MELANGELL and the Giant

I think of March as Melangell’s time, when hares will run. My mind was drawn recently to the remote valley of Pennant Melangell in the Berwyn Hills while looking at an entry in a book about Welsh giants. The flat bed of rock in a nook at the bottom of a cliff near the church dedicated to St Melangell is known in her legend as ‘Gwely Melangell’, the suggestion being that this is where she slept when she lived in the valley alone and the hare came to her for protection. But it is also known as ‘Gwely y Gawres’ (Bed of the Giantess). How can these be reconciled? Perhaps by saying that the giant was there first and Melangell occupied the same place much later (like Ffraid, the Welsh Brigit, she is said to have come from Ireland to escape an arranged marriage).

As with Brigid there could be another story behind that of the saint. Was Melangell a giantess, an aboriginal spirit who had the protection of the local wildlife in her care, or the tutelary deity of the Tanat Valley which narrows to a wall of mountains at the end making an enclosed place of protection? In the church at the farthest reach of the narrow lane there was previously a Bronze Age burial mound. The church itself houses some bones that are said to be the remains of the seventh century saint. It also contains a large rib [of a whale?] known as ‘asen y gawres’ (rib of the giantess). These relics alongside other articles of devotion such as the painted icon portrait of Melangell and the twelfth century shrine of Romanesque/Celtic design, makes this the last sort of place you’d expect to find in a quiet Welsh valley. Something from before Methodist Wales but also outside the mainstream of older Anglican or Catholic traditions.

To inhabit that place spiritually is indeed to feel that you are standing on the shoulders of giants. And that hares will run …

1 comment:

Tim said...

Yours is the only reference I found the the Giant's rib at St Mellangel; thanks for the thoughts