Hermione vs. Melangell

Saints end up in the Lent Madness bracket for a variety of reasons. Some for heroic acts or miracles, some for leadership or great teachings. And some simply because they have cool names (ie. Christina the Astonishing in 2014). Today's saintly souls didn't end up in the bracket because of their names alone, but they are kind of awesome. Hermione vs. Melangell. It just kind of rolls off the tongue -- at least if you can pronounce them. But just to be clear, Hermione is not the one from the Harry Potter series. And Melangell is not the one from, well, no best-selling book series we're aware of. Yet.

Yesterday, Albert the Great proved greater than Leo the Great 54% to 46% in a matchup between two great saints.

Also yesterday, Tim and Scott shared another epic episode of Monday Madness. You can watch it here, but know that we're disappointed in you. Fortunately you can redeem yourself by watching this week's episode and waiting with an expectant heart for next week's version.

Hermione was a saint of the second century who had an ability to both heal people—and avoid martyrdom.

According to church tradition, Hermione was one of the daughters of Philip, the deacon. She and her sisters had the gift of prophecy and were Christians from an early age. We know nothing about her childhood, but we know that when she became an adult, she and her sister Eutychia set out from Caesarea in Palestine to Ephesus, to seek out the apostle John to study with him.

Upon arrival, they discovered that John had died, so they studied instead with Petronius, a disciple of Paul’s. From Petronius, Hermione learned about healing and began to minister to the sick of the city. Meanwhile, the emperor Trajan came to town on his way to battle the Persians. Encountering Hermione, he ordered her to renounce Christianity, but she refused. He ordered her to be hit in the face for hours on end. By all accounts, she withstood this undeterred because she had a vision of Jesus sitting enthroned in front of her, encouraging her. Seeing that she would not renounce her faith—and not wanting to be late for his war—Trajan finally let her go.

Hermione decided this would be a great time to start setting up hospices in Ephesus—a place that was half-hospital, half-hotel, where people could receive both spiritual and physical nourishment. She carried on her hospice work with vigor until the next emperor, Hadrian, came to town. He, too, decided to try his luck with Hermione and demanded she recant her faith. When this didn’t work either, he ordered her to be boiled alive in a cauldron of boiling lead, tar, and brimstone. But one did not simply boil Hermione; an angel appeared and scattered the coals so that the cauldron went cold. Enraged, the emperor came forward and touched the cauldron to see if it had gone cold. (He burned his hand off.)

Not being one to take a hint, Hadrian ordered Hermione to be roasted on something like a big iron skillet. This also didn’t work. He then told two servants to go and chop her head off. When they tried, their hands withered, and beholding the miracle, they immediately converted themselves. Hadrian declared defeat, and Hermione died of natural, non-martyrdom causes in 117.

Collect for Hermione
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints and who raised up your servant Hermione to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 —Megan Castellan


A poem penned in 1723 in the registry of the Welsh church named for Melangell reads: “Melangell with a thousand angels triumphs over all the powers of evil.” Also hunters, as her story goes.

Melangell was the daughter of a sixth-century Irish monarch, as recorded in the book Tours of Wales. When her father attempted to marry her off to a nobleman in his court, Melangell, who wanted to pursue a life of prayer and solitude, fled Ireland. She found sanctuary deep in the Berwyn Mountains in what is now Wales, where she lived as a hermit for fifteen years.

Enter the hunter in our tale, the prince of Powys. While hunting a hare, the prince chased the animal into a “great thicket,” where he was surprised to find instead “a virgin of surpassing beauty.” It was Melangell, deep in prayer, with the hare seeking sanctuary beneath her robe. The prince’s hunting dogs retreated, howling. Impressed by the hermit’s courage and devotion, the prince not only let the hare go free, but he also gave the land to Melangell to be “a sanctuary to all that fled there.”

Melangell founded an abbey on the land, where she remained abbess until her death. Her small religious community ordered its life around prayer and works of mercy, providing sanctuary to all creatures in need. Even the hares. After her death, she became known as patron saint of the hares and other small animals who continued to come to her. The hares became known in Welsh as “Wyn Melangell”—or St. Melangell’s lambs. Centuries later, the Tours of Wales recounted, hunters still refused to kill hares in the parish.

Today, the land remains a sanctuary, ringed by trees estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. Some consider it a “thin place,” where Celts believe heaven and earth seem especially close. The Shrine Church of St. Melangell calls it “a place beyond words and far from the rush of twenty-first-century life; a place where God speaks in the silence and where all people have an opportunity to experience a sense of the holy.”

Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox pilgrims visit the shrine, where bones that are believed to belong to the saint were discovered beneath the floor in 1958. Melangell is remembered on May 27.

Collect for Melangell
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Melangell, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—Emily McFarlan Miller


At about 8:30 p.m. EST, the Lent Madness Voter Security Unit noticed 389 bogus votes for Hermione. These votes were removed, and the suspect addresses were blocked. This is a reminder. Do not cheat. Vote once. Get your neighbors to vote. But don't vote several times, lest you be cast into the outer darkness of Lent Madness.


[poll id="305"]


Hermione: Unknown
Melangell: Unknown


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221 comments on “Hermione vs. Melangell”

  1. Since his hounds’ frantic baying did cease
    And the prince gave Melangell the lease,
    Her chapel remains there:
    Both pilgrim and wild hare
    Often stop when they’re seeking some peace.

    Although I have never visited the church of St. Melangell, Wales continues to draw me to itself. A few years ago, while following an ancient drovers’ path through an isolated mountain pass, Kate and I took a side road to Soar y mynydd, known as “the most remote church in Wales”. I see Melangell’s church as similar (although it’s only a couple of miles from the nearest pub): aged, unadorned, clearly part of its land.

    I’m also guided today by my love for the works of Dame Edith Pargeter (better known by her pen name Ellis Peters), especially her fictional chronicles of Brother Cadfael, a 12th century former man-at-arms and Crusader turned Benedictine monk, herbalist (and part-time detective) at Shrewsbury Abbey, near the border with Wales. The first book in this series (A Morbid Taste for Bones) involves another chaste Welsh holy woman, Saint Winifred, whose remains are sought by the abbey for their value as pilgrim clickbait. Some say that G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown is the summum bonum of ecclesiastical detectives; I believe that Cadfael beats him all hollow. The BBC series is not as good (despite Derek Jacobi’s talents); if you have not read these books, I urge you to do so.

    1. And one playing on the Welsh pronunciation:

      Lo, she who not nature estrangeth,
      her bracket she now rearrangeth;
      for the poor hounded hare 
      that the huntsman didst spare
      was safeguarded by sweet Saint Melangell.

      I'm a Father Brown fan (the stories, not the show); always meant to get into Cadfael but haven't yet.

          1. Josh Nixon, other than my brother and sister, you are the only person I know who even knows about Father Ted and/or enjoys him. I love that show! I am also extremely fond of Brother Cadfael too but only in book form. I don’t know why I am delighted about this but I am.

        1. Ok I'll admit ignorance. Who or what is Father Ted?
          Rarely watch TV but have see a few Fr Brown episodes

          1. It's an older BBC show and it is going to offend some folks, so it may not be for you. But the people who like it really like it. I'm more of a Vicar of Dibley type myself (another older BBC show).

      1. Good on you, Josh. I've had enough embarrassing moments with Welsh pronunciation that I avoided trying to rhyme "Melangell"!

      2. The Cadfael books are wonderful, and I highly recommend them. (They're what got me started growing and using herbs)

      3. I enjoy Father Brown, but you have missed real joy if you have not read Cadfael. Welsh saints always get my vote

    2. I picked up A morbid case of bones at the bookstore in London’s King’s Cross station to have something to read as I rode the train to Edinburgh when I was on sabbatical in 1989. After a few pages I was hooked, and over the next few years read all in the series, introducing Brother Cadfael to my parishioners in Milwaukee along the way.

    3. I had forgotten all about the Ellis Peters series! And I have several Br. Cadfael novels. I must find them and reread. Thank you for.the.reminder.

      1. You haven't read them all? What fun to have a favorite author with more books to read for the first time! There's 21 books, plus the last book: A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael. I had lots of fun about 15 years ago completing my collection. I just started re-reading Book 1.

    4. I love the Brother Cadfael books and have read them all several times. Our Sunday School class is currently studying the Rule of Benedict and I keep seeing Brother Cadfael as I read it. I agree about the BBC series. It's good but not as good as the books.

    5. Totally agree that the Cadfael series is excellent, not just for the good Brother's detective work, but for the history lessons contained in the war between Queen Maud and King Stephen. I have read the entire series and loved every one.
      These two women remind us that each person can serve God in our every day life. To me, this is the message of Lent Madness that we can use every day, not just in Lent. Another difficult choice today!!!

