Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Celebrating St Nectan, 2016

Posted on by royvickery |

The legend of St Nectan is given elsewhere on this website; this note reports how St Nectan’s Day was celebrated in 2016.

STNEC 043Three Devon churches are dedicated to the saint.  One of these, at Hartland, was visited on Sunday 19 June, a second, at Welcombe, was visited on the following day, and information on the third, at Ashcombe, was received on 22 June.

At Hartland – the church is in fact in the tiny village of Stoke, rather than the small town of Hartland – Nectan was celebrated at an 11 a.m. service.  After the opening hymn, one of the co-leaders read a brief account of the ‘facts’ of saint’s life.  This included the ‘fact’ that he was beheaded, but picked up his head and continued walking until he felt tired, laid down and died beside his well.  Where blood fell a foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) grew.  This was followed by a foxglove procession, during which members of the predominantly female congregation carried foxgloves to the altar where they were handed to the co-leader who placed them in two vases.  After passing their flowers to the co-leader people were invited to wash their hands.  Later the the vases were moved to the Lady Chapel and placed beside an icon of Nectan.  The church was abundantly decorated with flowers, as a result of a wedding held on the previous day, but a jar of foxgloves was placed in the church porch.  St Nectan’s Well, about a five minutes walk away, was undecorated, and appeared to have received little attention in recent years.

STNEC 125Also in north Devon, at Hartland’s sister church at Welcombe, the church was abundantly decorated with foxgloves, as was the well which stands across the road.  Presumably the fact that this well is easily accessible, whereas the one at Hartland is down a rough track away from the road, accounts for the decoration of one and the neglect of the other.

At Ashcombe, in south Devon, only two church services are held each month, and the celebration of St Nectan’s Day depends on whether or not these services coincide with the Day.  In 2016 ‘it was celebrated with the retelling of his legend in the school and photos of ‘his’ foxgloves (which were the most prolific ever just at the right time) on the Ashcombe site.’

Images:  upper, foxloves placed in vases in front of altar, St Nectan’s church, Hartland; lower, St Nectan’s Well, Welcombe.

Thanks to Stephen West for information on St Nectan’s celebrations at Ashcombe.

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