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Melangell


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Welsh solitary and subsequently abbess of a small community in remote Pennant Melangell (near Llangynog, Montgomeryshire, now Powys), whose shrine and church have been admirably restored in recent years. Her date must be considered very uncertain, slight evidence pointing to the 7th or 8th century.

It seems likely that Melangell's cult flourished locally long before a Life was written about her. This is extremely thin in historical information, but links her with Brochwel Ysgithrog, king of Powys, and with the protection and patronage of hares. According to this 15th-century author, who used some earlier source, Melangell was discovered by Brochwel when he was hunting in her neighbourhood: she had lived at Pennant Melangell for fifteen years after fleeing from an unwanted marriage in Ireland. Brochwel donated land to be used as a sanctuary for herself and other virgins she might attract into a community, as well as for the hares whom she had befriended before and after the meeting with Brochwel. Melangell was reputed to have lived for another thirty-seven years after this meeting. She is explicitly described as a virgin in the text. This may help to account for the fact that she and Winefride are the only two female saints of Wales to be provided with Latin biographies. Melangell's fills only two pages. At its end there is a story that one Elise came to Pennant Melangell and attempted to ravish the nuns there, but came to a sudden and grisly end. This incident may have been the occasion for writing the short Life. The incident about the hares may well have some affinity with pre-Christian folklore.

Archaeologists have excavated the cemetery and the Romanesque church: with great care and scrupulous attention to all relevant details recovered, the shrine has been restored and the church is used as a pilgrimage centre visited by Christians of all denominations from the neighbourhood. It represents a situation more frequent in 12th-century England described by William of Malmesbury of a shrine to an ancient saint of whom nearly all historical information has perished. Feast: 27 May.

Volume 82 (1994) of The Montgomeryshire Collections by various authors is the best account to date of the cult, shrine, and Life of Melangell. See also C. A. R. Radford and W. J. Hemp in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 108 (1959), 82–3.

Subjects: Christianity.


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