St. Elen is my personal saint and patron. I’ve written about her on a pretty regular basis, so I’ll toss in a few links below to learn more.
In 2017, I was able to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in Wales, this one in the town of Dolwyddelan. The picture I’m sharing will be one side of a prayer card I’m creating. I haven’t gotten the prayer finished yet, but I didn’t want to let today pass without acknowledgement.
Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan – This was the article from Wellhopper where I discovered the existence of this well. I’m indebted to the writer for the information that allowed me to pilgrimage there.
When I was young, I loved to read about Joan of Arc. It was many years before I discovered she was a saint. It just wasn’t part of my growing up to associate her with religion; not really. I know she talked to G-d; I mean, so did I! I wasn’t Christian so I didn’t grow up attending church. But I knew Joan of Arc. She was a part of my girlhood, like Anne Frank, another young girl, someone I could relate to who also died too young. These were my heroes.
In my recent years of finding Catholicism and spirituality, I’ve added to my “collection” of saints and saintly people. I love hearing that saints are just like us. I’ve also learned that they are an outgrowth of their times. Sometimes their lives are huge and important and sometimes their deaths are, but in a lot of times, they are just ordinary people who do or preach extraordinary things. I know that today is All Saints Day, but I was still taken aback by the number of times I was called by the saints in the last two weeks.
Once I put this topic on my calendar a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about it and the saints I look to in my life. They do change depending on the circumstances. I didn’t start reading on any of them in particular, but I looked at the saints for the day, seeing which feast days were coming up and thought a lot of who I felt the closest to.
Throughout October, I had been attending weekly zoom presentations on Diversity in Spirituality. Last week’s lecture was given by Dr. Kim Harris of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Her focus was on Black Americans, their experience, their worship, and their saints (and lack thereof). In addition to music and talk of the ancestors, Dr. Harris also asked the following question:
In our troubled and tumultuous times, what kinds of saints do we need or what kinds of saints do we need to be?
I was stunned into silence. That is very nearly the exact question I put on my calendar, the one that I’ve been contemplating on for the past two weeks, and here it was as our breakout room assignment!
What kinds of saints do we need in our lives right now indeed?
In conjunction to that synchronism and along with all of these thought provoking happenings, yesterday, I also attended a scheduled Day of Reflection centered on walking and praying with the saints. I had been looking forward to this day for several weeks and it did not disappoint. It also led me in my continuation of thinking about the saints and who I feel the closest to.
This was a question that I had been giving a lot of thought to, although in my mind I hadn’t phrased it quite like that at all. I’ll share a few thoughts with you.
I’ve mentioned Joan of Arc earlier. I was always enthralled by her hearing voices and following as well as being able to command an army. Maybe it was because I grew up in the feminist wave of the 70s that it seemed impossible to ignore and easy to admire.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is a newer, local saint. Her birthplace is in upstate New York at the village where the North American Jesuit Martyrs died although they weren’t there at the same time. The spring where St. Kateri was baptized is there, and I am hoping to be in good enough shape to go through the woods to the spring sometime in 2021.
St. Elen is my personal saint, the patron of travelers and roads. I chose her for my saint’s name for my confirmation in 2014. Upon finding her, I found so many things about her that I could relate to as well as having been in her homeland, literally where she walked the earth although I did not know it at the time. I was fortunate to be able to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in Wales in 2017, and it still gives me pause when I remember my times there.
Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein draw me back to my Jewishness and my Jewish upbringing. I know that Maximilian Kolbe wasn’t Jewish but he was killed in the camps in Nazi Germany as was Edith Stein. It reminds me that others (in Edith Stein’s case) have walked a similar path to mine.
I was drawn to Mary, Untier of Knots through Pope Francis’ devotion, and it has only grown stronger over the years. There is something very familiar about untying knots as a mother from shoelaces to necklaces to yarn and in needlework, not to mention the untying and smoothing that goes along metaphorically.
St. Dafydd is, of course, the patron saint of Wales, a place that I feel connected to since I first set foot there in 1987.
