Looking at the “Life” of St Mewan

St Mewan, as he is known in Cornwall – known as Saint Méen in Brittany, and Sanctus Mevennus in Latin – was a Breton saint.  The Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina states that he died in “Britannia Armonica” in the 7th century, and is commemorated on the 21 June.  His “Life” (BHL 5944) is said to be 11th century, according to Nicholas Orme, The Saints of Cornwall, Oxford (2000), p. 67, as I posted earlier:

The 11th-century Life of Mewan, written in Brittany, claims that Austell was a priest and godson of Mewan who lived with him in his monastery at Saint-Meen (I.-et-V.), attended his deathbed, and died on 28 June (his subsequent feast-day), exactly one week after his master (Plaine 1884: 155-6; Doble 1939c: 4-11). Both saints were honoured at Saint-Meen. In Cornwall the parishes of St Austell and St Mewan adjoin one another, and have probably done so since at least the 10th century when the two saints occur together in the early list of saints (Olson and Padel: 34, 59). Austell’s Cornish parish, however, was much larger than Mewan’s, reversing their status in Brittany.

The “Life” was printed by Fr. B. Plaine in Analecta Bollandiana 3, p.142-56, from a single manuscript in the BNF in Paris, which he says is 15th century but they say is 16th (!?).  Unfortunately the MS is not online.

I have started to translate Plaine’s edition into English, by running each chapter in turn through Google Translate and ChatGPT 3.5, interleaving the Latin sentences with the output from these.  Then I use my QuickLatin parser to look up words for part of speech etc.  I use the Logeion website to access the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, to look up post-classical meanings.  The Latin is simple enough, and it is just a case of turning the handle.  I have a couple of weeks of domestic business to attend to, but then I will get to it.


3 thoughts on “Looking at the “Life” of St Mewan

  1. Roger, do you have any information on St Ia of Cornwall, also known as St Eia of Wales? We know her general story but would so much love to know if there is anything else about her specific place of origin in Ireland, her dates, etc.

    Thank you!

    jodi (mother of 12 year-old Eia :))

  2. I do seem to have something, in Gilbert Doble’s collected volume “The Saints of Cornwall”, vol. 1 “Saints of the Land’s End District”, LLanerch Press, p.89-94. Let me have a read.

  3. Well, Doble’s pages are useful but unreadable notes on sources, rather than an answer – he was a pioneer, but he needed an editor badly. Nicholas Orme in his “Saints of Cornwall” talks about Ia on p.144-5, and is better.

    But I did find online a blog post by the excellent Caitlin Green which also gives some info here. Our main source for St Ia is the “Life” of St Gwinear or Guigner (the two names are pronounced identically, Doble says), written by a Breton named Anselm around 1300 AD (text ref. = BHL 2988). Doble gives a fairly full translation in the same book; it’s about 3 pages of Latin (“Acta Sanctorum”, March vol. 3, p.456-9 / 454-7 in the 3rd ed.). St Gwinear is said to be 5th century, and is contemporary with St Ia.

    The Ia bit is very short, in chapter 2. Gwinear and his 777 companions are preparing to leave Ireland and go to Cornwall. They set sail.

    They had not gone far when a maiden of noble birth named Hya came down to the shore, meaning to go with them. Finding she was too late, she knelt down on the shore in great grief and prayed. As she did so, she noticed a leaf floating on the water. She touched it with the rod she carried to see if it would sink and lo! it began to grow bigger and bigger as she looked at it. She saw that it was sent her by God, and trusting to Him, she embarked upon the leaf and was straighaway wafted acriss the channel, reaching her destination before the others. Thy in turn arrived safely in Cornwall at the port which is called Heul, whither Hya had preceded them.

    Doble didn’t believe the story of Irish origin (p.110 of the volume above). Nor does Nicholas Orme, who thinks that Anselm added it. Gwinear, Ia etc are Welsh saints, I think. All the sources are late and fictional, so nothing much is known about St Ia. However St Ives is clearly named after her. Green knows of an Eastern “St Ia” – not the same person. She reminds us that the archaeology shows that, in the Dark Ages, St Ives was visited by Byzantine traders from the Eastern Mediterranean (!), presumably buying copper. So she theorises some connection between the two. Of course it’s possible, but it may only mean that our St Ia was named after the Eastern saint. Our name Irene is Greek, so this sort of thing did go on.

    I’m sorry that this is so meagre. I suspect the 5th century post-Roman origin is true. The Welsh origin is probably true, because Cornwall was very lightly populated in this period. Beyond that… it’s very hard to say. Unfortunately Cornwall is very lacking in sources in this period.

    I hope that helps?

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