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On the Kalendar: Saint Deiniol, Abbot and Bishop

Deiniol is traditionally considered the first Bishop of Bangor, in the Kingdom of Gwynedd, Wales. According to Deiniol’s Life, he was the son of Abbot Dunod Fawr, the son of Pabo Post Prydain. Other sources trace his ancestry to Coel Godhebog, a chieftain in Strathclyde, which, at the time, was a Brythonic speaking region. (The Brythonic, or p-Celtic, languages include Welsh, Cornish, and Breton; Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx are Goidelic, or q-Celtic, languages.)

Deiniol is said to have studied under Cadoc of Llancarfan. Deiniol made his way to Gwynedd, where he founded the monastery of Bangor and ruled as abbot. He is said to have encouraged Saint David to attend a synod at Llanddewi Frefi in c. A.D. 545, which was called to combat a resurgence of Pelagianism (a heretical belief that original sin did not taint human nature, and that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts). David, then a minor abbot, was so eloquent that Saint Dubricius, the senior bishop present, retired in David’s favour. One of David’s first acts was to consecrate Deiniol as Bishop of Bangor.

The cult of Saint Deiniol is particularly strong in northern Wales. According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, “[a] number of miracles are related of St Deiniol, not always free from that element of haughty pride and revenge which is a characteristic of so many Celtic hagiological stories.” It is likely that the hymn tune St Denio is named after the saint. Many references say the tune is named for Saint Denis, the martyred third-century bishop of Paris. But given that the tune first appeared as a hymn in John Robert’s Caniadau y Cysseger in 1839 (possibly as an adaptation of the folk tune “Can Mlynedd I’nawr” [“A hundred years from now”], it’s much more likely that the tune is named after the Welsh saint.

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