St. Cadoc (Cadog, Cadfael, Cadvael, Cathmael, Cattwg, Catwig, Docus), one of the greatest of the Welsh saints, began his life under a cloud of violence. His father, Gwynllyw the Bearded, one of the lesser kings of Wales, was also a robber chieftain. He wanted to propose to Princess Glwadys, daughter of King Brychan of Brecknock, a neighboring chieftain, but Brychan turned away the envoys asking for Glwadys' hand. Gwynllyw was a warrior known for being a law unto himself, so he kidnapped Gladys in a raid in which 200 of Gwynllyw's 300 followers perished. Surely it is the hand of God that transformed Cadoc into a gentle and enlightened man out of such a barbaric background.
Cadoc was born in Gelligaer, around the year 497. After the birth of his son, Gwynllyw went on a wild celebratory raid with a new band of fearless warriors. Among other livestock, he stole the cow of an Irish monk, St. Tathyw of Caerwent. St Tathyw was not afraid of Gwynllyw and boldly went to confront him, demanding the return of the cow. Gwynllyw would not let Tathyw leave with his cow until he baptized his newborn son into the Christian faith, almost certainly an action suggested by Queen Glwadys. On a sudden impulse, or perhaps guided by divine inspiration, Gwynllyw decided Cadoc would go to live under the monk's care, and he was sent away to be educated at Tathyw's monastery in Caerwent. Cadoc picked up a basic knowledge of Latin and received a rudimentary education that prepared him for further studies in Ireland and Wales. Most important, Cadoc learned to appreciate the life of a monk and a priest.
One day while in the Cardiff district of Glamorganshire, Cadoc was being chased by an armed swineherd from an enemy tribe. As he ran through the woods looking for a place to hide, he came upon a wild boar, white with age. Disturbed by his presence, the boar made three fierce bounds in his direction, but Cadoc's life was spared when the boar miraculously disappeared. Cadoc took this as a heavenly sign, and marked the spot with three tree branches. The valley was owned by his uncle, King Pawl of Penychen, who made a present of the land to his nephew. The location later became the site of the great church college and monastery at Llancarvan.
Some Welsh writers assign the foundation of Llancarvan to St. Germanus during his visit to Britain in A.D. 447. These sources state further that the first principal of the monastery was St. Dubric, or Dubricius, and St. Cadoc only succeeded him as abbot after Dubric was elevated to the episcopate. However, the Life of St. Germanus, a very reliable source written fifty years after the death of the saint, says nothing at all of any school founded by Germanus or under his auspices in Britain, nor is mention made of his presence in Wales. This supports accounts of St. Cadoc's founding of Llancarvan in the sixth century. Llancarvan became a busy center of industry, holiness and learning. Cadoc stayed at Llancarvan for many years doing good works, but eventually left for Ireland to study under Carthagh at Saighir.
When Cadoc eventually returned to Wales he had several new followers, including his great friend, St. Finian. They settled at Llanspyddid in Brecknock near his maternal grandfather, King Brychan. There Cadoc became fluent in Latin from an Italian mentor named Bachan. While at Llanspyddid, a great famine raged in the countryside around, but Cadoc saved his followers from starvation by observing a mouse which led him to a secret grain store. One day while he sat with his books in his cell, a white mouse ran suddenly onto the table from a hole in the wall and put down a grain of corn. Cadoc tied a white thread to the foot of the mouse and later followed the thread to a cellar where he found an abandoned subterranean granary full of dried corn and wheat. On another occasion, a band of robbers came to pillage the monastery. Cadoc and his monks went out to meet them, chanting and singing and playing their harps. The highwaymen were so surprised by their attitude and so enchanted by the music that they withdrew without harming them or the monastery.