And finally, in this moment at least, Mary Magdalene. I didn’t know much about her; her life was co-opted a bit and confused with others, but what I do know and believe is that she followed Jesus from very early on. She was the first of his disciples to see him after his Resurrection, and she brought the word of his Resurrection to the apostles, becoming the first to bring the Holy Word of Jesus to others after his death. I love that she is the Apostle to the Apostles and that she is in history as someone who can possibly convert hearts to allow women priest and preachers.
Which saints are you drawn to during these difficult times of chaos and uncertainity?
Today is the feast day of my own saint, Saint Elen. There is little known about her, but I still find what is available about her fasinating. It’s taken me more than a few years to complete this project, and hopefully next week, I will have actual cards made for anyone who wishes one, but for now, I’d like to share with you the prayer card I made for my patron: St. Elen.
[Note: As I began to write this, I thought it would be an emotional look back at an important pilgrimage that I undertook last summer. However, as I began to write, it seemed that before I got to the actual pilgrimage and the feelings that it conjured, I had to wade through the logistics of discovering the well, and finding that it was important for me to visit it. The coincidences that have crossed my life’s path and Wales astound me every time I discover them.]
I’ve been fortunate to have visited North Wales three times. The first was randomness, the second fortune, and the third with determination. All three were spiritual and while the first began a decades old journey, all three began, and explored different aspects of that journey. All three had friends and family supporting and helping to make it happen.
Read the brief captions about the three photos I’ve chosen to represent my three visits, all steeped in more meaning than can be written in such a brief blurb, but will be explored more fully, or if not fully, then thoroughly in future days.
This photo, while taken in 2017, represents my first visit in 1987. I hiked and hitchhiked from the train in Betws-y-Coed to this youth hostel, just about center of the Llanberis Pass, a stop for hikers and climbers alike. It was my first foray into Wales, and it grabbed me in a way that many other things haven’t come close. It linked me to a place i’ve never been as if I’ve been born there. It is my soul’s homeland, and I feel the hiraeth as clearly as any native-born Welsh-person. The youth hostel at Pen-y-Pass. (c)2017-2018
Dolwyddelan Castle from the road. Taken in 2009, and representing my 2009 visit, it was also the view my family saw in 2017 when we stayed barely a mile up the road, but in 2009, this was one of my important, planned destinations: the birthplace of Llywelyn Fawr, the Prince of Wales. The castle wasn’t here, but he was born in and around this plot of land in 1178, and eventually built a motte and bailey castle on the mound here. This keep replaced that in future years.Llywelyn, and a gift from a dear friend, brought me to this place to see the places that i’d been reading about; and feeling about. The castle resides on private land, a working farm. You pay the woman at the back door, and walk through the cow gate, climbing the steep dirt path until reaching the pavement, and more hills going up and up. I wasn’t in the physical condition to go all the way to the keep. I may have tried if not for the misty rain making the slate and stone steps slippery. It was not a risk I was willing to take alone. I was still content to have reached as far as I did, and to meet some folks. I walked around for a bit, listening to the nearby stream and small rapids crashing lightly against the rocks. I discovered a snarled tree that was the perfect place for a distant photo of the castle. Looking forward to my next visit. (c)2009-2018
I discovered St. Elen’s well on a blog and was thrilled that ot represented my confirmation saint. I discovered long after returning in 2009 that the town where I spent three days (Caernarfon) was her town, and Dolwyddelan, where I’d spent a couple of hours walking around was less than a mile up the road from the hotel named for her that I must have passed on the way to the castle car park. We stayed at that hotel on this more recent trip, and the well is on the hotel property. There was some dispute on the land the path is on, but there seems to be some sort of arrangement as I had no issues other than the daily rain made the steep path a little bit slippery, but not undoable. Slow going made me take the time to stop and, not smell the flowers, but observe the vegetation, the tree branches, the cows and church next door, listen to the birds all around me, and come upon the well slowly. I could hear the water flowing before I could see the well, and it could do with a weeding, but it was still glorious, and spellbinding, and I felt the spirituality of not only Wales, but of Elen while the smells of the variety of plants were captivating, and the holy water was cold to my touch, but tasted refreshing and revitalizing. I sat for some time in contemplation. My family was very cooperative of that. (c)2017-2018
G-d calls and we answer. I honestly don’t know what my response would be if G-d asked me to sacrifice my first-born, or any of my children. I wonder if it would have been different had Sarah been asked.
