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Ground view of the ruins of St. Non's Chapel.

Happy St David’s Day – and happy St Non’s Day tomorrow!

On March 1, St David’s Day is celebrated across Wales, but perhaps we should also remember St Non’s Day tomorrow on March 2.

Ground view of the ruins of St. Non's Chapel.
Ground view of the ruins of St. Non’s Chapel.

Non was the mother of St. David (c.500 – c.589), the patron saint of Wales whom we celebrate on March 1 because it is traditionally regarded as the date on which he died.  Reminders of Non’s existence can be seen today in the Pembrokeshire landscape in the form of a chapel and its associated well, namely St. Non’s Chapel, near St. David’s, Pembrokeshire, which according to the literature of the period the chapel is located near the birthplace of St.David. St Non’s Chapel, St Davids | Coflein

St Non’s chapel is a ruin now cared for by Cadw.  It is probably early medieval in origin and was a place of pilgrimage right up to the Reformation.  George Owen, the Elizabethan historian writing in c. 1600, described how in his day ‘old simple people go still to visit this saint . . . especially upon St Non’s Day . . .  and offer pins, pebbles, etc., at at this well’.  By the time, Browne Willis wrote his survey of St David’s Cathedral (1717) the chapel site had been turned into a garden full of leeks. 

One of the main sources of information about St. David’s life (Dewi Sant) was written by a monk called Rhygyfarch, son of Sulien, bishop of St. David’s, who was writing in the 11th century. Rhygyfarch in his version of Buchedd Dewi (Life of Saint David), is also the author, of the most important source of information about St. David’s mother, Non.   This source states that Non (born at the end of the 5th century) was a nun at Tŷ Gwyn (White House) near Porth Mawr who was violated by Sant, King of Ceredigion.  She gave birth to St David at what is known today as Capel Non on a cliff side location.  The little church overlooks St Non’s Bay and is situated within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  An earlier source of literature, Bonedd y Saint, says that she was the daughter of Cynyr from Caer Gawch, Monmouthshire and that her mother was Anna, daughter of Uthr Pendragon, who was King Arthur’s father.

It is said that Non gave birth to David during a violent storm but that she was bathed in light.  According to legend she was in so much pain during the birth she grasped a nearby rock on which she left her finger marks and the rock later became ensconced in the foundations of the chapel altar.

Near (east of) the ruins of St.Non’s Chapel is a holy well dedicated to Non, which appeared immediately after St David’s birth, and like many wells throughout the Celtic nations is said to have holy and healing powers.  After St. David’s birth, Non dedicated her life to God, which is reflected in her name being included within the names of many churches across Wales and her name is also linked with Brittany, Devon and Cornwall.  It is believed that later on she went to Cornwall where there is a holy well and a number of churches dedicated to St. Non and in Dirinon, Brittany her tomb supposedly lies within St Nonne and St Divi Church.  In Cornwall she is known as Nonna whilst in Brittany she is referred to as Melaria and in Wales and Brittany the Festival of St. Non is celebrated in March, June or July . 

Various place-names in Wales bear her name, such as Llanon in Ceredigion and Llannon / Llan-non in Carmarthenshire and also in Radnorshire and Glamorgan. RCAHMW | Search Our Records | List of Historic Place Names / Llanon – Recorded name – Historic Place Names of Wales (rcahmw.gov.uk) / Llannon / Llan-non – Head Name – Historic Place Names of Wales (rcahmw.gov.uk)

Bethan Hopkins-Williams, Public Engagement Officer 

Aerial view of St Non’s Chapel viewed from the north-east (2005). The small vaulted well is bottom left of the photograph with visitors passing by.
Aerial view of St Non’s Chapel viewed from the north-east (2005). The small vaulted well is bottom left of the photograph with visitors passing by.
An aerial photograph of St Non’s Chapel from the north-west (2005).
An aerial photograph of St Non’s Chapel from the north-west (2005).
View of Early Christian Monument found at St Non's Chapel, Pembrokeshire.
View of Early Christian Monument found at St Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire.

Bibliography

01/03/2024

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