Eventually King Brychan gave Cadoc the church at Llanspyddid and he left Bachan there as Abbot while he moved on to Llangadog in Dyfed. In Dyfed Cadoc was constantly harassed by a local lord named Sawyl Penuchel. One day, while Cadoc was out tending to the needs of the poor, Sawyl and his men raided Llangadog and stole all the provisions. Cadoc had his revenge when his monks pursued Sawyl's warband, humiliated them by cutting off their hair while they slept, then enticed them into a marsh where they all drowned. St. Illtud, an officer of King Pawl, was similarly converted to Christianity by Cadoc when Illtud's men stole from the saint and were miraculously swallowed up by the earth.
Gildas, the venerable historian, came to Britain, bringing with him a very beautiful and sweet-sounding bell, which he vowed to offer as a gift to the Bishop of the Roman Church. He spent the night as a guest of Cadoc, who fell in love with the bell. Cadoc wished to buy it, but Gildas would not sell it because he had vowed to offer it to the Pope. When Gildas arrived in Rome, he presented the bell, but when the bell was shaken by the hands of the Bishop of Rome, it would give forth no sound. On seeing this, the Pope prayed thus: Reveal unto me what happened unto thee on thy journey to make this presentation. And Gildas revealed that the most holy Cadoc had wished to buy the bell, but that he had refused to sell it. When the Apostolic Bishop heard this, he said: I know the venerable abbot Cadoc, who seven times visited this city, and Jerusalem three times, after countless dangers and incessant toil. I consent that, if he comes again and wishes to possess it, thou mayst give it to him. For, in consequence of this present miracle, it has been decreed that he should have it. After the bell was blessed Gildas brought it back to St. Cadoc. When Cadoc received the bell back into his hands and struck, it forthwith sounded, to the surprise of all.
But the best story is that of his parents' conversion. He prayed for many years for his father to find Christ and give up his violent ways. One night, Gwynllyw had a dream in which an angel of God appeared and told him he would find a rare and valuable white ox on Stow Hill. When he found the beast the next day, the King was so impressed that the vision had come true that he allowed his son to baptize him. Queen Glwadys had been sympathetic to Christianity for some time, but it was a cause for great rejoicing when Gwynllyw the robber king found his Savior. It was a happy day when he made public profession of his faith and was baptized at the river's edge. It is recorded that on this glorious occasion father and son together recited the opening verse of Psalm 20: "The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble." Gwynllyw founded the Church of St. Mary at the spot where the ox was found. Glwadys and Gwynllyw then decided to follow a religious calling and joined a double monastery in Wales at Newport, Monmouthshire, he becoming a monk and she becoming a nun. Later in life they both lived in religious seclusion as hermits. Both Gwynllyw and Glwadys were eventually revered as saints in their own right. An Anglican cathedral is dedicated to St. Gwynllyw in Wales in Newport, Gwent.
After many restless years Cadoc decided to return to his original foundation at Llancarfan, but he found the monastery in ruins and the monks all gone. Finian and his fellows worked hard to restore the holy place for their friend. At this time, the ageing King Gwynllyw passed away and Cadoc became monarch of his father's domain. He soon inherited Penychen too. The saint, however, did not allow his secular responsibilities to interfere with his holy way of life.
Cadoc traveled extensively in Brittany, Cornwall, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and he also made several pilgrimages to both Rome and Jerusalem. In later life he deliberately cut himself off from the shelter of his own monastery of Llancarvan, and lived among the Saxon settlements to console the native Christians who had survived the massacres of the pagan invaders. At the end of his life he went to Bannaventa (Weedon) in Calchfynedd on the very edge of Saxon territory. Here he was elected Abbot of a large body of monks. The city was in ruins, but Cadoc inspired the inhabitants to set about rebuilding it. In thanks, they created him their first Bishop. It was at Weedon where he met his martyr's death. While celebrating Mass one day, the service was rudely disturbed by Saxon horsemen, and Cadoc was run through with a spear and killed in his own church as he served at the altar. For many years the invaders would not let the British claim his body, but eventually he was transferred to Llancarfan where he now lies buried.
Cadoc died on January 24, 580.