The Legend of St. Goeznovius

Saint Goeznovius (or Gwyddno) was a 6th-century monk from Cornwall. As a disciple of St. Paul-Aurélian, he later rose to become the Bishop of Léon. He established a monastery at Langoeznou (present-day Gouesnou) in Finistère, and his influence extended to Saint-Gouéno in Côtes d’Armor. Goeznovius has gained recent attention due to his ‘Life’ containing a preface that provides one of the earliest recorded mentions of King Arthur.

This extraordinary preface in the ‘Life of Saint Goeznovius’, authored by William, Chaplain to Bishop Eudo of Léon, dates back to 1019. This work predates Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Historia Regum Britanniae” (“History of the Kings of Britain”) by over a century. Geoffrey’s book, which significantly popularized the legend of King Arthur, also claimed to be based on an ancient manuscript written in the British language, similar to William’s claim of sourcing from the now-lost ‘Ystoria Britannia’.

Geoffrey’s “Historia Regum Britanniae” is known to incorporate elements from the 9th-century “Historia Britonum,” Bede’s “Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum,” and St. Gildas’ “De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae,” but he also took liberties to embellish and add his own creative elements to these accounts.

The intriguing aspect of William’s account is the hint of a common, possibly ancient source that influenced both his and Geoffrey’s narratives about King Arthur. Like Geoffrey’s account, William’s preface describes Arthur’s campaigns in Gaul and Britain and suggests that Arthur was “summoned from human activity,” implying that he did not die but was taken away for healing, possibly to return. This similarity indicates a shared foundation in the storytelling of both kings, underscoring the deep roots of Arthurian legend in medieval European literature.

The Legend of St. Goeznovius

in the year of the Lord’s incarnation, 1019…

…In the course of time, the usurping king Vortigern, to buttress the defence of the kingdom of Great Britain which he unrighteously held, summoned warlike men from the land of Saxony and made them his allies in the kingdom. Since they were pagans and of devilish character, lusting by their nature to shed human blood, they drew many evils upon the Britons.

Presently their pride was checked for a while through the great Arthur, king of the Britons. They were largely cleared from the island and reduced to subjection. But when this same Arthur, after many victories which he won gloriously in Britain and in Gaul, was summoned at last from human activity, the way was open for the Saxons to go again into the island, and there was great oppression of the Britons, destruction of churches and persecution of saints. This persecution went on through the times of many kings, Saxons and Britons striving back and forth…

In those days, many holy men gave themselves up to martyrdom; others, in conformity to the Gospel, left the greater Britain which is now the Saxon’s homeland, and sailed across to the lesser Britain (Brittany).