Walking in the footsteps of St Justinian

On the Pembrokeshire coast not far from St Davids is the pretty cove of St Justinians – a little-known but beautiful spot with a pretty beach and a lifeboat station.

You can reach it in just under an hour's drive from Bluestone and it's well worth the trip to admire this lovely stretch of the coast path including stunning views of Ramsey Island. Close to the top of the steps leading down to the beach are the ruins of the 16th century chapel of St Justinian, though earlier chapels are known to have existed on the site.

On the opposite side of the narrow road is the holy well dedicated to the Saint.

Who was St Justinian?

Justinian, or Stinan, the Latin form of his name, was born in Brittany in the 6th century. At some point in his life, he made his way to Wales, where he settled on Ramsey Island.

Justinian soon became close friends with St David, the patron saint of Wales, and visited him often in the monastery where the cathedral now stands.

He was less impressed however by the lax behaviour of some of the monks and decided to isolate himself on Ramsey island. According to legend, he took an axe and chopped up the land bridge that linked the island and the mainland. As he worked, the axe became blunter and the lumps of rock remaining became larger and larger. They are still visible today in Ramsey Sound, where the waters foam over them at high tide. Followers joined him on the island but his actions didn’t go down well with everyone though. They soon turned them against him and they beheaded him!

To the astonishment of his killers, picked up his head and walked across the sea to the mainland, and where he set his head down, another spring of water issued forth. This is the one enclosed today by a stone canopy.

A spring of water gushed up from the ground where his head first fell and this became famous healing well. Legend has it that a man suffering from a swelling in his stomach once drank from the well, became sick, and vomited up a large frog, enjoying good health from that moment on.

Justinian was buried where the chapel now stands. Within its walls are some stone footings, which may mark his original gravesite. His body was removed to the cathedral, probably at some time before the end of the 15th century.

During the early medieval period, two chapels were built on Ramsey. One was dedicated to St Tyfanog; the other to St Justinian. There is no trace of either building today, though their sites are known.

St Justinian is celebrated twice a year, on 5th December and 23rd August. Two churches in Pembrokeshire are dedicated to him, at Llanstinan near Fishguard and at Freystrop, south of Haverfordwest.

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