St Non's Chapel
Walkers along the 170-mile long Pembrokeshire Coast National Park coastal footpath a mile south of St Davids will encounter some ancient buildings which command attention .
One is the 6th century chapel of St Non and nearby a holy well which is said to have curative powers. Non was the mother of St David, Patron Saint of Wales, and it is said a miracle occurred at this spot overlooking St Non’s Bay when St David was born there around 500 AD.
The birth came during a violent gale, with thunder and lightning, say the chronicals of Welsh history. At the moment the saint came into the world, lightning struck the cell in which confinement was taking place and water gushed from the rock, forming the well which still exists, and which is visited by many tourists. Its waters are supposed to cure all kinds of ailments.
Non was reputedly a nun who was ravished by the Welsh prince Sandde or Sant, son of Ceredig, the founder of Ceredigion, whose father Cunedda Wledig led his tribe to North Wales from Gododdin in Scotland. Non was also of noble blood, being the daughter of Cynyr of Caer Gawch, who was descended from Brychan Brycheiniog, the legendary father of a brood of saints called the Children of Brychan.
Brychan’s mother was the legendary Marchell who sailed for Ireland from Porthmawr. The story of St Non, also known as Nonnita of Nonna, has been written by the 11th century Norman cleric and chronicler Rhigyfarch who said that she was “unhappily seized and exposed to the sacreligious violence of one of the princes of the country.” He cited Sanctus (aka Sandde), the King of Ceredigion, as the rapist and recorded that the rape occurred when Sanctus happened upon Non while travelling through Dyfed. She was celibate before and after the violation and living on bread and water alone. The legend goes that, when a preacher found himself unable to preach in the presence of the unborn child, it was a sign that the child would be a great preacher.
A local ruler, fearing the presaged power of the unborn child, plotted to kill David upon birth. But the great storm which erupted at the birth of the future saint, made it impossible for anyone to travel outdoors, and only the place where Nonita gave birth on the cifftop near St Davids, was bathed in light. The legend states that so intense was the pain of Non’s labour that she left her finger marks on the rock on which her son was born, and the stone split in two. A church was built on the spot and the pieces of stone with the marks remain buried under the altar foundations to this day.
The remains of the church are there still, and pilgrims to the spot often leave coins in the well and say a prayer. In the south-west corner of the chapel is a cross which may well date from David’s time.