Vita Sancti Euflami (Life of Saint Efflam(m))

The Scant Historical Framework of Efflam’s Life

Saint Efflam(m) is semi-legendary.  According to the Monks of Ramsgate (in the “Efflam” entry for the Book of Saints, 1921), Efflam(m) was born in Britain and died in Brittany.  His feast day is 6 November.  He was the son of an Irish king.  Born in AD 448, Efflam(m) married very young to Enora (Honora), and took a vow of chastity.  An angel helped him to resist temptation, and he fled to Brittany, settling at Plestin-les-Grèves, in Trégor, where he lived for a time in the company of Saint Gestin.  According to another tradition, he came from Ireland with his wife Enora.  They never consummated their union, and both consecrated themselves to God in a hermitage in the forest.  Efflam(m) died in AD 512.

A few other details of his life come to light in Vita Sancti Euflami, written c AD 1100.  What is of special importance in Arthuriana is Efflam’s ability to defeat a dragon, when Arthur cannot.  According to Norris J Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Arthur de la Borderie, Lewis Spence, and Albert le Grand; Efflam(m) causes the dragon, through prayer, to plunge into the sea from a rocky summit.

Arthur, Efflam, and the Dragon

Saint Efflam As the story appears in Legends & Romances of Brittany by Lewis Spence, published in 1917 by Frederick A Stokes Company in New York; it is paraphrased in the following:

This is how Arthur attempted to slay a dragon at the beach of Lieue de Grève, and at the same time made the acquaintance of Saint Efflam; as echoed by Albert le Grand, a monk of Morlaix (a Breton, born as Jean Le Grand in AD 1599, died 1641).  Arthur had been sojourning at the Court of Duke Hoel of Armorica, and, having freed his land of dragons and other monsters, was engaged in hunting down the great beasts with which Armorica (Brittany) abounded.  The monster which plagued the Lieue de Grève was no common dragon.  Indeed, he was the most cunning in Europe and had the habit of entering backward into the great cavern in which he lived so that when traced to it those who tracked him would believe that he had just left.  In this manner, the dragon succeeded in deceiving Arthur and his knights, who for days lingered in the vicinity of his cave in the hope of encountering him.  One day as they stood on the seashore waiting for the dragon a sail came into sight, and soon a small boat made of wicker-work covered with skins appeared.  The vessel grounded and its occupants leapt ashore, headed by a young man of princely bearing, who advanced toward Arthur and saluted him courteously.

“Fair sir”, said the young man, “to what land have I arrived?  I am Efflam, the King’s son, of Ireland.  The winds have driven us out of our course, and full long have we laboured in the sea.”  Now when Arthur heard the young man’s name he embraced him heartily.  “Welcome, cousin”, he said. “You are in the land of Brittany.  I am Arthur of Britain, and I rejoice at this meeting, since it may chance from it that I can serve you.”  Then Efflam told Arthur the reason of his voyaging.  He had been wed to the Princess Enora, daughter of a petty king of Britain, but on his wedding night, a strong impulse had come upon him to leave all and make his penitence within some lonely wood, where he could be at peace from the world.  (By other accounts, Enora is said to be a Saxon Princess.  Efflam being betrothed for political reasons to her, one can see how impossible it might have been to expect that such a union could prove anything but disastrous when it was not a love match.)  Rising from beside his sleeping wife, Efflam stole away, and rousing several trusty servitors he set sail from his native shores (whether partly to escape from a married life which jolted his susceptibilities, or entirely on account of his religious philosophy).  Soon his frail craft was caught in a tempest, and after many days driven ashore as had been seen.

Arthur marvelled at the impulse which had prompted Efflam to seek retirement and was about to express his surprise when the youth startled him by telling him that as his vessel had approached the shore he and his men had caught sight of the dragon entering the cave.  At these words Arthur armed himself without delay with his sword Excalibur and his lance Ron, and, followed by his knights and by Efflam, drew near the cavern.  As Arthur came before the entrance the dragon issued forth, roaring in so terrible a manner that all but the King were daunted and drew back.  The creature’s appearance was fearsome in the extreme.  He had one red eye in the centre of his forehead, his shoulders were covered with green scales like plates of mail, his long, powerful tail was black and contorted, and his immense mouth was equipped with tusks like those of a wild boar.

