The month of Mary: A Marian Month
Saint of the day:
Patron Saint of bunnies, small animals and the natural environment
St Melangell's story begins as a familiar one. She was a 7th-century Irish princess who had dedicated her life to prayer. Her father, the king, had arranged for her to marry against her will. Wishing to preserve her life of virginity and prayer, in about the year 590 she fled Ireland and settled in the countryside of what we know today as Wales. There she lived a life of solitude and prayer.
Nearly fifteen years later, in the year 604, Brochwel Ysgithrog, then Prince of Powys and Earl of Chester, encountered the young Melangell while hunting, when the hare that his hounds were chasing took refuge under her cloak. Seeing her, the hounds stopped. Brochwel tried to command them to go on but Melangell defied them and they turned and fled.
Brochwel had never experienced anything like this, and was keen to speak to the mysterious young woman. Struck by her beauty, he had hoped that she would marry him, but when he heard her story he was so moved and impressed by her determination and piety that he donated to her a parcel of land in the valley where she could live her monastic life among the wild creatures there.
News of her spread throughout the area and other women came to gather around her, forming a community there. They ordered their communal life on prayer and works of mercy, providing sanctuary to the poor and needy. Melangell was the mother to this community of women for the remaining 37 years of her life, and was often seen surrounded by hares during this time.
After Melangell's death, her tomb became a place of healing, with pilgrims travelling for miles to venerate her relics and ask her intercession. Brochwel's successors decreed that the area must be protected as a place of solace for those in need of healing and restoration, as well as a place of refuge for the small animals, who were to remain unharmed. So it remained for centuries.
However, at the Reformation, the site was desecrated. The holy shrine was destroyed and the stones were scattered in the churchyard, with some incorporated into walls and other structures. In an act of love and devotion reflected in many parts of the country where holy places were laid to ruin, the pious local people had hidden St Melangell's relics so that the desecrators could not destroy them. However, over time, any memory of their location died.
By the late 20th century, the church was in such a state of disrepair that serious renovation work was required to save it. It was during this work that bones were discovered hidden in the fabric of the church. These were found to be those of a woman, dating from the 6th or 7th century - undoubtedly those of the saint, saved by the piety of the local people centuries ago.
The shrine was reconstructed from the stones reclaimed from around the churchyard, and the holy relics were enshrined once more. The little church at Pennant Melangell is once again a place of pilgrimage, where people go to venerate St Melangell, to ask for her prayers, and to thank God for her as a model of piety and protectress of the little animals.
The Shrine Church & Centre of Saint Melangell
Pennant Melangell, Oswestry SY10 0HQ, United Kingdom
Saint Melangell Centre, Pennant Melangell, Llangynog, Powys, SY10 0HQ. Telephone: 01691 860408