expelled because of war between its heathen king and Charles Martel of France. Boniface, after a brief withdrawal, went into Hesse and Bavaria, having secured the support of the Pope and of Charles Martel for his work there. In Hesse, in the presence of a large crowd of pagans, he cut down the Sacred Oak of Geismar, a tree of immense age and girth, sacred to the god Thor. It is said that after only a few blows of his axe, the tree tottered and crashed to the ground, breaking into four pieces and revealing itself to be rotted away within. It was the beginning of a highly successful misionary effort, and the planting of a vigorous Christian church in Germany, where Boniface was eventually consecrated bishop. He asked the Christian Saxons of England to support his work among their kinsmen on the continent, and they responded with money, books, supplies, and above all, with a steady supply of monks to assist him in teaching and preaching.

Boniface did not confine his attentions to Germany. He worked to establish cooperation between the Pope and others in Italy on the one hand and Charles and his successors in France on the other. He persuaded Carloman and Pepin, the sons of Charles, to call synods for the reform of the church in their territories, where under previous rulers bishoprics had often been sold to the highest bidder. He never forgot his initial failure in Friesland, and in old age resigned his bishopric and returned to work there. Many Frisians had been converted earlier by Willibrord (another Saxon missionary from England), but had lapsed after his death. Boniface preached among them with considerable success. On June 5, the eve of Pentecost, 754, he was preparing a group of Frisians for confirmation when they were attacked and killed by heathen warriors.

The historian Christopher Dawson estimates that he has had a greater influence on the history of Europe than any other Englishman.

PRAYER (traditional language) Almighty God, who didst call thy faithful servant Boniface to be a witness and martyr in the lands of Germany and Friesland, and by his labor and suffering didst raise up a people for thine own possession: Pour forth thy Holy Spirit upon thy Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many thy holy Name may be glorified and thy kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Harold
[David James supplied this information] Hristos voistinu voskrese! If I may be so bold as to reply for Daniel, the Harold you are inquiring about is probably one you and your wife know well by another name: St. Mstislav-Harold (in baptism, Theodore). He was half-English (by his mother, Gytha, the daughter of Harold II, the last Orthodox king of England, who was slain at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D.) and a quarter Slav and a quarter Greek (by his father, Vladimir Monomach, Grand Prince of Kiev). His racial origins really ought to be symbolic for us, and his generosity, courage, love of peace, and encouragement of church-building ought to be an inspiration for all English-speaking Orthodox. He reposed in Kiev in 1132/3 and his memory is kept on April 15/28. There are two other little-known English Orthodox saints since the Great Schism: the martyr Sir Henry Abbot, slaughtered by the Turks in Salonica in 1876, feastday: April 30/13 May; and another martyr, Nicholas Johnson, slain by the Bolsheviks in 1918 in Siberia, feastday: July 4/17.

Source: "The Shepherd," Vol. XV, No. 7, April 1995. For the last two saints, see "The Shepherd," Dec. 1991.

I'm sure I have also seen a listing for "St. Harold, last Orthodox king of England" in the Calendar printed by St. John of Kronstadt Press, but darned if I can find it now, and I don't know the background of the listing. If King Harold II really is listed there, there is probably good authority for it, or Fr. Gregory wouldn't have put it in.

Saint Comgall
Troparion of Saint Comgall Tone 4

O Comgall, Father of monks, thou didst train four thousand monastics. Thou didstkindle Christ's fire in Bangor and thy cell was aglow in pagan darkness. O friend of Saint Columcille, thou radiancy of Ireland and Scotland, we praise God who has glorified thee.

St. Kenneth

  1. [Source: Fr Alban Barter <roybar@EASYNET.CO.UK>] Saint Kyned (Kened, Keneth, Cenydd) is traditionally commemorated on 1st August. Born in the 6th century, Welsh tradition has it that he was a son of Saint Gildas the Wise. He married and had at least one son. He became a monk under Saint Illtud and was the founder of Llangenydd in the Gower Peninsula in south-west Wales. He later went to Brittany, where the village of Ploumelin is the centre of his cultus.

    [Additional comment by Nina Seco <seco@U.WASHINGTON.EDU>] Holy Transfiguration Monastery has an icon of St. Kenneth of Wales (the first saint mentioned by Fr. Alban. I may have come across more of a life in one of the books on Welch saints I found at the library here.

  2. [Source: Fr Alban Barter <roybar@EASYNET.CO.UK>] Saint Canice of Aghaboe (11th October) was born c.525, the son of a bard in Co. Kerry. He was educated at Clonard by Saint Finian and became a great friend of Saint Columba, whom he frequently visited on Iona. He founded several monasteries throughout Ireland, the principal one being at Aghaboe in Laois. Frequently living as a hermit on uninhabited islands, he enjoyed a close communion with the wild creatures around him. He expelled the mice from his cell for nibbling his shoes and admonished the birds to refrain from singing and disturbing Sunday worship. He reposed c.600.

Saint Helen of Cornwall (8th October)
[Source: Fr Alban Barter <roybar@EASYNET.CO.UK>]

Saint Helen of Cornwall (8th October)

I duly passed on your enquiry to my friend Tristan Gray Hulse, a student for many years of the Celtic Saints and the Holy Wells of Britain. He researched the saint in his extensive library and phoned me last night with the result.

I was rocked back on my heels when Tristan began by informing me that St. Helen was a man! According to an Irish martyrology, his name was originally ``Chellan'' or ``Ceallan.'' In Latin this became ``Helanus'' and it passed through into English as ``Helen.''

The saint flourished in the 6th century was quite possibly Welsh in origin, though his family lived in Ireland. He certainly travelled to Wales, part of a family of seven brothers and three sisters. One of the sisters was called Tecla, incidentally, and only a few miles away from where I live in North Wales is a village named Llandegla (Church of Tecla) where she is reputed to have been buried. St. Helen (who was a priest) moved on south to Cornwall, but persecution forced him to cross the Channel to Brittany, where he settled in the area of Dol. He is commemorated in the names of two villages to the south of Dol - St. Helan and Lanhelin. It appears that many Irish saint also settled in the area around Rheims. St. Helen was among them and he is mentioned in the "History of the Church of Rheims" published in about 960, where he is commemorated in the calendar a day earlier, on 7th October. He reposed c.550.

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