Celtic GlorySpiritual

St Morwenna

St Morwenna, Morwenstow

Morwenstow is a tiny hamlet on the north Devon coast. Wild and windswept it is also beautiful and magical. Peace pervades the area and it has a magnetic pull. I love visiting.

We went to St John’s holy well located just below the church. It’s owned by the National Trust and the well house is in good order but sadly padlocked shut  so you can’t see the well inside. Water was gushing out of the well house though which suggests the spring is still flowing strongly. There was very happy birdsong surrounding the well even though it was late September. I’ve noticed this before when visiting these holy sites. When the presence of God still lingers the birds are singing. The converse is also true, an a sense of birdsong can indicate a darkness spiritually. Anyway, today the birds sang loudly and there was a wonderful sense of peace and relief. It felt a happy and joyful place.

St John’s well morwenstow

We continued on into the church. The sense of joy continued combined with a heavy peace of God’s presence. There was an awareness of freedom and the sense it’s ok to be freely myself. It was liberating and a lovely experience. Combined with this was also a stillness of God’s presence.

morwenstow churchyard

There is an ancient Celtic cross in the churchyard. This is not in its original place having been moved here by Rev Hawker from off the moor.

So who was Morwenna?

She is another of King Brychan of Brycheiniog’s children, sister to Nectan whose prayer oratory was nearby at Hartland a bit further north up the coast.

The following is a Wikipedia entry

‘She was trained in Ireland before crossing over to Cornwall. Morwenna made her home in a little hermitage at Hennacliff (the Raven's Crag), afterwards called Morwenstow (meaning "Morwenna's holy place"). It stands near the top of a high cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where the sea is almost constantly stormy, and from where, in certain atmospheric conditions, the coast of Wales can be seen. She built a church there, for the local people, with her own hands. It is said that she carried the stone on her head from beneath the cliff and where she once stopped for a rest, a spring gushed forth to the west of the church.

Early in the sixth century, while she lay dying, her brother, St. Nectan, came to see her, and she asked him to raise her up so that she might look once more on her native shore. She was buried at the church in Morwenstow.

Morwenstow morwenna picture

A painting was later found on the north wall of the Morwenstow church, thought to represent St. Morwenna. It shows a gaunt female clasping a scroll to her breast with her left hand; the right arm is raised in blessing over a kneeling monk.

A  local saint she is depicted in a stained glass  window of the parish church, St Morwenna and St John the Baptist’s (Saint John was added as a dedication c. 1275 when the church was given to St John the Baptist's hospital in Bridgwater).’

Morwenstow church

Rev Hawker a Victorian vicar is also associated with Morwenstow church. An eccentric he built a hut on the coast overlooking the sea where he wrote poetry and also watched for ships in trouble. He buried many drowned sailors.  It is a wild coastline, with jagged cliffs, raw and exposed. st Morwenna’s holy well is on the cliff side here but today too dangerous to access as the cliff is steep and drops fearsomely to the sea. 

Morwenna tapestry morwenstow

Legend says she carried rock on her head from this coast to build a church for the people. It is exactly the kind of ‘edge of the world’ place that the Celtic Christians were drawn to believing that heaven and earth touched easily in these ‘thin places’. If anyone doubted the existence of Morwenna, the Rev Hawker would speak out asserting, ‘I know that Morwenna lies here: I have seen her, and she has told me as much.’ He was a mystic, a prophetic Christian and it sounds like a seer into the spiritual realm. I fully believe he met Morwenna ‘outside of time’, in the light of the experiences I and others have at these holy places dedicated to God.

Morwenstow cliffs
Morwenstow hawkers hut