St. Keyne of Wales, Hermit and Virgin
(Cain, Ceinwen, Kean, Keyna, Kenya)
Died in Wales, 5th or 6th century; her feast appears on October 7 on
The only unassailable statements that can be made about this saint, is
that her name is associated with southern Wales and western
Herefordshire, and that Robert Southey wrote a humorous poem about her
holy well near Liskeard in Cornwall, called "The Well of Saint Keyne".
Traditionally, the husband or wife who first drinks of the well waters
is said to 'get the mastery.' The poem tells of a Cornish groom who
leaves his bride on the church porch in order to be the first at the
well. The wife outsmarted him by taking a bottle of the water into the
church and drinking it as he was on his way.
Although it is assumed, because of the legend, that Keyne was a maiden,
the saint's gender has been called into question. She had a strong
cultus in Wales and Cornwall, evidenced by many the many ancient
churches under her protection, and that she is always identified as a
virgin dedicated to God. In fact, in Wales she is known as "Cain Wyry"
or Keyne the Maiden. The argument for her being a man is based on the
fact that she preached and built churches, which was hard work and
entailed many dangers during that period.
She is reputed to be one of the 24 saintly children of
Brychan of Brecknock (f.d. April 6).
The legend recorded in the 14th century by
John of Tynemouth makes her an extremely beautiful maiden who refused
all offers of marriage. Instead she became both a recluse and an
itinerant evangelist, from Brecknock to Saint Michael's Mount in
Cornwall, where she met her nephew
Saint Cadoc (f.d. September 25).
Cadoc persuaded her to return to Wales. There
she made for herself a
habitation in a certain hillock at the roots of a certain great
mountain, and there caused a healing well to spring up. Before her
death she told Cadoc that the place would fall into the hands of a
sinful race, whom she would root out and lead thither other men, who
would find her forgotten tomb,
and in this place the name of the Lord
shall be blessed forever.
Local legend speaks of the spiral stones in the form of serpents being
snakes turned to stone by her prayers.
She is patron of Saint Keyne in Cornwall and, possibly, of Llangeinor
(Mid Glamorgan). Some claim the Saint Keyne was a
hermit at Keynsham (Cainsliam) in Somersetshire and that it is named
after her; others that she has no cultus in Somerset and that the name
comes from 'Ceagin's (Caega's) hamm.'
Saint Keyne is depicted as a female hermit turning serpents into stone.
Pictures of her death show her attended by an angel, who strips off her
hairshirt and robes her in white
She is venerated at Keynsham
Troparion of St Keyne
Having turned serpents to stone, thou didst give thy name to Keynsham, O
and after thy life, resplendent with miracles,
our Father Cadoc ministered to thee at thy repose.
By thy prayers, O Virgin, may we be granted great mercy.
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Page last updated: 8 October 2008
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