Princess Melangell
By Anne Van Tilburg
Published on 10/7/2010
Princess Melangell

Princess Melangell
There once was a princess with the lovely, lilting name of Melangell, which sounds as refreshing as a cool dessert on a hot summer's day.
We know little of the facts of her life, but we do know that she was as unusual as her name.

As the daughter of a Scottish king and a descendant of the Roman ruler in Britain, Magnus Maximus, she was expected to act in the usual royal manner and marry well, preferably a prince of another tribe favorable to her father. But Melangell had a mind of her own. Even though she loved and respected her father, she loved God even more, and she vowed at an early age to spend her life serving Him.

When she told her father, he was quite angry. "Nonsense!" he exploded, "I will have none of this defiance. You will marry and that is that. You can be a good wife and still serve God." And he handed her a list of acceptable suitors and told her to check off the ones she liked. As much as she would like to please her father, Melangell knew she could not do this, so that night, when everyone in the castle was asleep, she packed up a small bundle of her clothes, her cat, and some smoked fish, and off she went to find a place where she and God could live together undisturbed.

She found the perfect spot in the woods of Powys, in central Wales. She cleared space for a cottage and asked St. Joseph for help in building it, for although she had been educated and could read Latin poetry and make a tapestry, she hadn't the faintest idea how to set in a window or raise a tight roof so the rain would not leak in. With heavenly help and perseverance, Melangell built a hermitage and a garden and a reputation. The people of the village outside the woods called her a wise woman, because she healed them with the teas and salves she made from herbs and flowers. They said she was a gift from God and they loved her. They also said that she was holy and that even her cat made friends with the birds and mice.

She rose with the sun and went to sleep when the sun went to sleep, and she was happy and content with her simple life. For fifteen years she lived this way, never wanting or expecting that anything would ever change. But one day, her peace was shattered with the sounds of pounding hooves and the cries of men. The Prince of Powyos, Brichwel Ysthrog, had decided to hunt rabbits in a different part of the forest, and he had chosen the spot where Melangell lived. The Prince pulled up his horse abruptly when he came upon the young woman kneeling in prayer, a golden light surrounded her. A terrified rabbit ran past him and made a dash under Melangell's skirt. The skirt quivered with the rapid beating of the rabbit's heart.

Prince Brochwel cried out to his hounds to catch the rabbit, for it was Monday, and every Monday the royal chef served rabbit stew with cabbages and onions and potatoes from the royal garden, and the tradition could not be broken. The hounds stood transfixed. They could not move and looked at their master and each other with terrified eyes. The prince blew on his horn for the others in his party to come and help, but the horn made no sound and stuck to his lips. He felt quite ridiculous. It was not proper  for a prince to be seen in this way. He climbed off his horse and approached Melangell, and when he began to speak to her, the horn fell easily from his lips. "Will you please tell me what is happening here?" he asked sternly. Since he was from a different part of the country, he had not heard of this wise woman.

Melangell coaxed the rabbit out from its hiding place and held it close to her. "This really is not your rabbit, Your Highness," she told him gently, "he belongs to God. He wants to live and be joyous and proclaim God's glory, just as you do, in his way. Can't you enjoy your stew without putting my friend into it?" "Nonsense" said the prince, sounding very much like her father. "Who ever heard of a rabbit stew without the rabbit? Besides, I am a prince and I have every right to hunt whatever I want." 

Melangell smiled and invited the prince to sit down. Then she told him the story of how and why she had come to this holy place to serve God in any way he guided her. Besides being a healer, she was also a protector of the wild animals in the forest. They loved her as she loved them. The prince was deeply touched by the young woman. He wished she could have been his princess and reigned over more than this forest. But he was a good and noble man and knew this was not what Melangell wanted. So to show his respect for her, he gave her the land and the woods as, he said, "a refuge and sanctuary in recognition of God's little hare in the shadow of his servant, Melangell."

Melangell lived there the rest of her life - thirty-seven years - and became the Abbess of a community of other lovers of God's creatures. Another community sprang up there too - rabbits! Hundreds of them came, fleeing human and animal hunters, knowing they would be safe here. They followed Melangell everywhere she went and came to be known as Melangell's Lambs. Today, in the church of Pennant Melangell in the Montgomery shire, there is a shrine which marks the spot where Melangell and Prince Brochwel met. 

We do not know if the prince after that incident still enjoyed his stew without rabbit or not. He might have been so touched by Melangell's words that he gave up the hunt, and then again, he might not. Of course, since all the rabbits had gone to live in Melangell's refuge, he might have had a hard time finding one! 

Source:  Once Upon A Time Saints. Ethel Pochocki.