Saint Armel (Arthmael)

(Arthur as a Saint after Camlann)

Inside St. Illtud's Church at Llantwit Major is the Samson stone:
"In the name of the most high God
was begun the cross of the Savior which
Samson the abbot prepared for his soul
and for the soul of King Iuthahel (Judicael)
and for Artmal (Arthmael-Armel-Arthur) the dead."

It has been supposed that the cross is of later date than the sixth century, and that it was not erected by S. Samson to the memory of King luthael and his companion Artmal, but at a time posterior, and that the Iuthael and Artmal (Armel) thereon named belonged to this later date, and to the house of Morganwg ; moreover the style of decoration supports this view. The coincidence of names at two periods is remarkable, for S. Samson's great work was the restoration of the princely line in Domnonia, the placing of Iuthael on the throne in 555, and Artmal was his great helper in the work.

(See Legends and Romances of Britanny: Conomor and Judicael.)

The authorities for the Life of S. Armel are these: The Lections in the Breviary of Rennes, fifteenth cent., that of Leon, 1516, the Breviary of S. Malo, 1537, and that of Vannes, 1589. The original in the Breviary of Leon, 1516, exists in a copy made by Benedictines of the seventeenth or eighteenth cent., printed by Roparz, Notice sur Ploermel, P. 163. That from the Breviary of S. Malo, printed at Paris, 1489, is in the Acta Sanctorum, Aug., t. iii, pp. 298-9. Albert le Grand gives the Life from the Breviaries of Leon and Folgoet, the latter no longer exists, also from the Legendarium of Plouarzel, which has also disappeared. Albert le Grand is usually very reliable in what he extracts from documents no longer accessible, though reckless in attribution of dates. The earliest text we have is that of the Rennes Breviary, and this is later than the twelfth century, but is probably based on an earlier life.

Armel was born in Morganwg, in the cantref of Penychen. We not told the names of his parents, but this we obtain from the the Welsh genealogies. From one in the Iolo MSS., p. 133, we learn that Derfael, Dwyfael, and Arthfael were sons of Hywel, son of Emyr I.lyilaw, cousins of S. Cadfan. They were members of S. Illtyd's "choir," and afterwards were with S. Cadfan in Bardsey. Armel was accordingly first cousin of S. Samson, S. Padarn, S. Maglorius, S. Malo, and brother probably of S. Tudwal of Treguier, and perhaps also of S. Leonore.

According to the Life in the Breviaries, he was educated in a monastary under a certain abbot Caroncinalis, more properly Carentmael, but did not become a monk. He lived as a secular priest, till one day entering the church he heard the deacon read the gospel : "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath cannot be My disciple." This seemed to him to be spoken to himself. He therefore resolved on abandoning his own land, his parents, and his property. He went to Carentmael and told him his purpose. The abbot agreed to depart also, and a large body of colonists left South Wales together with Caroncinalis and Arthmael. They landed in the mouth of the Aber Benoit in Finistère. the principality of Leon, and went inland till they formed a settlement where is now Plouarzel.

Carentmael is said to have been a near kinsman of Paul of Leon, it he has left no impression in the district where he settled, and he is not numbered among the Breton Saints.

Armel remained at Plouarzel some years till the death of Jonas, king of Domnonia, in or about 540, when Conmore married the widow, and obliged Judual, or Iuthael, the prince, to fly for his life to the court of Childebert. Arthmael, like Leonore and other Saints of Armorica, got on bad terms with the regent Conmore, and he was obliged to leave and go to Paris, where he did his utmost to induce Childebert to displace Conmore and restore Judual (Genealogy of Judual) His efforts were unavailing, till the arrival of Samson, whose energy and persistence in the same cause broke down finally the King's opposition, and they were suffered to return to Brittany, and organise an insurrection on behalf of Judual.

This succeeded, and Conmore was killed in battle in 555. Judual rewarded Armel for his services by giving him land on the Seiche, now in Ille et Vilaine, where is the village of S. Armel. Here he established a monastery.