    6. Ellis Peters also wrote a great group of books about Inspector George Felse. The books are both moving and exciting, as is our choice today. As drawn as I am to Wales, I have to say that Hermione seems like a smart, practical woman. It's good to know where Harry Potter's friend got her name. Thank you for a fascinating pair to choose from!

    7. Thank you, John, for reminding me of Br. Cadfael. I have all the books (I think) and as soon as I finish the G.K. Chesterton non-Father Brown book I will return to Cadfael.
      I've already finished going through the Father Brown books, and while I like the actor who plays him on PBS, having seen him in several movies, he doesn't look anything like Chesterton's.

    8. We need hunters. (And this is a vegetarian speaking.) The non-human animal responsible for the largest number of deaths in this country each year is the deer. Not because they attack humans, but because they step out in front of cars and people are killed swerving to avoid the animal. Hunters deserve thanks for reducing the number of fatalities caused by deer each year.

    9. A lot of people have mentioned to me that now they want to visit Pennant Melangell in Wales. Count me in! Who's planning the Lent Madness pilgrimage for when it's safe to travel again?

        1. Lisa, Emily! When do we leave?!
          . . .and gracious 'THANK YOU!' to all the Lent Madness community. . . I am just now reading all the comments and can hardly wait to get to the library!

    10. I quite agree. However, any chance to watch Derek Jacobi in action, be he only reading the phone book, is a thing to treasure.

  2. I have no real reason either to vote for or against one of these saints. But I like rabbits, so I'm voting for Melangell.

    1. How right you are! St. Melangell is the Patron Saint of Rabbits, Hares, and the Natural World, which needs all of the help it can get these days.

      I also think of Melangell as the Protector of Small Animal Rescues, whether focused on rabbits. Guinea pigs, or other small creatures.

  3. I second Brother Cadfael as the supreme ecclesiastical detective from across the pond! I’ve some North American on a different list!
    Melangell has my vote.

    1. Margo, I would be interested to see your list of North American ecclesiastical detectives (or any others). This is a speciality of mine, as I've written a number of church-based mysteries, and collect/lecture on books in that fascinating sub-genre.

          1. I voted for Melangell & am fascinated by most things Welsh.

            In other news:
            I loved the Julia Spencer Fleming series set in the Adirondacks with Clare Ferguson+ & Russ Van Alstyne solving mysteries & some of their own problems as well.

          2. I too was delighted to see your name here - I love your books and own most of them because they are so much fun to read more than once. Thank you for many hours of enjoyment.

      1. For a dauntingly thorough roundup of clerical detectives, visit http://www.detecs.org. Ms. Charles, I am delighted to tell you that you are listed twice: once for David Middleton-Brown and Lucy Kingsley, and once for Rev. Callie Anson.
        Caution: plot synopses are given, so don't scroll down too far if you dislike spoilers!

      2. I'm glad to see another mystery series I can try. I've gone through the "Liturgical Mystery" series by Mark Schweizer. Very silly, very fun, and the mysteries are good enough to keep me going. There was only one not worth reading, but I can't remember which it was...

    1. Hermione did build the first hospice, and she ministered to the physical illnesses, as well as gospel which gave true healing. My vote is for Hermione, who gave physical and spiritual healing.

    2. Mine too! A woman who can tolerate being hit in face for hours for her faith, establish hospices, and avoid martyrdom gets my vote! Although I like rabbits......

  4. I voted for Melangell - a new saint to me. What a beautiful story. Hermione was also pretty cool; so this was a tough choice.

  5. The below sentence (no pun intended) got my vote for Herm.

    Not being one to take a hint, Hadrian ordered Hermione to be roasted on something like a big iron skillet.

  6. I had to look up "brimstone" in order to vote in this round. It turns out to be sulphur, and since Albertus had discovered arsenic, I was curious who had discovered sulphur. It is said Lavoisier discovered sulphur in the 18th century, although that sulphur was well known to the ancients. Anyhoo, sulphur is used in alchemy. While I loved the story of Hermione dying of "non-martyrdom causes," I sided with Melangell, custodian and steward of a "thin place." I take the story of the hares "seriously but not literally." Any place, thin or not, that allowed hares to breed freely would soon be overrun with them, and that Celtic thicket would be gnawed to the nubbin. I'm guessing rabbit stew was a regular dish on the board of the sisters. Today's stories both seem to be attempts to account for single women who got old. One they tried to burn up in various ghastly ways; the other remained magically a "beauteous virgin." While the latter is more sentimentally satisfying, sort of a Sleeping Beauty story, neither narrative is fully able to capture the complex autonomy of a woman seeking to "be in the world but not of it," providing service but retaining one foot in the spiritual world. Both are good examples of "green martyrs," who lived out their lives as richly as possible, connected to the earth but always looking beyond. Melangell's tale appeals to me for the beauty of the trees, a place for a retreat, and of course the prince.

