Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saint Non and her story

St.David's Cathedral

I had forgotten St.Non, and the little chapel by the sea, several times I had wandered down to it over the years, following the sharp cliff edge, meditating on the peace and quiet. Here it was that the realisation that paganism and christianity shared a common heritage came to me, that religion is not so sharply defined as we would imagine it. In fact the two wind around each other, christianity taking its stories from a pagan past; we may see it as a domineering force and indeed great cruelty has been inflicted in the name of christianity by humans, but it is there we can stop, for it is the small narrow minded vision that is responsible here.
Peter-on-the-Wall in Essex, Winterbourne Monkton in Wiltshire, they are like small insects in the mind, forever buzzing around demanding some sort of explanation from me. Perhaps there is water involved, a river running through the landscape, gathering the stones as it goes, perhaps a goddess wanders through, fertility and abundant golden fields. Perhaps it is the prehistoric or saxon stones captured in the fabric of the churches, sometimes in the foundations, sometimes circled round the churchyard.

So what is St.Non's story.... we are told that she was a nun and seduced by King Sant, and that she gave birth to St.David in a stone circle, whilst all around her thunder and lightening reigned but within the circle was peace and quiet...
Let us follow her story a bit further, or at least embroider it, and here I quote from T.D.Breverton - Welsh Saints;
"Non seems to have the attributes of the Celtic goddess Anna, Nonna or Dana, mother of the gods and ancestress of Celtic nobility. The cult of St.Anne is still strong in Brittany. In the Northern Tradition, she is Nanna, mother of the slain god Balder, and in the Roman deology she is Annona, goddess of the harvest/ The ancient Celtic goddess becam St.Anne, the mother of our Lady, and the grandmother of Jesus, during the general conversion to christianity across Europe."
So there we have it a direct line of female descent running through the religious thread.... we can trace her through Mary Magdalen at Winterbourne Monkton and the strange female on the font, or up on St.Anne's Hill in the Pewsey Vale.....
The spring at St.Non is supposed to have sprung up when she gave birth to St.David, and by the chapel there is a retreat, a somewhat austere house facing out to sea. She wandered down to Cornwall via the sea one presumes, for we can pick up her legend at St.Alternon, where she was invited to in AD 527 by her sister, and a well named after her, where the insane were precipitated into to cure them of insanity! Her death took place in Brittany, and her bones are supposed to rest At Dirinon in Finistere.
She is regarded as the mother of the church in Wales and is supposed to have said "there is nothing more stupid than argument"

Note;According to Elizabeth Rees - Celtic Saints, Passionate Wanderers, near Fishguard in the valley of the River Cleddau, there is also another church inside a stone circle at Scleddau village, the church has disappeared but there are seven springs on the site.

The other ruined medieval chapel, and according to Rees there are 15 along this bit of the coastline, is Justinian's chapel.
Here we must, follow the myth of the 'Celtic Head', to understand how Justinian came into prominence, a magical/miraculous happening. First of all it is St.David that gave him houses on the Island of Ramsey, and it was here that the poor monk was murdered by his servants, apparently he told them to work harder. They cut off his head, and where it fell, a spring gushed forth, but Justinian did'nt just lie down and die, no he picked up his head and walked across the sea, coming ashore at St.Justinian Point, (the photo is down below of his chapel which is situated by a rescue sea service) where he wished to be buried. His remains are interred in St.David's Cathedral, next to St.David himself.

The Bishop's Palace next to St.David's Cathedral
There is one more saint in this area, Ailbe, son of Non's sister, and his name has been somewhat corrupted to St.Elvis, and of course St.Elvis double chambered cromlech bears his name. This cromlech next to a farmhouse, had another chapel called St.Teilo. This no longer exists, but might have been incorporated in the farm buildings, it could still be seen in the 1940's.
Saint Ailbe, according to Breverton, is one of the greatest figures in the Irish church, and he evangelised southern Ireland. Irish legend has him being suckled by a she-wolf and retiring to the 'Land of Promise, a mixture of the Celtic 'Otherworld' and paradise.
Here we take a sideways drift, and contemplate that other famous Elvis Presely,
did he have welsh descent? Elvis and Presely (Prescelli mountains)...

1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating piece and you have left me with a great train of thought here - it's raining out - the heavy Welsh rain I know only too well (stair-rods my mum would have called it!) so time to reach for a few books today . . .

    Off to e-mail you now.