(Image: David Skinner; St. Govan’s Chapel in Pembrokeshire, Wales)
Nestled in a rocky fissure along the stunning Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, in west Wales, is an isolated chapel whose legend is as mysterious as the tiny monastic building itself. It was here, according to folklore, that Saint Govan lived, an early Christian monk whose story is one of pirates, angels and a Knight of the Round Table himself.
Built of local limestone, the 14th century St. Govan’s Chapel stands amid what is now called St. Govan’s Head. It was beneath here, in a cave, that the hermit is said to have lived, and legend says that Govan’s body lies buried under the alter of the medieval church.
(Image: David Skinner; the austere stone interior of St. Govan’s Chapel)
The enigma surrounding the tiny, rugged Pembrokeshire chapel is compounded by the hazy origins of its namesake. St. Govan’s past is shrouded in mystery. Some have even equated him with Sir Gawain, trusted friend of Sir Lancelot and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian Legend, who is said to have lived as a hermit in his later years.
Other tales describe Govan as an Irish monk who travelled to Wales in search of the family of his mentor, an abbot linked to Ailbe of Emly or the 6th century Welsh bishop Saint David.
Legend says that St. Govan was attacked by pirates during his journey. When the fissure (in which the chapel stands) opened up to shield him from this band of cutthroats, Govan decided to make his home beneath the cliff in a bid to warn local people of impending danger from the sea.
(Image: David Skinner; the tiny chapel emerges from the Pembrokeshire cliffs)
The tiny cave that Govan purportedly lived in now lies beneath the medieval chapel that bears his name. Whatever its true origins, it’s understood that the site of the church held some religious significance as early as the 5th century AD. Nearby, a holy well (now dry) and the Bell Rock – named after a bell that was stolen from St. Govan by pirates, returned to him by angels, and encased in stone thereafter – are also connected to the legend.