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One of British history's greatest untold stories told for first time

Where was Britain’s first centre of learning founded? Oxford? Cambridge? St Andrews? Think again: it was in Llantwit Major in south Wales – known as Llanilltud Fawr in Welsh. St Illtud’s monastery and training school was founded in c.500 A.D., making it in all probability the oldest centre of learning in Britain. Scholars of church history have emphasised its importance by calling it ‘the Christian axis of the Celtic-speaking peoples’ and ‘the University of the Atlantic of the Celtic period’.

 Llanilltud – The Story of a Celtic Christian Community by Philip Morris provides the very first in-depth history of St Illtud’s medieval monastic community: one of the greatest untold stories in British history.

“I wrote the book as Llanilltud is unique in the fact that there is no other modern study of this particular monastic school and community. This is a semi-academic study, which offers far more detail than is available in local guidebooks and which counters some of the misinformation about St Illtud that is derived from later sources. I hope it will fill a gap in our understanding of the development of Christianity in south Wales and indeed in the wider ‘Celtic’ countries. I feel that it is timely, especially with the rebuilding of the Galilee Chapel at Llanilltud and the housing of the Celtic Christian stones there,” said Philip Morris.

The Llanilltud collection of Celtic Christian stones, housed in the Galilee Chapel, includes the Houelt Cross, the Samson or Illtud Cross and the Samson Pillar, all dating from the 9th to 11th century. The Houelt Cross will be very familiar to anyone who has travelled via Cardiff airport, as the intricate Celtic design inscribed on the cross is used in the airport logo.

The Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales between 2003 and 2017 says of the book:

“It is difficult to imagine that Llanilltud Fawr was in the late fifth and early sixth centuries probably host to one of Britain’s earliest centres of learning. It is also difficult to believe that a scholarly and critical in-depth study of such an important site has not been attempted before. This book has now plugged that gap splendidly.”

Llanilltud is a scholarly, analytical but also engaging and highly readable study whose primary focus is the development of the early monastic community in the context of the Celtic Christian tradition. It also looks at developments on the site over the next 1,000 years until the Reformation, as well as at how the Celtic tradition and memory of Llanilltud have been kept alive since then. The book covers the history of this community from Neolithic and Iron Age times, the Christian community before and during Illtud’s period, an account of the effects of Viking attacks, the arrival of the Normans, the Reformation and Puritanism under Oliver Cromwell, and brings the story right up to the present day.

The Revd Canon Edwin Counsell, current Rector of Llantwit Major says of Phillip Morris’ research and work:

“Philip Morris takes us on a pilgrimage through the ages and generations of Llanilltud, using sound scholarship, careful research and a deep understanding of Celtic tradition. Crucially, by applying this pragmatically to popular traditions of Illtud’s legacy, he reveals a deeper and more authentic inheritance, which informs the pilgrim journey of today.”