Today (5 July) we commemorate St Morwenna of Morwenstow and St Modwenna of Burton – another two confused stories, though not often with each other. From Miss Dunbar:
St. Morwenna or NORWINNA, July 6, 5th century, was a daughter or grand-daughter of Brychan. (See ALMHEDA.) St. Nectan was her near kinsman, perhaps her brother. They were among the Welsh saints who crossed over to Cornwall. Nectan settled on Hartland point, whence, in certain conditions of the atmosphere, the coast of Wales can be seen. Morwenna had her cell and her well at Hennacliff (the Raven’s crag, afterwards called Morwenstow), near the top of a high cliff looking over the Atlantic, where the sea is almost constantly stormy. When she was dying, Nectan came to see her, and she bade him raise her up that she might look once more on her native shore. She has been confounded with ST. MODWENNA, and has also been called a contemporary of persons who lived in the tenth century. Baring Gould, The Vicar of Mor wenstow. Blight, Grouses. An interesting, but much defaced, polychrome wallpainting was found on the north wall of the chancel of Morwenstow church. It represents a gaunt female clasping to her breast, with her left hand, a scroll or volume ; the right arm is raised in blessing over a kneeling monk. Athenaeum, Sept. 18, 1886, p. 378. Perhaps same as MERWIN (1).
St. Modwenna, July 5, 6 (MODEVENA, MODOVENA, MODWENA, MONENNA, MONINIA, MONINNA, MONYMA, MOVENA, MOWENA ; perhaps DARERCA (2 ), EDANA, MEDANA, EDINA, ETAOIN, ETHAN, MEMME, GOLINIA). Modwenna is made contemporary with persons living centuries apart, from St. Patrick to Alfred the Great. Whenever her legend crosses that of any other saint the result is contradiction and a general muddle of dates and places. (Compare ATEA, OSITH, EDITH (3).) One legend speaks of Modwenna as the virgin whose name was Darerca and whose surname was Moninna, and says that she died the day that St. Columkille was born: this is generally said to be in 521. This early Modwenna received the nun’s veil from St. Patrick, and was soon at the head of a small community which rapidly in creased. They lived at one time on an island in Wexford harbour; afterwards, at Faughart, where she ruled over a hundred and fifty nuns. She removed for greater quiet to a desert place called Sleabh Cuillin or Slieve Gullion. (Compare DARERCA (2).) Modwenna lived to the age of one hundred and thirty, or some say one hundred and eighty. When she was at the point of death King Eugenius sent a bishop to bargain with her to prolong her life for a year : he was sure she could obtain this favour from God if she would pray for it, and he offered to redeem her ‘life by a free maiden.’ Modwenna said that if he had asked this favour ‘two days ago or even yesterday’ it would have been granted, but St. Peter and St. Paul had come to fetch her and she must go. At the same time, that which he and the Bishop had offered to give for her, they must now give for their own souls. Then she blessed the people and departed. She crops up again in 685, when she visits Aldfrid, king of Northumberland, at Whitby, and he requests her to in struct his kinswoman, the Abbess Elfleda. Modwenna’s career is prolonged into the 9th century, by a mistake of Capgrave, who supposes this Aldfrid to be Alfred the Great, and substitutes for ST. ELFLEDA, ST. EDITH of Polesworth.
Whatever her true date was, Modwenna left traces of her influence both in England and Scotland, and went three times to Rome. She is said to have founded seven churches in Scotland, one of which was on the site now occupied by the Castle of Edinburgh, one on the Castle Hill of Stirling, one at Longforgan in Perthshire. In England she founded the Monasteries of Burton-on-Trent, Stramshall in Staffordshire, and Polesworth in Warwickshire. At Polesworth her memory is eclipsed by that of EDITH (3), for whom the establishment was restored in the 9th century. At Burton the name of Modwenna is preserved in the dedication, and it is one of the places where she is said to have died.
Mr. Gammack thinks there were two Modwennas; Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy considers there must have been three ; Bishop Forbes holds that there was only one ; that it is quite credible that she established a Christian colony in Ireland, then penetrated to different parts of Scotland, then like many famous early saints made the pilgrimage to Rome ; afterwards founded two religious houses in England, and eventually returned to die in her own land.
Her brother St. Ronan and her adopted son St. Luger are said to have crossed from Ireland to England with Modwenna, Atea, and perhaps Osith. Luger’s mother, as a young widow with a babe in her arms, became one of Modwenna’s first nuns.
Forbes. Gammack, in Smith and Wace. Capgrave. Butler. Broughton. Lauigau. Arnold-Forster. St. Moico. (See ANNA (7) Ste. Molac, or MOLAGGA.
Holy Saints Modwenna and Morwenna, pray to God for us.