    1. What struck me in Melangell's story is that rather than sweeping the "beauteous virgin" off her feet and marrying her as would happen in most fairy tales, the prince here recognized and respected the extraordinary nature of what he had found and moved to safeguard it for the benefit of all - even those of us reading about it thousands of miles and years away. That got my vote although Megan Castellan nearly got my vote for her fun Hermoine write up.

      1. Thank you, Denise, for pointing out an early respecter of women as fellow human beings rather than something to be used.

  7. What fun! Great stories about victorious saints instead of woeful martyrs. Touch choice between a saint who dies in her sleep at 117 victorious against powerful emperors or a saint who protects hares and leads to sanctuary for all small creatures. Either way we vote we are the winners of two great tales.

  8. Though hares and rabbits are different species, I must vote for Melangell in honor of all the lagomorphs who have shared our home and strengthened our family. I hope they are eternally enjoying a place like that refuge. To Peppermint, Tyler, Buttercup, Pepper Grey, Lopsie, Buster, Pippin and Allie. Saints and angels bless you forever!

    1. You inspired me to do a search for the difference between hares and rabbits. I knew that hares were larger than rabbits, but I did not think they were separate species. My top hits were recipes: rabbit in red wine and buttermilk fried rabbit. Interestingly, I got no hits for hare recipes, perhaps because people have long objected to finding a hare in their soup. I look forward to many jokes beginning with "Waiter, there's a hare in my soup" in the kitsch round. Now I wonder whether jackrabbits aren't an American version of hares. Bingo!

        1. Jackrabbits and snowshoe hares are hares, while cotton tails are rabbits
          Also, American and European cotton tails are not the same species. Domestic rabbits are the European cottontail. 🙂

      1. Hares and rabbits are certainly different species, though in the same family. Hares are larger and have longer ears and legs; think about the difference between a jackrabbit (which is actually a hare) and an American cottontail. Hares are solitary and bear their young, called leverets, aboveground; rabbits live in underground warrens in large groups and give birth in burrows. Hares will run away, rabbits go to ground as soon as possible.

        However both are herbivores and, story about Melangell saving a hare aside, I'm sure both types of animal made a frequent appearance on the table in Melangell's day. Hermione's, perhaps not, because neither species is considered fit to eat per Leviticus.

        And while there is one university in the US that has a jackrabbit as its mascot (I am a proud parent of an alumna of South Dakota State University, go Jackrabbits!) there do not seem to be any that have a cottontail or other rabbit as a mascot.

    2. Thank you for sharing about your furry friends! I thought the picture of Melangell looked like me pleading with my cat in the morning: "Why are you tap dancing on my face at this hour?" "What is with the screaming, ma'am?" "Get a drink or get out of the tub, I need to take a shower."

      Melangell is basically a cat lady, but with rabbits.

  9. This is a difficult choice! A second century indestructible woman who studied under a disciple of Paul and defied emperors, or a 6th century equally strong woman who created a refuge for all living creatures (I assume that includes people!) and a liminal place whose trees are still strong. As a healer, I was tempted to vote for Hermione, but as a seeker of Truth I must vote for Melangell. I'll check out the books of Ellis Peters about Brother Cadfael!

  10. Tough choices this year! I love Bother Cadfael, and Fr Brown is a joy to have on while ironing. Please also check out Sister Fidelma, and Irish princess, nun and detective.
    But I vote for Hermione and hospices.

  11. I too wanted to vote for the bunnies! But, I feel Hermione has a better chance to advance further in the tournament, so I voted for her! Difficult decision.

  12. Gotta give my vote to Hermione. If all the power of two emperors of Rome could not take her down, nor renounce the faith, who am I to try?

  13. How many times might we repeat “tough choice” which this morning’s duo provided us. I am aghast and amazed at the tortures which were attempted and applaud the withdrawal and sanctity of those who find thin places. I am able to lean into and identify with finding and appreciating the moments of thin places so I cast my vote for Melangell.

