St. Govan's Chapel - Sarah Woodbury

St. Govan’s Chapel

St. Govan’s chapel is a 13th century chapel built into the face of a cliff over what legend says was the hermitage of St. Govan, a 6th century saint. The chapel is located on St. Govan’s head in Pembrokeshire, on the southeastern coast of Wales.

We took one look at photos of St. Govan’s and knew we had to visit, if only because of the location itself. St. Govan was said to have been an Irish saint, who was chased to this particular spot by pirates. From within the church, it is possible to see a somewhat human-shaped crevice that is said to have formed in the rock specifically to save him from being discovered by the pirates. He felt his escape was miraculous and built his hermitage on the spot. St. Govan himself is said to be buried beneath the altar. Also beneath the chapel is an extensive cave system, Ogof Gofan, accessible today only by repelling down the cliff face. The cave was re-discovered in 1966, but it had been used by people for thousands of years, when the sea was further away from the cave mouth.

The church appears pretty much as it did in the middle ages, minus the bell that the saint is supposed to have kept in the tower of the chapel. When the bell pealed, its sound had a perfect tone and clarity. But more pirates who heard the sound stole the bell. Angels flew in and took it from the pirates and returned it to the hermit. To stop the pirates returning and taking it again, the angels encased the bell in a huge stone, what is known now as Bell Rock near the water’s edge. The legend says that when St Govan “rang” the stone, its resonance became a thousand times stronger. The site also includes a healing well.

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