Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Caught between a rock and a hard place

It could be my perfect hermit home.

Tucked into a fissure in a Welsh limestone cliff, you'd need to know the tiny building was there as it can barely be seen from land or water.

And even if people did somehow decide to drop by, they'd need to navigate the 52 slippery and uneven stairs down.
My new home?  St Govan's Chapel

Importantly, St Govan's Chapel was previously home to another hermit so you know it's fit for purpose.
St Govan's Chapel tucked in a small cliff fissure

Consisting of a single room measuring about 6m by 4m, St Govan's Chapel must be one of Pembrokeshire's tiniest churches.   But what it lacks in stature, it makes up for in quirkiness.

A home with a sea view

It clearly wasn't built to manage the Christmas and Easter worshipping hordes.  In fact, you could swear it's pretty much designed to keep people away.  You can see the appeal.   If it had windows, doors, heating and wifi I'd be moving in.
Inside St Govan's Chapel 

The little chapel dates back to the 13th Century and is apparently built on the site of a cave that was once sanctuary to St Govan.

As the tale goes, St Govan was an Irish monk travelling to Wales when pirates attacked him.   The cliff magically opened up and left a fissure big enough for him to hide in.   The pirates left, but St Govan stayed on to live in the small cave.

Like all good stories there's plenty of conjecture about whether his body (or his silver bell) is buried here, but otherwise the chapel itself is a blank canvas.   A small well nearby, now dry, was also believed to have special healing powers.

The well (now dry)

But maybe St Govan's Chapel isn't as quirky as it sounds.  You see in this corner of the world, churches seem to come in two sizes: super small or super big.

A little further west are the ruins (and a modern remake) of the small St Non's Chapel.  It marks the birthplace of St David, who, as patron saint of Wales, is a fairly big deal in these parts.   In real estate terms, it's a fixer-upper, but to you and I it doesn't have a roof or many standing walls.

Ruins of St Non's Chapel
Just steps away is a modern remake of the Chapel.  You could probably get married or have your funeral here, just be sure you don't have many friends as it's pretty small.

The rugged Pembrokeshire coastline

The modern version of St Non's Chapel
In complete contrast is the mammoth and ornate interior of the nearby St David's Cathedral, in the town of St Davids.

The imposing St David's Cathedral
Inside St Davids

Despite its size, it's mostly hidden from view because it was designed to be tucked away in a valley below the village to hide it from marauders (don't they just sound annoying!) sailing along the coast.

Tucked away in the valley

St David's bones are also believed to be kept here, adding to the allure of the place over the centuries.

Shrine that's home to St David's bones

St David's Cathedral seems ridiculously large given the size of the tiny village it sits in, but in medieval times this was one of the most important shrines of medieval Christendom.

Back then, two pilgrimages to St Davids was equivalent to one to Rome.

Either way, it's a long haul for this antipodean hermit but well worth the hike.

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