St. Noyala of Brittany, Virgin Martyr
(Noyale, Noaluen, Newlina)
Noaluen and her maid-servant attempted to escape. But the tyrant found them again near the chapel of B�zo, [in Bignan about 30 km south of Noyal-Pontivy]. Again, he tried to conquer Noyale’s resistance. To make her afraid of him, he made the blade of the sword, which would serve him to cut off her head if she remained obstinate in her refusal, glitter before her eyes. Noyale gave way neither to his propositions nor to his threats. In his anger, the tyrant Nizan beheaded Noyale and her maid.
Condensed from http://www.bath.ac.uk/lispring/sourcearchive/ns3/ns3tgh1.htm
Noyale (in Breton, Noaluen; Latin, Noyala; Cornish, Newlina) was another 6th-century Celtic saint: English according to her legend, Irish according to earlier hagiographers, but more likely to have been one of the numerous Welsh settlers who travelled to Brittany – like Meiriadog himself. Indeed, his association with the place, evidenced not only by the tradition of the stone coffin, but also in his medieval Latin Vita, may perhaps suggest (one can do no more than this – she is far too shadowy a figure, historically) that Noyale was one of his group of followers.
The narratives in that huge book, the Buhe er Sent, are always both edifying and marvellous in character. [The Buhe is the Breton translation of the vast collection of lives of the saints of Brittany, compiled by the Dominican Albert Le Grand in the early 17th century. No Life of the saint has survived; but given the fact that the Breton legend concurs in so many points with the residual legend found at Newlyn East in Cornwall, it seems likely that one had formerly existed, in the medieval period.] To speak of St Noyale is to go back into the far-off history of Brittany and discover its beautiful popular legends. It is hard to tell where history ends and where legend begins. This much is certain, that the cult of St Noyale has, across the centuries, deeply marked local history and popular piety.
Noaluen was the daughter of the king of Ussig in England, in the 5th century. She received a strongly Christian education, and became a model of piety to her companions. She felt little attraction to the pleasures of the court. Quite the opposite: she dedicated herself to prayer, penance, and mortification. The poor came to her. She wanted to renounce the world totally, to give herself to Christ.
Her father was already dreaming of a fine princely marriage. More surely to avoid this seductive temptation, Noaluen distributed her possessions, and fled with her nurse-companion, not knowing where they were going. Immediately, the king caused her to be sought for, promising a reward to whoever brought them back. But already they had set sail on the sea, turning a deaf ear to the appeals of their pursuers. [According to the legend as depicted on a rood screen (the Westeen equivalent of an Eastern Iconstasion) at Noyal-Pontivy, destroyed in 1684, Noyale and her nurse sailed to Brittany on a leaf – a hagiographical motif encountered elsewhere. The legend now current has ‘rationalised’ this somewhat, and has them floating across on a branch!]
Noaluen and her nurse landed in the region around Vannes, afterwards making their way to the interior of the country, to live in solitude. At that time there was scant population in the regions in theArgoed [the interior, lit. ‘by the woodland’] beyond the Arvor [the coastal plain, lit. ‘by the sea’], covered for the most part by forests. It was easy to build themselves a peaceful hermitage. [This, it has been suggested, was in Noyal-Pontivy, at Ste-Noyale.]
One day a local lord met this young immigrant. Immediately he wished to seduce this beautifulyoung woman, and lure her to his palace. Noyale abruptly refused: ‘I have consecrated my virginity to God, and will have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. I do not fear the death of the body, I fear nothing except the death of the soul. Do with me what you will: I am willing to endure every torment rather than break the vow which I have made to God. I will receive from my divine spouse the courage necessary to undergo the most cruel death. What happiness, to receive the martyr’s crown!’
Noaluen and her maid-servant attempted to escape. But the tyrant found them again near the chapel of Bezo, [in Bignan about 30 km south of Noyal-Pontivy]. Again, he tried to conquer Noyale’s resistance. To make her afraid of him, he made the blade of the sword, which would serve him to cut off her head if she remained obstinate in her refusal, glitter before her eyes. Noyale gave way neither to his propositions nor to his threats. In his anger, the tyrant Nizan beheaded Noyale and her maid.
The narrative develops from the edifying to the marvellous: Noaluen took her bloodied head into her hands and began to walk. [According to the older version of the legend, formerly depicted on the rood screen, and now reproduced in the windows of the parish church, Noyale’s nurse survived the attack and, led by an angel, guided the cephalophore saint back home towards Noyal-Pontivy. By the time the windows were installed (late-19th century), the angel had dropped out of the legend. The account being given here is derived from Le Grand, who worked far from Noyal-Pontivy, at Morlaix.
Passing through the territory of Nizan, at Himbor, she heard a girl replying coarsely to her mother: she was scandalised at this and went on. [Another hagiographic commonplace. It is paralleled, for instance, in the legend of the Welsh saint Eiliwedd/Almedha.] Next she arrived at the edge of the forest of Branguily [a spot approximately 1 km south of Noyal- Pontivy]. Here for the first time she stopped, to pray. She stuck her staff into the earth, where it became a tree. Three drops of blood fell upon the grass, and three fountains immediately sprang up. [The earlier versions of the tradition, as recorded on the screen, and reproduced in the windows, do not specify that the wells appeared upon Noyale’s arrival. The screen inscriptions (given by (Baring-Gould & Fisher), op. cit., p. 11) say merely that she ‘rested’ by the fountain (on a stone ‘seat’, afterwards bearing her name), before ‘planting’ her staff (which became a tree), and then kneeling to pray on another stone, which is still said to bear the marks of her knees. It is impossible to say for sure whether the screen simply omitted the well-creation episode (an omission which seems unlikely, given the near-ubiquity of this hagiographic motif), or whether the motif of the well-creation was added to the legend in, say, the last three centuries (? by Le Grand himself – his great familiarity with legends of well-creation associated with so many other Breton saints might have led him to assume it here: but then, how would this literary creation have fed back so strongly into the local oral tradition?), to account for the presence of sacred wells at the place most intimately connected with the cephalophoria.] The martyr continued on her way, seeking a desert place wherein to die. There today is found the village of Ste-Noyale, [2 km north of Noyal-Pontivy: possibly the site of Noyale’s original hermitage].
- Celtic and Old English Saints – 6 July . 2016. Celtic and Old English Saints – 6 July . [ONLINE] Available at: http://celticsaints.org/2016/0706e.html. [Accessed 06 July 2016].