Thursday, July 28, 2011

St.Non and her chapel

The ruined chapel inside the stone circle

St.Non is the mother of St.David, Wales most important saint, it is said that St.David was born in the centre of a stone circle one wild and stormy night, well myth or legend, this is the place that it happened.
There are stones scattered around in a large circle, though very incomplete, and in the centre a ruined medieval chapel set on this gently sloping ground looking out to sea.
Above the ruined chapel is a retreat house, which can be used by any denomination of religion.  It is not exactly attractive, and must have been built in the 1930s, and alongside a smaller chapel which was finished in 1934 and is dedicated to three saints, St.Non, St.Bridget, and St.Winifred all female celtic saints, or at least, belonging to that time when the Romans had left Britain in the 5th century and the 'British Celtic' church had come into being with slightly different teachings to the 'Roman Catholic' writings.  
At St.Non's it is said that when St.David was born, a spring rose miraculously from the ground, this well is dedicated to 'Our Lady' a catholic dedication.  So a place of mystery and strong religious feelings, the well of course seen as a healing well.  What of course makes the place interesting is the overlay of paganism by christianity.

Winifred or Gwen-Frewi 6th-7th century has an interesting history, she follows in the tradition of young rich female seduced by a prince (Caradog ab Alan), she fled from him but he caught up with before she could reach the safety of the church and sanctuary.  He cut off her head but her uncle St.Beuno restored her head and she became a nun at Gywtherin in Denbighshire.  The 'head' motif is characteristic of the pagan celtic cults.

Bridget/Bride - Ffraid 450 - 525 century - patron saint  of blacksmiths, poets, brewers, cooking and kitchens and healers. She seems a patron of many things, she is of course also acknowledged  in the bay called St.Brides Bay which the chapel looks over, she is more famous as the Irish saint, St.Bridget, second only to St.Patrick, in Wales she was called Ffraid Santes. Bridget of course belongs to the cult of the Celtic Fire Goddess, which kept an 'eternal' fire going at Kildare, and belongs to the festival of St.Imbolc on 2nd February.

Fascinating histories of these Welsh saints can be found in T.D.Breverton's book The Book of Welsh Saints, a book if I was stranded on a Desert Island would be my book of choice!

St.Non's Well with spots of rain

The Retreat

The shrine

The 20th century chapel


  1. How fascinating - and I do believe that is a book I DON'T have! (Though I do have several other "saintly" books). Again, not somewhere we've been too as it's quite a hike from here. I've added it to the list.

    St Winifred was always a focal saint of the Cadfael novels (I have several to hand I'm reading presently).

    I must do some more reading on the subject of Celtic saints. I have Norah Chadwick's book, so have just blown the dust off it.

  2. Hi BB,
    glad I'm introducing you to this part of Wales, the book is a must, but it is a bit heavy to post. Sad I can't talk to you on your blog, it refuses every time - you must have set up a gremlin, or your ghost has had a hand... Notice you were reading Ellis Peters, read her ages ago, the tv programmes called Cadfael? were a bit grim though..


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