Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Saint Derfel Gadarn

‘Derfel the Mighty’
Born: c. 566
Died: 6 April 660, Bardsey Island in Wales

This saint is a legendary figure associated with early Welsh Christianity. He is believed to have been a warrior and a Christian convert who later became a monk and a saint.

According to the Welsh tradition, Saint Derfel Gadarn was a warrior who fought alongside King Arthur and his knights. He is often depicted as a brave and valiant figure in battle. However, after witnessing the horrors of war, Derfel experienced a spiritual transformation and decided to renounce his former life as a warrior.

Derfel Gadarn is said to have become a monk and played a role in the spread of Christianity in Wales. He is associated with the establishment of monastic communities and the conversion of pagan territories to Christianity. One of the most notable monastic foundations attributed to him is the church at Llandderfel in Gwynedd, Wales.

While the details of Saint Derfel Gadarn’s life are steeped in legend and folklore, his name appears in various medieval Welsh texts, such as the Life of Saint Cadog and the Vita Sancti Gildae. These texts often mention his martial background and his subsequent dedication to a religious life.

In Medieval Welsh tradition it is held that he was related to King Hywel of Brittany, and thus a brother of the saints Tudwal and Arthfael, and a cousin to Saint Cadfan.

In Welsh tradition it was said he was one of Arthur’s seven warriors who had taken part in, and survived, the battle of Camlann, “by his strength alone”. He is a noted warrior and Tudur Penllyn wrote in medieval Welsh poetry:

Derfel mewn rhyfel, gwnai'i wayw'n rhyfedd, Darrisg dur yw-r wisg, dewr yw'r osgedd

“Derfel in war, he would work his spear wondrously, steel covering is the garment, brave is the appearance”

When there were at Camlan men and fighting and a host being slain, Derfel with his arms was dividing steel there in two.

– Lewys Glyn Cothi

After the battle he choosed the religious life where he lived as a hermit. He then went into monastery in Llantwit.

He is associated with the role of abbot, specifically as the abbot of Ynys Enlli on Bardsey Island. He died of natural causes.