Celtic and Old English Saints          6 July

* St. Palladius of Ireland and Scotland
* St. Modwenna of Polesworth
* St. Moninna of Killeavy
* St. Moninne of Sliabh Cuillin
* St. Noyala of Brittany
* St. Sexburga of Ely

St. Noyala of Brittany, Virgin Martyr

Condensed from

Noyale (in Breton, Noaluen; Latin, Noyala; Cornish, Newlina) was another
6th-century Celtic saint: English according to her legend, Irish
according to earlier hagiographers, but more likely to have been one of
the numerous Welsh settlers who travelled to Brittany - like Meiriadog
himself. Indeed, his association with the place, evidenced not only by
the tradition of the stone coffin, but also in his medieval Latin Vita,
may perhaps suggest (one can do no more than this - she is far too
shadowy a figure, historically) that Noyale was one of his group of

The narratives in that huge book, the Buhe er Sent, are always
both edifying and marvellous in character. [The Buhe is the Breton
translation of the vast collection of lives of the saints of
Brittany, compiled by the Dominican Albert Le Grand in the early 17th
century. No Life of the saint has survived; but given the fact that the
Breton legend concurs in so many points with the residual legend found
at Newlyn East in Cornwall, it seems likely that one had formerly
existed, in the medieval period.] To
speak of St Noyale is to go back into the far-off history of Brittany
and discover its beautiful popular legends. It is hard to tell where
history ends and where legend begins. This much is certain, that the
cult of St Noyale has, across the centuries, deeply marked local history
and popular piety.

Noaluen was the daughter of the king of Ussig in England, in the
5th century. She received a strongly Christian education, and became a
model of piety to her companions. She felt little attraction to the
pleasures of the court. Quite the opposite: she dedicated herself to
prayer, penance, and mortification. The poor came to her. She wanted to
renounce the world totally, to give herself to Christ.

Her father was already dreaming of a fine princely marriage. More
surely to avoid this seductive temptation, Noaluen distributed her
possessions, and fled with her nurse-companion, not knowing where they
were going. Immediately, the king caused her to be sought for, promising
a reward to whoever brought them back. But already they had set sail on
the sea, turning a deaf ear to the appeals of their pursuers. [According
to the legend as depicted on a rood screen (the Westeen equivalent of an
Eastern Iconstasion) at Noyal-Pontivy, destroyed in 1684, Noyale and her
nurse sailed to Brittany on a leaf - a hagiographical motif encountered
elsewhere. The legend now current has 'rationalised' this somewhat, and
has them floating across on a branch!]

Noaluen and her nurse landed in the region around Vannes,
afterwards making their way to the interior of the country, to live in
solitude. At that time there was scant population in the regions in
theArgoed [the interior, lit. 'by the woodland'] beyond the Arvor [the
coastal plain, lit. 'by the sea'], covered for the most part by forests.
It was easy to build themselves a peaceful hermitage. [This, it has been
suggested, was in Noyal-Pontivy, at Ste-Noyale.]

One day a local lord met this young immigrant. Immediately he
wished to seduce this beautifulyoung woman, and lure her to his palace.
Noyale abruptly refused: 'I have consecrated my virginity to God, and
will have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. I do not fear the death of
the body, I fear nothing except the death of the soul. Do with me what
you will: I am willing to endure every torment rather than break the vow
which I have made to God. I will receive from my divine spouse the
courage necessary to undergo the most cruel death. What happiness, to
receive the martyr's crown!'

Noaluen and her maid-servant attempted to escape. But the tyrant
found them again near the chapel of Bezo, [in Bignan about 30 km south
of Noyal-Pontivy]. Again, he tried to conquer Noyale's resistance. To
make her afraid of him, he made the blade of the sword, which would
serve him to cut off her head if she remained obstinate in her refusal,
glitter before her eyes. Noyale gave way neither to his propositions nor
to his threats. In his anger, the tyrant Nizan beheaded Noyale and her

The narrative develops from the edifying to the marvellous: Noaluen
took her bloodied head into her hands and began to walk. [According to
the older version of the legend, formerly depicted on the rood screen,
and now reproduced in the windows of the parish church, Noyale's nurse
survived the attack and, led by an angel, guided the cephalophore saint
back home towards Noyal-Pontivy. By the time the windows were installed
(late-19th century), the angel had dropped out of the legend. The
account being given here is derived from Le Grand, who worked far from
Noyal-Pontivy, at Morlaix.

Passing through the territory of Nizan, at Himbor, she heard a girl
replying coarsely to her mother: she was scandalised at this and went
on. [Another hagiographic commonplace. It is paralleled, for instance,
in the legend of the Welsh saint Eiliwedd/Almedha.] Next she arrived at
the edge of the forest of Branguily [a spot approximately 1 km south of
Noyal- Pontivy]. Here for the first time she stopped, to pray. She stuck
her staff into the earth, where it became a tree. Three drops of blood
fell upon the grass, and three fountains immediately sprang up. [The
earlier versions of the tradition, as recorded on the screen, and
reproduced in the windows, do not specify that the wells appeared upon
Noyale's arrival. The screen inscriptions (given by Baring-Gould &
Fisher, op. cit., p. 11) say merely that she 'rested' by the fountain
(on a stone 'seat', afterwards
bearing her name), before 'planting' her staff (which became a tree),
and then kneeling to pray on another stone, which is still said to bear
the marks of her knees. It is impossible to say for sure whether the
screen simply omitted the well-creation episode (an omission which seems
unlikely, given the near-ubiquity of this hagiographic motif), or
whether the motif of the well-creation was added to the legend in, say,
the last three centuries (? by Le Grand himself - his great familiarity
with legends of well-creation associated with so many other Breton
saints might have led him to assume it here: but then, how would this
literary creation have fed back so strongly into the local oral
tradition?), to account for the presence of sacred wells at the place
most intimately connected with the cephalophoria.] The martyr continued
on her way, seeking a desert place wherein to die. There today is found
the village of Ste-Noyale, [2 km north of Noyal-Pontivy: possibly the
site of Noyale's original hermitage].

These Lives are archived at:

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