Feast Day: 17 June
Saint Nectan of Hartland was born in Ireland but his family moved to Wales at a young age. He was the oldest of 24 children; one of his sisters would go on to become Saint Morwenna of Cornwall. When he was young, St Nectan became inspired by hearing the stories about the famous St Anthony the Great, who was from Egypt and the first monk to become a ‘desert father’.
Planning to imitate his way of living, Nectan and his companions left Wales, intending to settle wherever their boat happened to land. Nectan and his companions wound up on the northern coast of Devon at Hartland, where they lived for several years in a dense forest. After a while, Nectan went further and, leaving his companions, he relocated to a remote valley with a spring.
As a hermit, Nectan of Hartland would spend many hours of the day in prayer and many locals would come to him for advice and guidance. Nectan was completely reliant on God for his substance and, like St John the Baptist, he often would survive on a diet of insects. At other times locals would give him animals or food in thanks for his help, like when he helped a swineherd recover his lost pigs and in turn was given a gift of two cows.
Sadly, Nectan’s life was cut short when, one day, his cows were stolen and when he found the thieves he attempted to convert the robbers to the Christian faith. In return, he was attacked by robbers who cut off his head.
A famous legend about what happened next was that the beheaded St Nectan then picked up his head and walked back to the spring where he had spent much his life and died there. One of the attackers was so bewildered by what happened that he lost his mind while the other converted and buried St Nectan’s body, which soon became a shrine.
This may or may not have happened, but what is known is that soon after his death his tomb became a popular shrine and many miracles took place there through his intersession.
Why Saint Nectan of Hartland is important
A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community
Saint Nectan shows the great desirability of God in a really profound way. How many of us would be willing to give up everything to devote our life to a single cause? Can we even imagine desiring something so much that we are willing to give up home, family, friends, community and all our luxuries just to spend life completely devoted to that one thing?
While St Nectan’s vocation and life journey is not one most of us will ever experience, it serves as an inspiration and reminder of how even if you physically lack everything, if you have a relationship with God you have everything.