Saint Govan

Coordinates: 51°35′55″N 4°56′13″W / 51.59870°N 4.93685°W / 51.59870; -4.93685
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St Govan
St Govans.jpg
St Govan's Chapel, Pembrokeshire built above the hermitage cell in the 13th century.
County Wexford, Ireland.[1]
DiedSt Govan's head, Pembrokeshire
586 AD
Venerated inWales Celtic Christianity Orthodox Christianity
Feast26 March (8 April Old style)
AttributesCeltic Rite

Saint Govan (Welsh: Gofan) (died 586) was a hermit who lived in a fissure on the side of coastal cliff near Bosherston, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales.[2] St. Govan's Chapel was built in the fissure in the 13th century on what is now known as St. Govan's Head.[2]


One story says Govan was an Irish monk who travelled to Wales late in life to seek the friends and family of the abbot who had trained him, variously identified as Saint David[3] or Saint Ailbe of Emly.[4] Another story identifies Govan with Gawain, one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table;[3]. In traditional Welsh, the name "Govan" means "Legendary Son of Caw". Caw- or Hueil mab Caw- was a Pictish rival of King Arthur. In other legends he is a theif.

Govan was set upon by pirates, from Ireland[3] or the nearby Lundy Island. The cliff opened up and left a fissure just big enough for him to hide in until the pirates left.[3][5] In gratitude, he decided to stay on along the cliff,[5] probably to help warn the locals of the impending pirate attack if they were to return.

Govan lived within a small cave in the fissure of the cliff. This is now reached by a long flight of stone steps, the number of which is said to vary depending on whether one is ascending or descending.[3]

The present small vaulted chapel of local limestone was built over the cave and dates from the 13th century although the site may have been of monastic importance since the 5th century. St Govan may be identified with Sir Gawain, one of King Arthur's knights, who entered into a state of retreat in his later years.[6]

Originally, Govan caught fish and took water from two nearby springs. Both are now dry; one was where the medieval chapel now stands, the other, which was lower down the cliff, later became a holy well.[2][3] A legend says St Govan's hand prints are imprinted on the floor of his cave [2] and his body is buried under the chapel's altar. The cave was once a popular place for making wishes.[3]

The Bell Rock[edit]

Another legend regarding St Govan concerns his silver bell. He is supposed to have kept the bell in the tower of the chapel. When the bell pealed, its sound was of perfect tone and clarity. But pirates who heard the sound left St Govan desolate when they 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, that is, the Bell Rock which is found at the water's edge. The legend said that when St Govan "rang" the stone, its vigour had become a thousand times stronger.[3]


  1. ^ "St Govan's Chapel". Monkton Rectorial Benefice part of the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church in Wales in the Diocese of St Davids. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Manners, Sarah (25 September 2008). "The holy wells of Wales". Western Mail. Wales. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Gwyndaf, Robin (1989). "Capel Sant Gofan (Saint David's Chapel), Dyfed". Welsh folk tales (2nd ed.). National Museum Wales. p. 84. ISBN 0-7200-0326-1.
  4. ^ "St Govan". Saints & Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  5. ^ a b Holden, Luke. "Pilgrimage to Saint Govan's Chapel, South Wales". Orthodox Christian Contact Wales. Archived from the original on 12 December 2019. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  6. ^ Richard Keen and Ian Burgum, pg. 111, Wales. Orion Publishing Group (1997).

External links[edit]

51°35′55″N 4°56′13″W / 51.59870°N 4.93685°W / 51.59870; -4.93685