We do not know much about St Hywel’s life and the little we know comes to us from the Venerable Bede. Asser mentions him but only that King Alfred kept Hywel’s knucklebone in a silver and gold reliquary which he lent to the Bishop of Worcester when there was a sickness in the Priory of St. Mary. Hywel’s skull was said to have been destroyed by the Vikings in the destruction at the Monastery of Thanet in 753.
Hywel was born in Powys and the son of a successful Blacksmith. He was brought up a pagan but when he was 12 an angel visited him in his father’s smithy when he was alone. The angel told Hywel that he had a great future ahead of him but he needed to renounce his parents’ false gods and turn to the one true God.
Hywel told his parents and they were angry with him. They took him to the local Druid to cast out the evil that had possessed him. Hywel debated with the Druid and the power of God was in him so that his whole body shone with an inner light. The Druid was struck dumb by the glory of God and he never spoke again. This is the first miracle attributed to St Hywel.
The boy left Powys and went to see Abbot Tudwal of Lindinis and begged to study The Word of God with him. Abbot Tudwal was unsure about the ragged boy who had turned up on his doorstep and was inclined to refuse the request.
Hywel was prepared for this and he said that he was willing to show the Abbot a sign that he was sent from God. The Abbot had for several years been suffering from Ficus and when Hywel touched him and called upon God he was immediately cured. This was the second miracle attributed to Hywel.
Hywel stayed with the Abbot and learnt the scriptures. God had given him the gift of Oratory and he used the gift to glorify God and bring many sinners to the Church.
At that time the leaders of Briton turned away from God and they trusted in their own strength of arms or worse sacrificed to the older gods in dark places. Hywel was a constant thorn in their side with his fiery oratory and he was often seen haranguing the rich and powerful who had turned away from the Light of God.
An angel visited Hywel and told him to go to Dunum where he would be needed to help defend the people against the wrath of the pagan Sais. Hywel gathered his meagre belongings and went to Dunum on the River Terstan. The Sais had attacked and the local Captain had told the people of Dunum he could not defend them. Hywel was unhappy with the Captain and berated him for his sins. It was Easter and Hywel led the populace in a great service glorifying God. After the service had finished Hywel went to the bridge of Dunum. He told the people that an Angel had told him that the Sais would come and destroy their town, kill the men and enslave their women and children. The soldiers had all left during the night and the people were afraid that the words Hywel had spoken would come true.
Hywel told them that they should not fear his words because he would hold up the Sais until they had time to escape. The people thanked him and he allowed them to kiss his plain wooden cross that he carried.
Hywel went on to the bridge and began singing and glorifying God. It was not long before the Sais attacked. They were not worried that a single man was standing on the bridge and they rushed forward to strike him down. Hywel did not pay them any attention and continued singing, his arms outstretched and his face to heaven. The spears and axes of the Sais did not harm him no matter how hard he was hit. This is the third miracle attributed to Hywel.
After three days Hywel began to tire and he commended his soul to heaven. The Sais took him and bound him. Some argued that this was a holy man and that they should let him go but the leaders of the Sais were steeped in evil and had consorted with many demons. They took Hywel and crucified him. He did not utter a word of complaint and kept his face toward heaven.
Many of the Sais were converted on the spot and continued to glorify God. They argued that since this land was filled with such Holy men that they should leave them in peace and withdraw, never again taking up arms against Christians.
Hywel’s body was retrieved by monks of Abbot Tudwal. The Sais willingly gave his body back because they were struck with awe by his composure and holiness.
St Hywel became the patron saint of Bridgebuilders.