St_Non_stained_glass_window_in_St_Nons_Chapel

Saint Non:

Saint Nonna

Saint Non

The symbol of Saint Nonna is a rock

Saint Nonna

A Celebration of Tenacity
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Very little is known about the late-fifth-century Saint Nonna (or Nonnita in Welsh, Non) other than the fact that she was the mother of Saint David, Patron of Wales. She herself, however, is more closely connected with Altarnon in Cornwall, where a church and a well are dedicated to her. Her tomb lies in Dirinon in Brittany, where she died.

Her strong connections in the three British Celtic lands with dedications in Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany suggest that she was an important saint in her own right and not simply the mother of a major patron. Evidently, she was a nun at least in the latter part of her life. The later legends show confusion on this last point, since to those writing them down in the medieval church celibacy was very much a factor, and the birth of Saint David had to be accommodated somehow. Some legends claim that she was a nun ravished by someone named Sant; but this explanation is too formulaic for mothers of major figures. Such stories attempt rather clumsily to show that the mother had not willingly conceived and was therefore pure, as was the Virgin Mary. The name Sant ‘Saint’ likewise arouses suspicions.

The alternative story that she was the daughter of a powerful chieftain of the area around what is now St David’s in Dyfed seems far more likely, given her importance in a wide area. At that time, the chief saints were often from the ruling families of Britain, and her membership in the “nobility” would certainly afford her movement between Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany.

At this point, a pervasive and tenacious legend enters the picture one that is so persistent that it may well contain some factual basis. When she was pregnant with Saint David, for some reason she was out alone along the coast of Dyfed, on the peninsula now called St David’s Head on the very edge of Wales. As some legends would have it, she was exiled from her home, perhaps because she was with child against the wishes of her family.

On the eve of the first of March, a storm came crashing in from the sea. Such storms in that area are ferocious and terrifying, with waves breaking violently on the cliffs and coursing over them. Pelted by rain and whipped by fierce winds, she clung to a rock throughout the night. In the morning, the sun rose and her child was born. There is still a rock standing there with indentations claimed to have been made by Nonna’s hands. A short distance away is St David’s Cathedral.

Her legend states that she was seduced by a chieftain named Sant or Sanctus and gave birth to David. Variations on her story state that she was either married to Sant before David’s birth or after the birth of the saint. By tradition, she brought the boy up at Llanon (the village being named after her). Subsequently, she would travel to Cornwall and ultimately end her days in a Breton convent.

Rhigyfarch, the late 11th century author of David’s vita, wrote that the saint was the son of sanctus rex ceredigionis, where Sanctus has been interpreted as a proper name and its owner honoured by Welsh Christians as Sandde, King of Ceredigion. However, this Latin phrase can equally well mean simply “holy king of Ceredigion”. David was conceived through violence and his mother, Non, the daughter of the nobleman Cynyr of Caer Goch (in Pembrokeshire), gave birth to him on a cliff top in the middle of a violent storm. The pain of birth was said to have been so intense that Non’s fingers left marks as she grasped a rock and, as David was born, a bolt of lightning is said to have split the rock in two. It is also believed that the two split pieces of rock were the foundation stones for St. David’s Cathedral and St Non’s Chapel.
Her legend states that she was seduced by a chieftain named Sant or Sanctus and gave birth to David. Variations on her story state that she was either married to Sant before David’s birth or after the birth of the saint. By tradition, she brought the boy up at Llanon (the village being named after her). Subsequently, she would travel to Cornwall and ultimately end her days in a Breton convent.

Rhigyfarch, the late 11th century author of David’s vita, wrote that the saint was the son of sanctus rex ceredigionis, where Sanctus has been interpreted as a proper name and its owner honoured by Welsh Christians as Sandde, King of Ceredigion. However, this Latin phrase can equally well mean simply “holy king of Ceredigion”. David was conceived through violence and his mother, Non, the daughter of the nobleman Cynyr of Caer Goch (in Pembrokeshire), gave birth to him on a cliff top in the middle of a violent storm. The pain of birth was said to have been so intense that Non’s fingers left marks as she grasped a rock and, as David was born, a bolt of lightning is said to have split the rock in two. It is also believed that the two split pieces of rock were the foundation stones for St. David’s Cathedral and St Non’s Chapel.

The Symbol

The symbol of Saint Nonna is a rock, with two indentations on the sides, representing the grasp the saint maintained on that rock. The rock itself is the Rock of Christ the unswerving faith in his Word to which Saint Peter (whose name means ‘the rock’) and Saint Nonna clung so tenaciously. Within the rock is the Trinity knot, the never-ending connectedness of God the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sustainer all of one essence. Upon this rock is the cross of the Celtic Church, being also of one essence with the rock itself. Thus it is that our tenacious grasp on the rock of faith is inspired by the Trinity and is both what makes up Christ’s Holy Church and what holds it up as well.

Troparion of St Non
Tone 3
Having given birth to the patron of the Welsh, most pious Non, thou didst rejoice to serve Christ God in thine appointed station.
Wherefore, O Saint, intercede for us that we may be saved from the worldly spirit of dissatisfaction and through God’s mercy be found worthy of eternal salvation.

Kontakion of St Non
Tone 7
With joy thou didst instruct thy son in our saving faith, O holy Non, teaching him in all things to obey the commands of Christ’s Gospel by becoming a missionary and messenger of salvation.
All praise and honour is thy due, therefore we sing: Alleluia. (more)