Thursday in the Second Full Week of Lent
March 9, 2023
Today’s Lenten reflection focuses on Saint Armel, a holy man and monk of Brittany. Although located in France, Brittany is considered a “Celtic” territory because the native people there spoke a dialect of an ancient Celtic language (Brittonic) which is now known as Breton. It is the only Celtic language still widely in use on the European mainland (vestiges of Celtic culture also continue in Galicia, Spain, although the Celtic language there has been fully absorbed into the Galician language, which is technically classified as belonging to the Western Ibero-Romance family of languages).
Saint Armel is said to have been a Breton (French Celtic) prince, born to the wife of the Breton King Hoel while they were living for a time in exile in Glamorgan, Wales in the late fifth century. He returned to Brittany, where he founded the abbey of Plouarzel and was, from there, called to attend the court of King Childebert I of Paris. On the journey, he established churches at Ergué-Armel, Plouharnel and Saint-Armel, all of which still bear his name. He remained seven years at the royal court, apparently exercising a robust healing ministry by curing the lame and the blind. The king gave him land at Saint-Armel-des-Bochaux in Ille-et-Vilaine where he founded another monastery. He then removed himself to the Forest of Teil in order to make a spiritual retreat and is said to have defeated a dragon that was terrorizing the area. The legend states that Saint Armel tamed the fearsome dragon and then led it to the top of a small mountain in Brittany (now called Mont Saint-Armel); from there, he ordered it to dive into the river below so it would stop terrorizing the surrounding farms. Saint Armel died in his monastery around 570. It has been questioned whether or not Saint Armel could have actually been King Arthur; Armel’s name in Welsh, Arthmael, means “Bear-Prince,” and this name may have been related to the Welsh name for Arthur. He must have been a person of powerful intercession, for the reputation of his prayers spread widely after his death. England’s King Henry VII believed he had been saved from shipwreck off the coast of Brittany by Armel’s prayers, and he personally related to elements of Saint Armel’s life story (Armel is often portrayed as wearing armor under his monastic vestments; it is possible that the saint served as a warrior before his conversion). Consequently, there is a statue dedicated to Saint Armel in King Henry’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You make intercession for us through the grace of the Holy Spirit,
And the saints on earth and in heaven,
Joined to you as their head,
Seek to pray as you do.
We thank you for the power of Armel’s prayers,
And we ask that you will direct our own intercessions as you will.