Pilgrims find hope and inspiration at reconstructed shrine: Welsh saint reputed to have healing powers becomes focus for worshippers

HUNDREDS of pilgrims have made their way over the past year to pray beside the shrine of an obscure Welsh holy woman who is the patron saint of hares. Her shrine, believed to be the oldest Romanesque reliquary in northern Europe, was reconstructed from broken fragments found in the lych gate and walls of the church.

The holy woman, Saint Melangell, has given her name to the hamlet and the church which lie hidden in an isolated valley near Llangynog, mid Wales. The saint's relics, which were reputed to have healing properties, are contained in the restored shrine in the chancel of the church.

In ancient times pilgrims prostrated themselves beneath the reliquary, sometimes all night, in the hope of cures. Today able-bodied pilgrims walk two miles from Llangynog along a narrow country lane and often take part in a service at the church before praying quietly beside the shrine. Among the supplications written by pilgrims in a book in the church are requests for help with multiple sclerosis, leukaemia, and one man has requested prayers to help him overcome anger, depression and alcoholism. After visiting the church pilgrims may be offered tea and Welsh cakes by Evelyn Davies, who assists her husband the vicar, the Rev Paul Davies, with pastoral work.

Mrs Davies, who has recovered from a cancer operation eight years ago, said: 'People who are dying find great peace here. We see a lot of young people with cancer who have not thought much about death. They become very frightened when they find for the first time that events are overtaking them.'

The church of Saint Melangell lies at the head of a small valley, at end of a road which goes nowhere else. It is built on a Bronze Age site which existed at least 1,000 years before the Christian era according to radio-carbon dating.

Ancient yew trees in the graveyard are about 2,000 years old and were probably planted to ward off evil spirits when the site was used for pagan rites.

'Pennant Melangell is a place of contemplation, beyond time, and beyond speech,' Mrs Davies said. 'People who visit this place often find it helps them to come to terms with their illness. We try to help them put aside their fears of the future and live in the present time.' Saint Melangell came to the valley in 607, fleeing from the prospect of a dynastic marriage arranged by her father who was part of the ruling family in Strathclyde. Melangell, whose latin name was Monacella, founded a nunnery in the valley and became associated with the cult of the hare.

According to legend she gave protection to a hare that was being hunted by Brochwel, Prince of Powys. When the huntsman raised his horn to urge on the hounds it stuck to his lips and the hounds were repulsed.

In pagan Britain the hare was revered as a goddess of fertility. Such beliefs remained alive long after conversion of the local population to Christianity.

The shrine of the saint was thrown out of the church in the 17th century when the Reformation challenged the validity of such healing cults. But her bones were preserved in what is believed to be her original grave, covered by a large slate stone. Now her bones have been re-interred in the shrine. 'Many local saints have been forgotten but for some reason Melangell's ministry has carried on,' Mrs Davies said. 'This is a holy place. Donald Allchin, who is professor of Celtic Spirituality at University College of North Wales, calls it a thin place - where heaven and earth are close together.'

(Photographs omitted)

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering