Walk in the Footsteps of Pilgrims to St. Non’s: Warpool Court Hotel’s Peter Trier Suggests Neighboring Site
"All time periods in history are represented in our area, if one only knows where to look," says Warpool Court Hotel owner Peter Trier.
Nearly on the grounds of Warpool Court Hotel itself, at the edge of steep cliffs along the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park path, neighboring St. Non's Chapel and Well make an easy stroll to check out the remains of what historically was a popular destination for spiritual faithful.
While the primary attraction to the area has been St. David, pilgrims often included other important shrines such as St. Non's on their journey. St. Non, also known as Nonna or Nonnita, is recognized as the mother of St David. St. Non lived in a house where the ruins are.
What's known of St. Non's life stems from 11th century records authored by the son of a bishop of St. David, himself a priest. A 15th century poem written by Edudful ferch Gadwgon is referenced as the oldest written account of pilgrimage to St. Non's.
Born around 475AD, St. Non was the daughter of Lord Cynyr Ceinfarfog and a woman who became a young nun. According to the author Rhigyfarch, she was raped by King Sanctus of Ceredigion.
St. Non gave birth in 500AD to baby David who became the patron saint of Wales. Before his birth, a rumor circulated that the baby would be a great spiritual leader. A plot by a local ruler to have the baby killed was waylaid when a severe thunderstorm raged. Intense pain is believed to have caused Non to split the rock in her grasp in two. A chapel was built on the site where St. David was born. The broken stone is believed to have been buried in the foundations of the altar.
During the storm as David was born, it is said waters with healing powers sprang up. Considered holy and sacred waters, St. Non's Well and a small area around it are enclosed by a stone wall, while a statue of St. Non stands opposite.
The chapel appears to have been built in medieval times over the remains of St. Non's house, within a Neolithic stone circle. The structure is constructed in a north to south direction, and it cannot be easily dated but may be one of the oldest Christian buildings in Wales. Although there is no way to know how one specific stone dated between the 7th and 9th centuries arrived at the site, it is known as St. Non's Cross; it is inscribed with a cross surrounded by a circle. A raised platform on the north end is where the altar would have been.
Archaeologists who have investigated the site discovered stone-lined early Christian graves.
A second chapel, dedicated to Virgin Mary and St. Non, is part of the grounds of St. Non's Retreat – said to be the most western and smallest chapel in Wales. Although it appears to be ancient, it was built using recycled pre-Reformation stones from cottages in 1934 by Mr. Morgan-Griffith for his wife who had converted to Catholicism. Stained glass windows depict St. Non and other Welsh saints.
The current owners of the property, the Passionists, have allowed the Sisters of Mercy to occupy and manage St Non's Retreat Centre, a religious retreat center and place of sanctuary.
Explains Trier, "In its time, making two pilgrimages to St. David's was equated to a single visit to Rome. The Wales pilgrimage was within the reach of more people; it less expensive and didn't take as much time."
Now it takes just a few minutes for hotel guests to visit and stroll freely through the site.