  14. I visited Pennant Melangell a few years ago as part of a Celtic spirituality offered by Gladstone’s Library, the UK’s only prime ministerial library in Hawarden. It is, indeed, a thin place. The shrine was in danger of being closed, but then The Rev. TW Pritchard (in his capacity as Archdeacon in the Diocese of St. ASAP) gathered a multi-disciplinary team to restore and save it. The church with its healing center offers hospitality to many pilgrims. Melangell’s story is typical of female saints (e.g. Winifred) in that they come to notice when their virginity and desire for a life of prayer are threatened. You can find photos of this spot via a search for “Pennant Melangell.” A collection of contemporary poems about St. Melangell is “The Hare That Hides Within” by Norman Schwenk.

    1. I too have visit Melangell's church area. This was a few years ago and there were veterans there at times seeking peace of the area who were suffering from PTSD. I have visited many thin places in Wales and on the British borderlands. but Pennant Melangell was outstanding.

    2. Thank you for sharing your experience of Pennant Melangell! I definitely want to visit and am adding this book of poetry (and a bunch of detective novels) to my shopping cart as we speak.

      1. Dear Emily,
        Hope you will get to Pennant Melangell. (And maybe that you can master the pronunciation of the saint's name.)
        PS If you do get to northern Wales, try also to visit Bardsey Island, which has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.

  15. "And Melangell is not the one from, well, no best-selling book series we’re aware of. Yet."

    Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries, specifically The Pilgrim of Hate. Not best-selling books, I suppose, but worth a mention.

    Hermione's story was a little too fantastical for my tastes, not to mention rather gruesome. My vote goes with the small woodland creatures today.

    1. Good for you, Melanie! I had forgotten that an important character in The Pilgrim of Hate is “named for some outlandish Welsh saint, she is, Melangell, if you ever heard the like!”

  16. This is difficult. As a Hospice volunteer, I want to cast my vote for Hermione. But as a woman whose Celtic blood flows through her veins, I am drawn to Melangell. I believe she built a refuge for all creatures great and small. I shall vote for Melangell and her convent is on my list of places I want to visit before I leave this plane.

  17. As a pastor of St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church - yes, Hermione's daddy - I am FULL ON Hermione! Courageous healer! Standing up to emperors! What could be better than that?? A few rabbits? Hardly! (Sorry, rabbits, I actually like you a lot.)

  18. As a vegetarian of Welsh descent (my grandfather's name was Bevan), I'm going for Melangell, despite my love for Hermione Granger.

  19. I was also put off by the violence in Hermione's story. My church has a lovely triptych featuring the images of Sts. Lawrence and Stephen, each holding the instruments of their deaths. I understand the glorification of those martyrs who withstood horrible tortures and yet maintained their faith, but I don't appreciate the value of all the gory details.

    Then I was blessed with the opportunity to read the lovely, fantastical story of St. Melangell. I love Wales, many, many years ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Wales. I studied Welsh for six months at the local St. David's society before going, and made the effort to stay at a village, Y Bala, where a number of people spoke Welsh. Although I could barely say more than hello, please and thank you, I was known about the village as the American who spoke Welsh.

    Someone such as Melangell would have fit in nicely in Y Bala, and I only wish I had known about her before my wife's and my visit, as I would have visited her sanctuary. I am desperately in need of a thin place, where I can be closer to God.


    1. Talk about astonishing! Who could not vote for the invincible Hermione. Hitting her in the face? What was he thinking? Hermione is my heroine for sure.

  20. I love Megan’s writing; this was one of her best dry-wit examples. But the Celt in me can’t resist the lady of the thin place—where do I sign up for a pilgrimage? Melangell for me today. Someone please tell us how to pronounce her name!!

  21. I be thankin' you all for these 2 storys. I and the crew hold high honors for thin places, places where grace can reach across the waves and hold us up. I invite all to seek such places on the high seas. Me hat is off to m'lady Melangell.

  22. Could have chosen either. Voted for the Welsh saint because I've got some Welsh in me as well.

  23. Melangell's life of prayer and solitude led to the preservation of a natural sanctuary still accessible to all God's creatures. A beautiful example of the power of prayer.

  24. I'm betting the vote will go to Melangell, by a hare...
    Both Hermoine and Melangell were fascinating and faithful women who made a difference. However, Hermione may have escaped martyrdom, but did not dodge the mawkish and bloody legends that attend the stories of martyrs. The woods and mists and liminality of Melangell's life appeal more strongly to my poetic sensibilities. And the bunny. Put a cuddly little animal into the picture, and you've snared me.