Materiana Church, Minster, Cornwall
St Materiana’s church, Minster, is so hidden in a deep wooded dell on a tributary of the River Valency near Boscastle that you stumble across it unexpectedly. Secluded down an ancient lane the church seems to nestle into the sloping land and the initial view is looking down on the roof. Access is via steep paths and slate steps.
Inside the church is greatly loved with pretty kneelers and there’s a board clearly explaining about Materiana. This is such a joy because most Celtic Christian sites rarely mention the saint who established the Christian presence.
The Wikipedia entry says the following:
‘Materiana is said to have been a princess of the 5th century, the eldest of three daughters of King Vortimor the Blessed, who, after her father's death, ruled over Gwent with her husband Prince Ynyr. She is said to be the "Madryn" in whose name (along with her handmaiden Anhun (Antonia)) the church at Trawsfynydd is dedicated, and Carn Fadryn/Fadrun is named. Matrona was a widespread Roman name, and there is no evidence of any purported connection with a pre-Christian goddess named Modron.
The Hymn to St Materiana in use at Tintagel calls her "Materiana, holy Mother" and prays her to "Over thy people still preside, over thy household, clothed in scarlet vesture of love and holy pride" and continues "Thy children rise and call thee blessed, gathered around thee at thy side." The 'Hymn to St Materiana' is not an ancient hymn.’
Information in the church says Materiana was originally known as Madrun or Madryn. ‘She was born around 440CE and grew up on the Lleyn Peninsula in north Wales. As a girl she was inspired by a dream to found a church at Trawsfynydd (St Madron’s) which is one of three churches dedicated to her. She married Ynyr of Gwent and had several children. According to legend, her son Caradoc was one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. Another son, Ceidio, became a saint.
In the latter part of the 5th century, the native Britons rose in rebellion against the ruling classes. Madryn and her family escaped to her grandfather's fortress in Caernarvonshire, but the castle was besieged and her husband killed. Madryn fled from Wales. In one version of her story she took Ceidio with her. In another, she was accompanied by two companions, Marcelliana and Juliot. (Note St Juliot’s church is nearby, though associated with one of Brychan’s children. The same Juliot? Who knows it’s lost in the mists of time).
Taking to the seas, Madryn sailed into Boscastle's natural harbour in the early 6th century. No doubt captivated by the beautiful surroundings, she followed the Valency River on foot through the wooded valley to an ancient spring or 'holy well'. Here she settled and lived the life of a hermit, healing people with prayer and water from the sacred spring, or holy well.’ (Credit to information board in St Materiana’s church).
Her body was buried under the chancel of what is now the present church but was sadly desecrated during the reformation.
The Celtic name for Minster is Talkarn, or Talcarne, meaning rock chapel or cell. Sadly, there is no visible evidence of Materiana’s original cell on the Minster site.
We came visiting looking for St Materiana’s holy well. We’d read it was to the north of the church so set off to explore the wooded churchyard and valley below the church. It was spring and smothered in daffodils (Lenten lilies). The stream which runs through this valley is a tributary of the River Valency which meets the sea in Boscastle. Before long we found a beautiful pool with a spring rising in it from the bank. The water was crystal clear and pure. We sat on an adjoining bench next to the well, looking down the delightful wooded valley and we prayed.
There was no difficulty praying here. Heaven was open and we worshipped readily and joyfully. In fact joy seemed to bubble up in the atmosphere around us as we sang and praised Jesus. Despite being known as a witchy area and the shrine of a local witch being nearby, there was an instant presence of God. Even our dog picked up on the joyfulness and happily played in the water. She is often drawn to drink from holy wells or paddle in them. We don’t revere the water as sacred in the way pagans might. It is the historical spiritual significance which is important. What did the Christian who lived here establish in the Spirit realm of God and how is that relevant for today? Is there a deposit still active for now, or to be released once again.
So joy filled our praise and prayers. Then I found myself worshipping to the tune of Calon Lan a Welsh hymn. I stayed with the tune and sensed a spiritual opening and linking once more between Wales and Cornwall. A divine highway in the Spirit. It’s hard to put into words but a connection between the two lands. I’m of Welsh parents and have felt this as I’ve prayed in other places too.
These are the English words for Calon Lan
I don't ask for a luxurious life,
the world's gold or its fine pearls,
I ask for a happy heart,
an honest heart, a pure heart.
A pure heart full of goodness
Is fairer than the pretty lily,
None but a pure heart can sing,
Sing in the day and sing in the night.
If I wished for worldly wealth,
It would swiftly go to seed;
The riches of a virtuous, pure heart
Will bear eternal profit.
Evening and morning, my wish
Rising to heaven on the wing of song
For God, for the sake of my Saviour,
To give me a pure heart.
So St Materiana’s is a very special holy well. A spiritually ‘thin place’ where God is present and waiting to pour out joy on those who linger here.