Going to School in Celtic times

Today all children have to go to school (or be taught at home), whether they like it or not! But this has not always been the case. For centuries, only children of wealthy parents attended school.

During Roman times the pupils were future administrators and lawyers, children who were trained for important roles later on in life. (They began school when they were seven). When the Roman Empire fell into decline this led to the development of church schools.

Royal families and other wealthy parents paid monastery schools to teach their children. The children would live in the monastery school; the modern equivalent would be a boarding school. Some pupils would be free to return home after their schooling, but others would be expected to enter the monastic life and become a monk or nun.

The most respected Welsh teaching monastery was at Llantwit Major (Llanilltud), where St. Illtudís fame as a teacher spread throughout the land. This monastery was strategically placed; it was near the coast and so sea travellers could reach it crossing the Bristol Channel. It was also on the major Roman road running across South Wales.

St. David and his monks practised an extreme form of ascetic monasticism, but we do not know whether or not David himself was a teacher.

Girls as well as boys from wealthy families went to school. The girls were taught graceful manners as well as skills needed to run a home, such as spinning wool, sewing, baking, and brewing. Some were taught how to read and write. Singing was also important and they may have learnt French. The girls were taught in convent schools by the nuns. They would have led quiet lives, spending much time in prayer. Girls who did not want to marry would often decide to continue living at a convent and become a nun.

Families who had a son or daughter who was a monk or nun were held in high regard; it was very respectable profession.

Not all monks and nuns were happy. Some had been sent to a monastery or convent unwillingly by their families (possibly this is why two of Davidís monks allegedly tried to poison him). Many, however, found the life a great source of strength. They thought that living in solitude would help them get closer to God, as do monks and nuns all over the world today.


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