Welsh Legends: Saint Melangell and the Hare

shrine_of_st-_monacella_in_pennant_melangel_church2c_1795

Shrine of St. Monacella, Pennant Melangell Church, 1795 – Public Domain

Saint Melangell was a Welsh saint of Irish descent who came to Wales to escape from forced marriage arranged by her father who was an Irish King.  Unhappy at the prospect of an arranged marriage to a man she did not love she left Ireland to become a hermitess in the wilds of  Powys, Wales.

Saint Melangell and the Hare

Saint Melangell is the patron saint of hares and there is a remarkable legend that tells how this association was created.  According to the legend to escape marriage, she took a vow of celibacy and travelled across the Irish Sea to take refuge in a remote spot in Powys, Wales.  There she lived in isolation without seeing the face of any man for fifteen years.

The Prince of Powys goes hunting

pennant_melangell_screen

Drawing of the rood screen depicting the story of St. Melangell – Public Domain

It so happened that one day the Prince of Powys whose name was Brochwel Yscythrog was out hunting nearby to her hermitage and his dogs roused a hare and chased it forcing it to take refuge in a thicket.  The prince thought his dogs had the hare at their mercy so when he caught up with them he had a surprise.  The hounds all stood at bay around the hare that sat defiantly glaring at the dogs from the fold of the dress worn by a woman of great beauty who was in deep prayer.  All around the dogs howled and bayed but they would not go near the hare that stared boldly at them  from the shelter of the the folds of the woman’s dress.

The Prince and his huntsmen urged his hounds to go in for the kill but they would not venture near the woman who continued praying fervently.  Prince Brochwel Yscythrog ordered his chief huntsman to blow on his horn to encourage them to the kill but when he tried to blow the horn no sound was made and it stuck fast to his lips preventing him from opening them.

The Prince then spoke to the woman who told him her history and that she was a hermitess who lived nearby and had dedicated herself to God.   She told him how she had arrived and lived here and that she had vowed chastity and that his and his huntsmen were the first men she had seen in fifteen years.  She had lived a life of hardship and dedication to God and her bed been the hard cleft of a nearby rock.

Brochwel Yscythrog was so impressed by her story and what he had seen he gave her the land thereabout to live on and to be a sanctuary to any who fled there.  The Prince asked her to found an abbey on the site which she did and became the abbess living there for many years and dying at a great age.

Shrine Church of St Melangell

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Church tower at Pennant Melangell – Public Domain

Her latin name is Monacella though it is rarely used and her feast day is May 27th and was established in the year 590.  The legend of Melangell and the Hare can still be seen carved on a wooden screen that depict hares running to her for her protection. Because of her association with them she was made the patroness of hares which were sometimes called St. Monacella’s Lambs or Oen Melangell.  Today the saint is still remembered at the beautiful and peaceful Shrine Church of St Melangell and The St Melangell Centre which offers a space for contemplation, renewal and spiritual development.

© 06/06/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright June 6th, 2016 zteve t evans

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