Celts to the Creche: St. Non of Wales

 

The chevet’s(a half-round tower/apse added to a church) principal window dates to 1923 and is dedicated to Sainte Nonne (Non). The two lancets in the left side of the window recall the welcome given by the local people to Sainte Nonne and her son Divy (David) shown here being baptised, while the two lancets on the right side show the saint taking her son to a monastery where she is greeted by an abbot and two monks.photo from Dirinon Parish Close website

Celts to the Crèche: Day 31

December 15

St. Non of Wales 

Died about March 2, 589AD

On this 31st day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Non, whose name means “nun.” She was the mother of the patron saint of Wales, St. David (Dewi Sant). She likely died about 589 AD, even though she may have been born in the 400’s.  She may have been a daughter or granddaughter of Brychan, king of Brecon in South Wales.

Legend says that Non was a virgin and was raped by Sant (Sandde), the King of Ceredigion. She became pregnant with David. Another story states that Non stopped into a local church to get a blessing for the upcoming birth. When the preacher found himself unable to preach in the presence of her unborn child, this was taken as a sign that the child would himself be a great preacher.

St. Non's Chapel, Wales. I visited there in September 2009

St. Non’s Chapel, Wales, built in 1934 very near the original chapel. I visited there in September 2009

You may desire to continue reading more about Non or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

Chapel: Non’s chapel stands near the original Celtic foundations on a picturesque cliff top overlooking the gorgeous St. Non’s Bay, about a  mile south of St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. The chapel along with St. Non’s Well is located on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Walk.

Very close by St. Non’s Holy Well, a St. Non’s Chapel was built. Later, farmers began to dismantle St. Non’s Chapel to use for mending their stone fences, so her chapel was rebuilt in 1934.

From St. Davids Cathedral website:

The ruined chapel contains a stone incised with a Celtic round cross dating to the 7th-9th century. It was once built into the wall and was probably originally a grave marker. The chapel is surrounded by a stone circle dating from the Bronze Age, marking this as a site which has been held sacred for thousands of years. Such layers in the landscape speak to us of the power of place.

Holy Well: St. Non’s Holy Well is close to the chapel and it is considered to be one of the main healing wells in Wales as it is famous for curing eye diseases.

From: (Survey of St. David’s by Browne Willis, London 1717):

“There is a fine Well beside it (St. Non’s Chapel), cover’d with a Stone-Roof, and enclos’d within a Wall, with Benches to sit upon round the Well. Some old simple People go still to visit this Saint at some particular Times, especially upon St. Nun’s Day (March 2nd) which they kept holy, and offer Pins, Pebbles, Etc at this well”.

According to the St. Non’s Retreat Centre website:

“Near the Chapel ruins is the Holy Well of St Non which tradition says sprang up at the birth of St David. It is regarded as one of the most sacred wells in Wales. The water is considered to having healing and miraculous powers. Even after the Reformation the well continued to be frequented by the faithful. It was fully restored and rededicated by the Passionist Fathers in 1951.At the same time a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary was placed opposite the well.”

St. Non's Well in Wales. I dipped my hands in the well in September 2009

St. Non’s Well in Wales. I took this photo after I dipped my hands in the well in September 2009.

 

Original location of St. Non's Chapel before it was dismantled by farmers. Very near 1934 St. Non's Chapel

Original location of St. Non’s Chapel before it was dismantled by farmers. Very near to the 1934 St. Non’s Chapel. Photo taken in Sept. 2009 by Harvey Warren

Non’s Retreat Centre is on the same promontory as Non’s Chapel, well, and chapel ruins are located. They have various retreats throughout the year with accommodation.

 

St. Non’s Retreat Centre is to the left of the photo. St. Non’s Chapel is the small stone building near the ocean. It is a gorgeous setting. photo from St. Non’s Retreat Centre website.

Stained Glass of St. Non in her 1934 Chapel. photo from Wikimedia

St. Non is also commemorated as a holy woman not only in Wales, but also in Cornwall, England, and in Brittany, France. Non brought Dewi up at Henfeynyw near Aberaeron, Wales and together they founded a nunnery at Llanon nearby.

