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Saint Nectan

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Saint Nectan
The Holy Martyr Nectan
Born c. 468 AD, Wales
Died c. 510 AD, Newton, Hartland, Devon
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church,
Anglican Communion
Feast June 17
Patronage Hartland, Devon

Saint Nectan, sometimes styled Saint Nectan of Hartland, was a 5th century Celtic holyman who lived in Stoke, Hartland, in the English county of Devon, where the prominent parish church of Saint Nectan is dedicated to him.


A 12th century manuscript found in Gotha is the fullest remaining account of the life of Nectan.[1][2]

This account holds that Nectan was the eldest of the 24 children of King Brychan of Brycheiniog (now Brecknock in Wales). Having received a vocation to become a monk earlier in his life, he and many of his relatives sailed to north Devon where Nectan settled by a spring (now St Nectan's Well) at Stoke, in the then dense forest of Hartland. Here, in this solitude, he lived as a hermit. Although, he is also associated with St Nectan's Glen and Waterfall (or Kieve) at Trethevy, near Tintagel, in Cornwall, where it is claimed he spent some time as a hermit.

At Hartland, Nectan lived in the solitude of a remote valley where he helped a swineherd recover his lost pigs and in turn was given a gift of two cows. Nectan's cows where stolen and after finding them he attempted to convert the robbers to the Christian faith. In return he was attacked by robbers who cut off his head. The same authority says that he picked his head up and walked back to his well before collapsing and dying.

According to tradition, one of the thieves died and the other went blind. Upon realising what he had done, it is claimed that the thief later returned to bury Nectan's body. Tradition also says that wherever Nectan's blood fell, foxgloves grew.



Church of Saint Nectan at Stoke by Hartland

After Nectan's death, a considerable cult grew up around his shrine and this continued to be popular throughout the Middle Ages, supported both by Saxon kings and Norman lords. Lyfing, Bishop of Crediton, approved the translation of his body as an accomplished fact, providing bells, lead for the roof, and a sculptured reliquary for the church. Furthermore, Nectan's staff was decorated with gold, silver and jewels. Manors were given to the church to endow it against pirates.

The church and shrine were restored and in the possession of the Augustinian secular canons from the adjoining Hartland Abbey from the 12th century until such monastic orders were disestablished during the Reformation. A number of other churches in Devon are dedicated to St Nectan, but only two ancient ones: Welcombe, just south of Hartland, and probably originally Ashton (now St John the Baptist). There is also a medieval chapel of Saint Nectan near St Winnow in Cornwall.

His feast day is 17 June, the supposed day of his death (traditionally around 510), which was kept in Launceston, Exeter and Wells; there is still a tradition of taking foxgloves to his well on that day. Other dates include the 18 May[3], 14 February [4] and 4 December (the date of his translation).


  1. Doble, G. H. (1970) The Saints of Cornwall, part 5. Truro: Dean and Chapter; pp.59-79
  2. Doble, G. H. (tr.) (1941) The Life of Saint Nectan, 2nd ed. (Reprinted: Bideford, 1964)
  3. Roscarrock
  4. Wilson's Martyrology (1640)

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