Orthodox America


  Orthodoxy's Western Heritage


As Archbishop of Western Europe (1950-1962), Saint John (Maximovitch) developed an avid interest in the Orthodox saints of the West.  To promote their veneration, he issued a ukase calling upon his clergy "to commemorate during services-at the lityas and in other prayers, as well as at the dismissals-those God-pleasers who are the patrons of that locale or that country where the service is being conducted and where they enjoy a particular veneration.  In Paris and its environs, for example, one should commemorate Hieromartyr Dionysius, Saint Genevieve, and Saint Cloud; in Lyons-Hieromartyr Irenaeus; in Marseilles-Martyr Victor and Saint John Cassian; in the area of Toulouse-Hieromartyr Saturninus, Bishop of Toulouse; in Tours-the holy Hierarch Martin. Where information is lacking or uncertain, clergy are to turn to us for clarification. Priests should encourage their flocks to honor these God-pleasers."  (Ukase #223, 23 April 1953)

Following Saint John's example, we offer our readers the lives of two little-known Celtic saints, who contributed to the rich legacy of Orthodoxy's Western heritage.


In the sixth century, before the Anglo-Saxon invasions which caused such destruction of churches and monasteries and such slaughter, many Celtic monks left their monasteries to spread the Gospel abroad.  From Wales a large number crossed the Bristol Channel to Cornwall, where many of the people were still pagan, and from there over the sea again to Brittany, preaching, founding monasteries and building churches. More than thirty of these missionary monks from this century alone were later canonized.

SAINT MEWAN OF BRITTANY

One of the most famous of the Breton saints was Saint Mewan.  A relative of Saint Samson of Dol,* (* A Life of St. Samson appeared in OA #40, June 1984) he was born in Gwent of a noble family, and was well-educated, intelligent and serious-minded. When quite young he chose to renounce the world and lead a life of poverty.  As a disciple of his kinsman, he travelled with Saint Samson and a small group of monks on a missionary journey to Brittany. After some time in the monastery of Dol which they founded, Samson sent young Mewan to a certain count to beg for assistance in building his basilica. On the way Mewan met a wealthy and pious man, who promised him his own estate as a site for the monastery.  This offer was taken up later with Samson's blessing when Mewan desired to lead a more solitary life.  The site proved suitable for a monastery except that there was no water.  Mewan prayed fervently, and struck his staff into the ground.  Immediately a spring of water gushed out.  This water healed both sick men and animals, so that soon the fame of it spread abroad, and people flocked to it from distant places.  The number of monks increased rapidly as his sanctity became known.

Once a count imprisoned and sentenced to death one of his servants for a trifling misdemeanor. St. Mewan begged the count to release him without avail.  Through the prayers of St. Mewan, the servant was miraculously released, and fled to the monastery for sanctuary.  The infuriated count broke in and seized him, ignoring St. Mewan's warning that as a punishment he would die in three days' time. As the count was returning home, he was seriously injured by a fall from his horse.   He repented, confessed and died on the third day.  Many miracles, particularly of healing, are recorded in the life of the Saint.   After his death his cult gradually spread all over France.  His well was famous for its powers of curing a malady popularly called "St. Mewan's evil," namely a malignant mange that eats the flesh down to the bone.  In the Middle Ages it was established that between four and five thousand pilgrims came annually for healing. The name Méen (Mewan) is pronounced like the French word for hand, main, so pilgrims used to wear a hand-shaped piece of cloth sewn on their clothes or hat.  They were supposed to live on alms throughout their pilgrimage, and give to the poor on their return the money they would have spent on the journey.  It is recorded that in the mid-seventeenth century some fifteen thousand pilgrims passed each year through Rennes, where a hospice was built to accommodate them.  Even in the late eighteenth century, annual pilgrimages were still being made and numerous healings of skin diseases reported.

A charming anecdote is told about Saint Mewan's death.  Knowing beforehand the hour of his repose, he called the brethren together in words of love to give them his last instructions.  His godson Austol, who had never been parted from him and had always served him humbly, was pierced with grief. "Why, father," he cried, "do you leave me your servant desolate?  It had been better that I had been buried by your hands and commended by your holy prayers before your departure."  He wept bitterly, and his beloved godfather replied, "Dearest godson, continue with your usual labor, for by God's mercy, in seven days you shall join me in the glory of the heavenly life.  The bond of love which unites us is not broken; no, it will be made even stronger."

After the Saint's death, Austol continued to serve the brothers as before. On the seventh day, having observed a three-day fast, he went alone to the church, and there peacefully reposed.  The brothers, finding him dead, and remembering the love which these two servants of God had for each other, opened Saint Mewan's tomb and discovered that the Saint's body, which diffused a divine fragrance, had moved and was lying on the right of the grave facing the space on the left as if waiting for his disciple. So Austol, who later was also glorified, was buried beside his beloved friend. The bones of the two saints thus declared the love that had always united them.

In the year 919 the relics of Saint Mewan and his disciple Saint Austol were moved to Central France to escape the Norsemen, and were brought back in 1074 on January 18, the day on which they are commemorated.

SAINT WINNOC OF FLANDERS

The chief saint of Flanders, Saint Winnoc, was a Cornishman of royal descent, who founded the monastery of Wormhout, twelve miles south of Dunkirk.  His life was written by a monk in the early ninth century.  It is said that he came with three other monks to a monastery at Sithiu, and the Abbot, seeing their humility and piety, set them to build a monastery at Wormhout and hostels for the poor. As the monastery grew, Winnoc was chosen abbot. Nevertheless he considered himself as the vilest of all men, undertaking the most disagreeable tasks and serving the brethren and the poor with all humility.  Mindful of the apostolic precept that "if any would not work, neither should he eat," the Saint grieved when he became old and enfeebled so that he hadn't strength to serve the brothers by his own labor.  One night he went alone to the mill to grind corn.  Locking the door, he prayed the merciful Lord to assist him.  The Lord had compassion on him, and the mill turned by divine power alone, while the saint continued his prayers of praise and thanks-giving.  The brothers wondered how someone so lacking in physical strength could grind so much flour every day.  At last curiosity impelled one monk to peep through an aperture.  On seeing the Saint standing in prayer and the mill grinding by the power of God, he was suddenly struck blind.  Falling at the feet of Saint Winnoc, he confessed his temerity and begged his pardon. The holy Winnoc made the sign of the Cross over the unseeing eyes, and through his prayers the brother's sight was restored. So many were the miracles, indeed, through the prayers of Saint Winnoc, both during his life and after his death, that a book was later written about them.

Saint Winnoc died on November 6, the day he is commemorated, probably in the year 716.  Some years later, the whole church burnt down, but the Saint's shrine was miraculously spared.  In the ninth century, during the Danish raids, his relics were removed to a safer place and later returned to Bergues-Saint-Winnoc, a hill surrounded by fens, where a church was built and dedicated to him.  It became the center of pilgrimage on Trinity Sunday, when there was a procession with his relics.  Numerous miracles of healing occurred.  In the time of drought, his relics were carried from church to church, and part of his stole used to be taken to women in childbirth.  In the eighteenth century a bishop suppressed the procession, but later it was revived.  An article of religious practices in Flanders written as recently as 1935, mentions devotion to Saint Winnoc, whose aid was invoked especially for whooping cough and fevers.

An English nun

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