Learning from St Dyfrig (Dubricius)

Today is the feast of St Dyfrig, also known as Dubricius or Devereux, who was born a few miles from here at Madley and is roughly contemporary with St Benedict (his dates are usually given as c. 465 to c. 550). Most of the information we have about him comes from the Book of Llandaff, written about five hundred years after his death. The Wikipedia article gives a good summary hereWhat interests me, however, is not so much the historicity or otherwise of the unique events recorded in the lectiones as what is common to many accounts of early British, Welsh and Irish saints. Two hagiographical tropes stand out in particular: illegitimate birth and a miracle of healing.

Dyfrig was the illegitimate son of Efrddyl, daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng. The story goes that Peibo threw Efrddyl into the River Wye when he discovered she was pregnant, but was unsuccessful in drowning her. There was a reconciliation later on when Dyfrig cured his grandfather of leprosy by touching him, but it is his illegitimacy that is especially interesting. It is remarkable just how many British or Welsh saints were allegedly born of rape or incest. Some scholars have suggested that this may explain why so many were brought up in monasteries as the only option available to them or their luckless mothers. I wonder, however, whether there is a deeper significance, the hagiographer using the story of illegitimate birth to show the despised and feared outsider who is beloved of God overcoming every obstacle to growth in holiness. Dyfrig went on to have a brilliant ecclesiastical career, but his early years were precarious, and even his later priesthood could not be taken for granted, given the requirements then in force. He breaks the mould of expectation, so to say.

It is not difficult to see how we can apply this thinking to our own times. Most of us are blind to our own prejudices, but there are also collective prejudices which allow us to despise or undervalue others. The idea of a saintly banker, for example, would probably raise howls of derision in Britain today, but is there any reason for assuming all bankers are bad? Of course not, but many unthinkingly do. I’m sure you can think of others whom we have a tendency to dismiss or treat with contempt. Yet we have in Dyfrig a reminder that ‘God does not see as man sees: God looks at the heart.’ I am reminded that when St Edith was taken to task by St Aethelwold in those very words for wearing a princely garment above her hair-shirt (which he couldn’t see), she responded with a crisp, ‘Quite so, my Lord; and I have given mine.’  Something to ponder there, I suggest.

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