Beuno: A Short Background
Culbone Chapel, Exmoor: Beuno
I didn’t really know Beuro’s name until recently, even though I’ve been visiting the place where he lived and prayed for many years.
Hidden amongst the densely wooded hills of Exmoor’s coast, Culbone Chapel nestles in a clearing, close to a tumbling stream. It is surrounded by steep hillsides of sessile oak and other trees used by the charcoal burners who used to live and work in these ancient woodlands. It’s also where a leper and penal colony was banished in the middle ages.
Today, unless you’re the local farmer, you have to walk a mile or so to reach the chapel along a steep, stony path through the woods. However, I access it across private land, down a combe where a tiny stream has carved a deep gorge through the meadows. It’s a steep descent but a route that has been used for centuries by locals and those on pilgrimage. Many used to come this way, specifically to visit the place where Bueno lived and perhaps even the man himself.
Before the descent, I sit gazing across the lush hay meadows where red deer come out to graze.
It’s a scene that probably hasn’t changed for many centuries, for the field system of the neighbouring farm remains the same as when catalogued in the Doomsday Book (1086). As I sit here, I can’t help but think Bueno saw a similar view. The meadow cleaves down the gorge, giving way to woodland and in the distance, sea. On a summer’s evening it’s magical in its ancientness.
Culbone Combe, July, looking out to Wales just glimpsed in the distance
So, it’s at Culbone that Beuno had his hermitage and prayer cell. He was a Celtic missionary (a friend of Dubricius and Samson, who crossed over from Wales). It’s easy to see why. Wales is clearly visible on most days across the sea. However, little more is known about him in relation to Exmoor.
We do know he lived in the sixth century AD, was born at Berriew, Powys in Wales and was from a royal family. He was educated and ordained in the monastic tradition in Wales and became an active missionary. He founded several monasteries from his base in Clodoch, not far from another Celtic centre at Llanthony in the Black Mountains of Wales.
He is known for several miracles including the raising of people from the dead. The most well-known is that of St Winifred who refused to become the mistress of King Caradoc. He was so incensed he killed her, but Beuno prayed, and she was restored to life.
His monastery, Clynnog Fawr in Caernarvon, still has one of his holy wells. After he died in around 623AD (or 640AD) he was buried on Bardsey Island, where many of the Welsh Celtic Christians are buried.
However, his link to Culbone is obscure and whilst he established a prayer cell and hermitage here, which pilgrims visited for many years, probably centuries, the rest of his history really is lost in the mists of time.