Grim and great was the combat.  Arthur and the dragon fought for three days.  Neither of them seemed to gain any ground.  At the end of that time the dragon retreated into his lair, and Arthur, worn out and almost broken by the long-drawn battle, threw himself down beside Efflam in a state of exhaustion.  “Cousin, a drink of water please”, Arthur said in a choked voice.  “I perish with thirst.”  But no water was to be found in that place save that of the salt sea which lapped the sands of Grève.  However, Efflam had a faith that could weather any difficulty.  He kneeled and prayed earnestly.  When Efflam arose, he struck hard rock thrice with his staff.  “Our blessed Lord will send us water”, he exclaimed, and no sooner had he spoken than from the stone a fountain of pure crystal water gushed and bubbled.  With a shout of satisfaction, Arthur went to the fountain and drank until satiated.  Now that his strength and vitality were restored, he was heading to the dragon’s lair to recommence the battle.  Efflam restrained Arthur before he could reach the cave.

“My dear cousin”, said Efflam, “by force, you have attempted to defeat the beast; now let us all see what can be done by divine supplication”.  Humbled yet astounded, Arthur stayed near to Efflam as his young cousin prayed.  All night Efflam was engaged in devotions, and at sunrise, he arose and walked boldly to the mouth of the cavern.  “Thou spawn of Satan”, he cried, “in the name of God I charge thee to come forth!”  A noise as of a thousand serpents hissing in unison followed this challenge, and from out his lair trailed the great length of the dragon, howling and vomiting fire and blood.  Mounting to the summit of a neighbouring rock, he vented a final bellow and then cast himself into the sea.  The blue water was disturbed as by a whirlpool; then all was peace again.  And so that beastly dragon of Lieue de Grève was no more.

It was shown that prayer was indeed superior to physical might and courage.  Saint Efflam and his men settled on the spot as hermits and were miraculously fed by angels.  Enora, the wife of Efflam, was brought to him by angelic beings.  (One account says that he sent her to the south of Brittany to found a convent for nuns, as he wished to devote his life entirely to the service of God and the contemplation of nature.)  Then one night, years later, some sailors on the sea “saw the sky open and heard a burst of heavenly music”, and next day when a poor woman took her sick child to Enora to beg for her aid she could get no response, and looking in she beheld the royal lady lying dead.  The woman then ran to tell Saint Efflam of her discovery, only to find that he too was lying dead in his cell.  He is buried in the Church of Plestin-les-Grèves, and Efflam’s effigy, standing triumphant above an open-mouthed dragon, graces one of its many niches.

Conclusion

Even though Saint Efflam(m) is semi-legendary, he is said to have been born in Britain in AD 448.  Efflam was the son of an Irish king, and a cousin of Arthur (which calls to mind a certain Artúr mac Áedáin mac Gabrain of Dál Riata from a century later).  While still very young, Prince Efflam married Princess Enora (Honora), the daughter of a petty king of Britain (who was possibly a Saxon leader).  Even though they both took vows of chastity, Efflam left Enora in either Ireland or Britain and travelled; perhaps planning to return to her.  Instead, Efflam’s journey takes him to the beach of Lieue de Grève near Plestin-les-Grèves in Trégor, Brittany (Armorica); where he eventually lived for a time in the company of Saint Gestin.  Efflam defeats a dragon, when Arthur cannot.  Efflam causes the dragon, through prayer, to plunge from a rocky summit and into the sea.  Both Efflam and his wife consecrated themselves to God.  They both died in Brittany in AD 512.  Efflam was buried in the Church of Plestin-les-Grèves.  Judging from the dates of Efflam’s life, the “Arthur” who encountered him could well have been Prince Riothamus (Riatham I) of the Domnonée, who was born AD 430/435, flourished 458 to 460, and died c AD 470.  Independent source references are needed to say this with a greater degree of certainty.  Suffice it to say that Geoffrey Ashe claims that this Riothamus used “Arthur” as a title.

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