Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Thursday 15 April |
Saint of the Day: Bl. César de Bus
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

This 13th-century chapel built into a cliff in Wales was known for its miraculous well

David Evans|Flickr|CC BY 2.0

Zelda Caldwell - published on 02/09/19

St. Govan’s Chapel is named after a cave-dwelling monk who lived there in the 6th century.

Built into a crevice in the cliffs on the rocky coast of Wales stands St. Govan’s Chapel, which dates from the 13th century, but may have been built on the spot where St. Govan, a 6h-century hermit, sought refuge from the world.

The chapel, measuring 20 by 12 feet, is constructed of limestone, the same material that makes up the cliffs that surround it. Behind the altar is a small room where, legend has it, the saint spent the last days of his life.

Not much is known for certain about who St. Govan was. One popular theory identifies him as a disciple of St. Ailbhe, a missionary in Ireland, who himself was a disciple of St. Patrick. It is said that as an old man Govan traveled to Wales to end his life as a hermit.

According to the blog Welldigger, as a disciple of St. Ailbhe Govan would have been taught to imitate the Desert Fathers, mentioned in Hebrews 11:37-8:

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Tradition tells us that Govan, in search of a cave to hide in, made his home in the spot by the cliffs, which was located by a natural spring. A well, which has since dried out, was listed among the Holy Wells of Wales by Francis Jones.

Until late in the 19th century, pilgrims traveled to St. Govan’s well to imbibe of its healing powers. It was not unusual to see a pile of crutches left behind beside the well or behind the chapel’s altar, reports Welldigger.

Jones writes:

On the cliff side by St. Govan’s Chapel, Bosherston parish: especially famous in the cure of failing eyesight, lameness, and rheumatism. … Near the well is a deposit of red clay formed by rock decomposition, and great virtue was attached to it: a poultice of this was applied to limbs and eyes, and the patients then lay there for several hours in the sun.”

A carving of a fish, an ancient symbol of Christianity, can be seen on the outside of the door, and is thought to have been made many centuries ago. The chapel is now maintained by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, but the faithful continue to come. Flowers are often found on the altar, which was built over the spot where St. Govan himself is said to lie.

Church HistorySaints
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Annalisa Teggi
Amputee from the waist down is thankful every day to be alive
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
St. Faustina’s coffee cup and lessons for Divine Mercy Sund...
Zelda Caldwell
Mystery of crosses on walls of Church of the Holy Sepulchre may h...
Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ
A simple test to see if you really believe Christ is risen
Philip Kosloski
St. Padre Pio: His life, his miracles and his legacy
Here’s how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home
Cerith Gardiner
11 Interesting facts about the late Prince Philip
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.