A dragon infested the neighbourhood. He went to it, put his stole about its neck, and conducted it to the river. He bade the monster precipitate itself into the stream, and was at once obeyed. This is a symbolic way of saying that he subdued Conmore, the old dragon of Domnonia.

Passing one day by the valley of Loutehel, the people complained to him that they lacked good water, and with his staff he miraculously produced a spring. He would seem to have established another monastery at Ploermel, near the pretty lake called 1'Etang du Duc, in a well-wooded rolling country. Whether he died and was buried there or in his territory near the Seiche, and where is his tomb in the church, is uncertain. How long this was after the restoration of Judual we do not know, but it was somewhere about 570.

He was formerly patron of Ergue-Armel, near Quimper, but has been supplanted by S. Allorius. There is a fountain of the Saint at Loutehel, and another prettily situated near the road to Vannes at Ploermel. At this latter place is a window of stained glass of the sixteenth century, representing the story of the Saint in eight compartments:

1. S. Armel bids farewell to his friends and parents in Glammorgan.

2. In Brittany, the king's messenger summons S. Armel to the royal court.

3. S. Armel heals the poor in view of the royal court.

4. S. Armel takes leave of King Childebert.

5. S. Armel wrapped his stole around the dragon.

6. S. Armel precipitating the dragon into the river Seiche.

7. S. Armel preaches and heals a leper.

8. The angel announces to St. Armel his death and how he passed away.

(Roparz (S.), La Legende de S. Armel, S. Brieuc.)

S. Armel became one of the most popular Saints of Brittany.

In addition to the parish churches of Plouarzel, Ploermel and S. Armel Loutehel, and Ergue-Armel, those of Languedias and Langoet were dedicated to him, and he had chapels at Bruz, at Fougeray, Lantic, Radenac, S. Jouan de l'Isle, S. Glen, Sarzeau, and Dinan.

His day is most generally regarded as August 16, Missal of Vannes, 1530; Breviary of Vannes, 1589; MS. Calendar of S. Meen, fifteenth century; Breviary of Dol, 1519; Proper of Vannes, 1660 ; and the MS. Breviary of S. Melanius, Rennes, 1526, Albert le Grand, and Dom Lobineau. On the other hand August 14 is his day in the Breviary of S. Malo, 1537, and in that of Leon, 1516; August 15, a Missal of S. Malo, fifteenth century; August 17, the Quimper Breviary of 1835; July 27, the Vannes Breviary of 1757.

The name Arthmael has become in Breton Arzel and Armel and Ermel. He does not seem to have received any cult m Wales, but in Cornwall Arthmael had a chapel, and was represented on the screen (1531) had an altar, and was commemorated annually at Stratton.

S. Arthmael is represented in stained glass of the end of the fifteenth ginning of the sixteenth century in the church of S. Sauveur, Dinan, habited as an ecclesiastic with an amice over his shoulder and a cap on his head, and with a green dragon at his feet, bound by his stole.

At Ploermel, in like manner in brown habit ; but at Languedias statue of the seventeenth century that represents him as an abbot, trampling on a dragon, which he holds bound with his stole.

Armel is invoked for the healing of rheumatism and gout.

Henty VII would seem to have brought with him from Brittany a veneration for this saint. There is a fine statuette of him in Henry VII 's Chapel, Westminster, where he is represented as trampling on the dragon. and mailed, with gauntlets on his hands. This is a reference to his designation as "Miles fortissimus " in the legend as in the Breviary of Leon, 1516, and in the Rennes Prose of 1492, in which he is invoked as "armigere " against the enemies of our salvation.

On Cardinal Moreton's monument in the crypt of Canterburv Cathedral he is also represented, but the figure there has been grievously mutilated, head and hands have gone.

Ermyn's Hotel, Westminster, stands on S. Ermyn's Hill. This is first mentioned in 1496 as S. Armille's, and later on the name is found as Armell, Armen, Ermyne and Armet. There was a chapel in the seventeenth century, which is now represented by the modern parish church of Christchurch, Westminster.

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