There is a great body of Orthodox saints from the UK and France, or what once was considered the kingdoms of the Angles and Saxons and Normans. Some are obscure because they are from the faraway north, but they are still revered in Orthodoxy. Such is the case of a little-known saint by the name of St. Noyala or NOIALA, called in Brittany NOALUEN (white Noyala),or as ST. NEWLYN in Cornwall. What is fantastic about her story is that she actually walked with her head in her hands to found the monastery that still bears her name.
Her story follows many of the early female saint lives: she wanted to be a monastic but her father, a kind of Cambria in north-west England forced her to marry. In order to escape the confines of marriage and devote her life to meditation and heavenly pursuits, she decided to become an outlaw, resisting the decree that the king, her father, demanded of her and a fugitive. She decided to withdraw into the forest of Brittany, a country across the English Channel where many monastics retreated.
Around the age of twenty, she set out for Brittany with her faithful servant. Like many saints coming across the Channel to Brittany, they crossed the sea on a strange boat: a tree branch (in other versions of the story a leaf). Arriving at the mouth of the river Blavet, they journeyed in search of a hermitage.
Not far from Bignan, near the village of Bezo, a local tyrant named Nisan fell in love with Noyale and decided to make her his wife. He had not counted on her unwavering commitment to devote herself to God, and she firmly refused. Nizan, irate, beheaded her on the spot.
At that moment, a miracle took place: Noyale took her head between her hands and continued her quest for a place of rest. Accompanied by her faithful servant, she came to Hemborh where they heard a woman swearing. As this was not the place of peace she was looking for, she walked on–still holding her head.
In the village of Noyal, they witnessed an argument and then continued their journey. A few kilometers further on, they took a little rest. Three drops of blood fell from the severed head, and in doing so made three fountains to spring forth. St Noyale planted her stick in the ground, which immediately turned into a hawthorn, while her servant’s spindle turned into a beech tree.
Having prayed and slept, the two women resumed their journey to finally halt a few miles away. St Noyale decided that she would stay and rest here in this quiet valley.
Today that resting place is found in a hollow 2 kilometers from the village of Ste-Noyale, [2 km north of Noyal-Pontivy.) Apparently, the saint was quite picky when it came to finding a place to die and rest her bones. And it is in the actual place of the last sleep of St Noyale that a chapel was erected, dedicated to this young girl from central England.
The legend of the saint has been passed on in the oral tradition from one generation to the next. Here is an excerpt from a Grandmama’s tale to her granddaughter about the saint:
Listen carefully, little one – she would say to me – Once upon a time…One evening as the sun sank to the horizon, St Noyale was looking for a place to rest in the little valley of the Grand Ménec.
Beheaded, she had been, the poor thing, a few days before in the countryside in Bignan, near to Bézo, by the dreadful Nizan. By the grace of God, she walked a long way, and, her head between her hands, she arrived here.
In a peaceful place where the nightingale sang, near to a limpid steam, she sat down. And to her faithful companion she said: ‘Here I finish my earthly pilgrimage. It is in the country of the Moutons Blancs that I will rest.’ From her long fingers fell three drops of blood, and the green grass became all red. O Wonder! At once from the earth three springs welled up. Since that day, pure fresh water has flowed from the Three Fountains. Even in the hottest summers it never dries up, and it gives health to the soul and body. And more wondrous still (according to Fetinieu):
‘Anyone who has a heart pure and good
Can see the three drops in the depths of the wells.’
(as recounted by Tristan Gray Hulse in “The Land of Holy Wells-3” http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/living-spring/sourcearchive/ns3/ns3tgh1.htm)
And you can still visit it today, 15 centuries later. In fact, during Holy Week, many pilgrims make the journey to her chapel to venerate her (not holding their severed heads on the road I hope).