Legend of St. Goeznovius

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The Legend of St. Goeznovius
An Early Breton Legend

In the preface to the Legend of St. Goeznovius, the Breton writer, William, Chaplain to Bishop Eudo of Leon, gives an amazing, capsulized history of King Arthur, and uncannily prefigures the legend that would develop around him after the publication of Geoffrey of Monmouth's "The History of the Kings of Britain," in 1136. Here, Arthur is seen, not only as a war leader, but as a king. He is seen as a victorious campaigner in Gaul as well as in Britain, and, in a puzzling reference, he is said to have been "summoned, at last, from human activity."

William states that the information used in his preface came from "Ystoria Britanica," unfortunately, a source now lost to us. But, the important question to us is when was the preface written? The first sentence states the answer, "anno ab Incarnatione Domini M nono decimo" (in the year of the Lord's incarnation, 1019). If that date is true, then "Goeznovius" would predate Geoffrey by over a century and could be seen as one of the main sources that he used in preparation of his "History." Although there is a difference of opinion on this point, the early dating does enjoy firm scholarly support.

In his "History of the Kings of Britain," Arthur is, also, presented to us as a king and a victorious campaigner in Gaul and Britain. As in "Goeznovius," Geoffrey never reports a death for Arthur, saying, instead, that he was taken to the Isle of Avalon for the healing of his wounds. In their kingship, their victorious Gallic campaigns and in their fading away, rather than dying normally, the two Arthurs seem so similar.

Since Geoffrey can be shown to have depended upon a number of early sources in the construction of his monumental work, "The History of the Kings of Britain," it is possible that "Goeznovius" is one of them.

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 islane, 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 Gsopel, left the greater Britain which is now the Saxon's homeland, and sailed across to the lesser Britain (Brittany).

This translation appears in Ashe, Geoffrey, "The Landscape of King Arthur," Anchor Press Doubleday, London, 1985, p.103

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