The icon of St Non in the Cathedral's north quire aisle

Icon of St. Non in St. David’s Cathedral north quire aisle. Writer is unknown. photo from https://www.stdavidscathedral.org.uk/discover/history/St-Non

Later, she moved to Cerniw to be near her sister, St. Wenna. It is said that Non sent out some oxen to drag her portable altar to the place where she would live. The oxen  stopped at Altarnon, where she founded a monastery. Non retired to Brittany and settled in Dirinon (Diri in Breton meaning oak trees and Non her name) in Finistère, setting up a third monastery there.  She died there on March 3rd. Her shrine can still be seen in the Finistère parish church today. She is listed in the Perpetual Calendar of Cornish Saints as “Mam S. Davy.” There are at least two holy wells to St. Non in Cornwall: at Grampound and at Altarnun which was used for public displays of miraculous cures.

St. Nonna’s Church at Altarnun, Cornwall. Also known as the Cathedral of the Moor. photo from Wikipedia

Church of Dirinon in Brittany, France where St. Non is buried.

L’eglise Sainte-Nonne in Dirinon, Brittany, France where St. Non is buried. Photo from Wikipedia

Non died in northwestern Brittany, France and is buried at Dirinon, ten miles east of Brest.

.St.Non Reliquary in Church of Dirinon in Brittany, France

St. Non’s Reliquary in L’eglise Sainte-Nonne  in Dirinon, Brittany, France. Photo from Wikipedia

Meditation

Feast Day March 2 or March 3

What a wonderful example Non’s life is of God turning something horrible in our life into something that blesses and transforms the world. As we journey with Non, a Welsh Celtic saint to the crèche, let us take the truth deep into our souls that Christ can make all things new. That even the worst thing in our life can be transformed by the Creator Spirit into something beautiful and sacred and lovely.

Prayer: O Christ of the Universe, you know the deepest, darkest, most painful place of my life. Some I have done to myself and some have been done to me. Shine the penetrating light of the holy Star of Bethlehem into that secret sanctuary that only You and I know about. May healing begin as I pilgrimage closer to that crèche (manger) where Christ is born anew in my life. May I become a new person, with a transformed soul and mind, and a new way of seeing and experiencing life. I desperately need your help. Heal my broken relationships. Heal my broken heart and broken body. Dry my tears that seem to constantly flow and unplug the tears that need to flow. Shine through me to help others to also find their way to the crèche. Amen

Some Resources:

Boardman, Steve, John Rueben Davies, and Ella Williamson, eds. Saints Cults in the Celtic World. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2009.

Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland.  Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2006.

Earle, Mary C. and Sylvia Maddox. Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2004.

Evans, J Wyn and Jonathan Wooding. St. David of Wales: Cult, Church, and Nation. (Studies in Celtic History, v. 24).Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2007.

Fish, Sarah. The Female Saints of Cornwall. MA Celtic Studies Dissertation. University of Wales. Trinity St. David. n.d.

Gregory, Donald. Country Churchyards in Wales. Gwynedd, Wales: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1991.

Jones, Andrew. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland. Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2002.

Jones, Kathleen. Who are the Celtic Saints? Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2002.

L’Abbe Sionett. Buhez Santez Nonn ou Vie de Sainte Nonne. Paris: Merlin, 1837.

L’église Sainte-Nonne.  Dirinon, Brittany, France.

Matthews, John. “The Friend of the Spirit: David of Wales” in  Drinking from the Sacred Well:Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saints. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

Meehan, Bridget Mary and Regina Madonna Oliver. Praying with Celtic Holy Women. Hampshire, UK: Redemptorist Publications, 2003.

Orme, Nicholas. The Saints of Cornwall. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail.

Rees, Elizabeth. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. London: Burns & Oates, 2003.

___________. Celtic Saints in Their Landscape. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing, 2011.

 ___________.Celtic Saints: Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Rhygyfarch. Life of St. David. In Life of St. David in Lives of the Celtic Saints, edited by Eleanor Hull. Available at Archive.org.

St. David’s Cathedral. Wales.

St. Non’s Retreat Centre, Wales.

“The Life of St. David” by Rhygyfarch in Celtic Spirituality, ed. by Oliver Davies and Thomas O’ Loughlin. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

Williams, Peter. The Sacred Wells of Wales: A Tour. No publisher info. 2001.

 

About Rev. Brenda Griffin Warren

I am an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) recently retired pastor. I am married with two grown sons, a daughter-in-love, two Maine Coon cats, and spend a lot of my life at the beach shell-shopping. My interests include illuminated manuscripts, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints, pilgrimage, Celtic spirituality, Shakers, Anglo-Saxon and Merovingian abbesses and their double monasteries, Native American spirituality, and genealogy. Let us pilgrimage together with the Celtic/Anglo-Saxon saints in my 40 Day Celtic Advent Devotional entitled, "Celts to the Creche" at www.saintsbridge.org.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.