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June 17, 2018

Holy Martyr Nectan of Hartland in Devonshire (+ 510)

St. Nectan of Hartland (Feast Day - June 17)


Saint Nectan was born in Ireland but moved to Wales when he was young in 423, the eldest of the twenty-four children of King Brychan of Brycheiniog (now Brecknock in Wales), who is a Saint of the Church and commemorated on April 6th. While he was still living in Wales, God inspired him to imitate the example of Saint Anthony and other ascetics, and to embrace the monastic life.

Seeking greater solitude, Nectan and his companions left Wales, intending to settle wherever their boat happened to land. Divine providence brought them to the northern coast of Devonshire at Hartland, where they lived for several years in a dense forest. The Saint’s family would visit him there on the last day of the year. Later, he relocated to a remote valley with a spring.

Once, Nectan found a stray pig and returned it to its owner. In gratitude, the swineherd gave Nectan two cows. The Saint accepted the gift, but the cows were soon stolen by two robbers. Nectan found the thieves who took the animals, and tried to preach to them about Christ. They became angry and cut off his head. Then the Saint picked up his head and carried it for half a mile, laying it down near the spring by his cell. Seeing this, the man who killed Saint Nectan went out of his mind, but the other thief buried him. From that time, miracles began to take place at Saint Nectan’s tomb. Tradition also says that wherever Nectan's blood fell, foxgloves grew.

He is also associated with St Nectan's Glen and Waterfall at Trethevy, near Tintagel, in Cornwall, where it is claimed he spent some time as a hermit. Nectan is believed to have sited his hermitage above the waterfall. According to legend, he rang a silver bell in times of stormy weather to warn shipping of the perils of the rocks at the mouth of the Rocky Valley.

St. Nectan's Well in Hartland, Devon

Saint Nectan and the Battle of Brunanburgh

In 937 Saint Nectan appeared on the eve of the Battle of Brunanburgh to a young man from Hartland who was in a tent near King Athelstan’s pavilion. Suddenly, he felt himself afflicted with the plague which was then destroying the English army. The young man wept and called upon God and Saint Nectan to help him. His cries were so loud that he woke the king and others around him.

Saint Nectan came to the young man just after midnight and touched the afflicted area of his body, healing him. In the morning, he was brought before the king and admitted that it was he who had disturbed Athelstan’s sleep. The king asked gently why he had been crying out during the night.

The young man explained that he felt himself stricken with the plague, and was afraid that he would die. Therefore, he entreated God and Saint Nectan to help him, and his prayer was answered.

Athelstan asked for more information about the life and martyrdom of Saint Nectan, which the young man provided. He also urged the king to turn to Saint Nectan with faith, promising that he would be victorious in battle if he did so.

The king promised to honor God and Saint Nectan, and so his faith was rewarded. Not only did he win the battle, but the plague disappeared and his soldiers recovered. The first time that King Athelstan visited Hartland in Devonshire, he donated property to the Saint’s church. For the rest of his life, the king placed great confidence in the intercession of Saint Nectan.

Church of Saint Nectan at Stoke by Hartland

St Nectan's reliquary altar


After Nectan's death, a considerable veneration grew up around his shrine and this continued to be popular throughout the Middle Ages, supported both by Saxon kings and Norman lords. Lyfing, Bishop of Crediton, approved the translation of his body as an accomplished fact, providing bells, lead for the roof, and a sculptured reliquary for the church. Furthermore, Nectan's staff was decorated with gold, silver and jewels. Manors were given to the church to endow it against pirates.

The church and shrine were restored and in the possession of the Augustinian secular canons from the adjoining Hartland Abbey from the 12th century until such monastic orders were disestablished during the Reformation. A number of other churches in Devon are dedicated to St Nectan, but only two ancient ones: Welcombe, just south of Hartland, and probably originally Ashton (now Saint John the Baptist). There is also a medieval chapel of Saint Nectan near Saint Winnow in Cornwall as well as a church dedicated to Saint Nectan in the village of Ashcombe in Devon.

His feast day is 17 June, the supposed day of his death (traditionally around 510), which was kept in Launceston, Exeter and Wells; there is still a tradition of taking foxgloves to his well on that day.

Saint Nectan is the patron of Hartland, Devonshire. A 12th-century manuscript found in Gotha is the fullest remaining account of the Life of Nectan.

There is an Orthodox house chapel (Russian diocese of Sourozh) dedicated to Saint Symeon and Saint Anna at Combe Martin, N. Devon where Saint Nectan is venerated.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O holy Father Nectan thou didst follow the bidding of the Lord, and didst leave thy father and mother for His sake. to embrace the hermit's life. Faithful follower of Christ unto death, pray that He may save our souls.