Happy St Melangell`s Day !
This life is taken from the Orthodox Christian Contact website
Imagine a party of huntsmen in the thick, green undergrowth of a small, wooded valley. The dogs are barking as they begin to follow the scent of a hare. One of the huntsmen sounds the horn. Riding at the front is the local prince. The time is 607 A.D. The place is the Pennant Valley in the kingdom of Powys, in central Wales.
The hare disappears into a huge thicket of undergrowth, and the hunters prepare to follow. Then suddenly strange things begin to happen. The dogs turn back in fear. The huntsman with the horn finds he cannot sound a blast, yet he cannot take the horn from his lips. The prince, brave and proud, leaps from his horse. He will not show fear in the face of magic. He draws his sword and begins to cut his way through the brambles and shrubs.
In a circular clearing in the centre of the thicket stands a young woman. She is dressed very simply. She stands calmly, radiating a sense of peace. At her feet the hare has crouched down for safety. Prince Brochwell of Powys has just come face to face with Melangell, the daughter of an Irish warrior.
The legend tells us that Melangell refused a pre-arranged marriage to an old warrior chieftain. She fled to Wales and began a life of prayer, living in a cave on the side of the Pennant Valley. As she was drawn deeper into the spiritual life, animals began to come to her in complete trust. Around her the world was restored to Paradise.
Prince Brochwell granted her the valley as a place of prayer and refuge for ever. Gradually a small convent grew up, and a church was built. When Melangell died, the nuns placed her body within the church. The holy woman came to be known as a saint. No one knows how long the convent lasted, but archaeologists have shown that nuns were still being buried outside the church in the 9th and 10th Century.
Around 1160 A.D. a new stone church was built, with a shrine where people could come to venerate the bones of Saint Melangell. Pilgrims began to arrive, and miracles of healing took place. The valley was noted as a place of peace, a sanctuary for hares, a comfort to the sick, a glimpse of heaven.
Then came the upheavals and pain of the Reformation. The shrine was desecrated, and chunks of masonry from the shrine were hurled out of the church. Often the relics of saints were destroyed at this time by the reformers, but Saint Melangell was reburied in the floor of the church. Pilgrims were no longer encouraged to make the long journey into the Welsh mountains to visit this holy place.
Centuries passed, and times changed. Hardly anyone lived near the tiny church in the hidden valley. The few local sheep farmers could not afford to repair the building. By the 1980's the church was almost derelict. Then in 1988 work began to restore the church and shrine of Saint Melangell. Many parts of the ancient shrine were found built into walls, or on neighbouring farms. New masonry was carved to match the old stonework. Today, the church and shrine are beautiful once more. Hundreds of pilgrims flock to pray there and to ask for the prayers of the early Celtic holy woman. A centre for healing and rest has been established a few yards from the church, so that Saint Melangell's work may continue.
In the summer of 2002 I had the great joy of visiting Pennant Melangell. I was with a group of youngsters from the Greek Orthodox youth camp. We were joined by Egumen Deiniol, a Welsh monk -priest of the Orthodox Church, a wild figure with long hair and a grey beard which forked in the wind.
The church-yard was full of tiny midges, so we hurried into the church. There Father Deiniol told us the story of Saint Melangell, and we prayed for a while. Then the youngsters sang in English, Greek and Russian. At last it was time to venerate the relics in the shrine.
The shrine is positioned behind the altar. There is a space for pilgrims to walk slowly past the altar, and to circulate round behind the shrine. There you can kneel and pray. I lit a candle and remembered someone very dear to me who has been ill for some years, and I took home a small card from the shrine for her.
Holy Saint Melangell, pray to God for us!
The Official Website of the Shrine Church of St. Melangell, which houses the oldest Romanesque Shrine in northern Europe and is a thrivingPilgrimage Centre. The site contains information for visitors and pilgrims
Icons of St. Melangell:
Troparion of St Melangell tone 8
Preferring the rigours of monasticism to worldly status and marriage, 0 pious Melangell,/ though wast fifteen years on a rock, emulating the example of the Syrian Stylites./
Wherefore, 0 Saint, pray to God that He will give us strength to serve Him as He wills,/
that we may be found worthy of His great mercy.
Kontakion of St Melangell tone 4
Praise, glory and honour are thy due, 0 righteous Melangell,/
for in consecrating thy virginity to Christ, thou didst give us a model of Christian living./ Wherefore we who keep thy festival/
pray for grace to amend our lives according to thy example,/
glorifying God in every word and deed.