Welsh Church to honor courageous leadership of St. Teilo

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Among Welsh Catholics, Feb. 9 is the liturgical memorial of Saint Teilo, a sixth-century monk and bishop who led the Church in the Llandaff area of present-day Cardiff. His time as bishop included a major disease outbreak, which forced the local church and its leader into temporary exile.

Though many details of his life are lost or unknown, the remaining evidence makes it clear that Teilo was an important and revered figure, who became a popular namesake for churches in Wales. St. Teilo is sometimes known under alternate versions of his name, including "Theliau" and "Eliud."

While it is unclear exactly when Teilo was born, he is described as having lived to old age by the time of his death around 560, making it likely that his life began during the second half of the preceding century.

There are indications that Teilo's father was a man named Usyllt, who may have been canonized as "Saint Issell." A clearer connection exists between Teilo and the well-known Welsh patron Saint David, Teilo's fellow monk and bishop, who was also his cousin. Finally, it appears that Teilo's nephew, St. Oudaceus, succeeded him as the Bishop of Llandaff.

Teilo's education took place at two institutions directed by saints. The first was established by the renowned Church leader and educator Saint Dubric (or Dyfrig), while the second was the school directed by Saint Paulinus of Wales. Later, Teilo himself became a monk and headed a monastic school in Llandaff.

A late but traditional account of Teilo's life states that he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with St. David and their companion St. Padarn, and that the three were made bishops by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in approximately 518. Afterward, Teilo purportedly went to France, serving the Church there for several years alongside his friend St. Samson of Brittany.

It is unclear exactly when Teilo became the bishop of Llandaff, but it appears he took over leadership after its previous bishop St. Dubric retired to a hermitage on Bardsey Island. The question of Teilo's reported pilgrimage, and the varying chronologies of Dubric's life, make the date of this succession difficult to establish.

Teilo earned the acclaim of the faithful as a worthy successor to Dubric. The depth of their trust became clear in 547, when a severe disease outbreak prompted Teilo to lead a large portion of his flock into exile for several years. He and his followers fled to Brittany, staying with St. Samson and waiting for the plague to pass.

Almost eight years passed before Teilo and his companions returned to Wales. His admirable leadership continued in Llandaff for several years after the crisis, and he died peacefully in a local monastery. In the centuries that followed, St. Teilo was honored in parts of France as well as in England and Wales. A town in northwestern France, "Saint-Thelo," still bears his name.

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