A few things struck me from today’s readings and we begin the second week of Lent.
I hadn’t noticed before how the sacrifice of Isaac parallels G-d’s own sacrifice of His Son. It’s more than mere coincidence. As any parent knows, it takes many forms to show the same lesson and for children to absorb it. Abraham and Isaac were the first in a long line of sacrifice and covenant. Not blind faith, but trusting in G-d, waiting to see the path before us.
In the second reading, Paul asks, “If G-d is there for us, who can be against us?” is a parallel to the Angel’s conversation with Mary, “for nothing will be impossible for G-d.” [Luke 1:37]
And finally, G-d’s announcement, his acknowledgment that Jesus is his son before witnesses. His direction to listen to him [to Jesus]. The confirmation by having the two revered prophets, Moses and Elijah, both from Exodus as if to offer a new exodus fo the followers of Jesus.
Where will this week take you?
Are you escaping something monumental or mundane? Have you explored or at least introduced yourself to the three pillars of Lent – fast, pray, almsgiving?
Is there a way to include those three every week, or every day if youo’re able rather than a ticky box of accomplishments?
Can you make them part of your post-Lent life?
If nothing is impossible for G-d, then nothing is impossible with G-d.
This is the path I had to take to reach the holy well of St. Elen in Dolwyddelan in Wales. I had come to this place especially to visit the well. I guaranteed seeing the well by staying at the adjacent hotel, named for Elen, although it’s debatable with Welsh Elen it’s named for. This was my pilgrimage, my mission, and when I encountered this steep, muddy, slippery path, I paused. Three thousand miles, a rental car, a ferry across the Irish Sea, a FERRY for two hours through WATER, and this steep, obviously exhausting path was going to stop me. I hesitated for only a moment. It was an impossible task, but I would not let it stop me. For nothing is impossible with G-d. (c)2018
What I call my “relics”. These are not historical or sacred in any way except to me. 1. (Top left): Dried flowers and rock along with holy water from St. Elen’s Well in Wales. 2. (Bottom left): The top and bottom of a rock from what is still standing of my mother-in-law’s uncle’s house in Northern Ireland. 3. (Top right): A shell and a rock (or a fossilized rock) from Ballintoy. 4. Middle right): Holy water and pebble from St. Olcan’s Holy Well and a rock from the Cranfield Church ruins as well as the top and bottom of the rocks from the site. 5. (Bottom right): The dried flowers and rock from St. Elen’s Well without the holy water pictured. (c)2017
There is very little information on St. Elen, the saint I chose for my confirmation. She is the patron of road builders and travellers. She is coincidentally from the place I visited in 2009 without knowing it as well as one of her holy wells being in the town I visited in 1987, also unbeknownst to me. I’m hoping to pilgrimage there this summer if at all possible.
Here is some insight into some of the reasons I chose her.
Initially, I was seeking out a Welsh saint because of my long spiritual connection to Wales and the Celtic peoples, but upon discovering St. Elen, I discovered that there were several other reasons why I connected to her.
First and foremost, Ellen was my mother’s middle name and it gives me a connection to her as I join the church. My first teacher, who taught me lessons of generosity and the importance of family.
Secondly, Elen is from Caernarfon, the town in which I stayed for three nights in 2009. It hadn’t been on my list of places to visit until a Welsh friend randomly suggested it that I should go there and see the castle.
Her daughter is said to have married Vortigern, the only source for their marriage being carved on the Eliseg Pillar which is very near Valle Crucis Abbey, another Welsh place I gravitated to.
Ellen is also one of my favorite television characters: mother, business owner, independent, smart, how could I go wrong?
Even to those who are not religious it is common to pray for safe travel. Whether praying to a deity or the one true G-d or goddesses or anything in between, we all wish and hope for safe travels. We ask for good weather and no mechanical mishaps and no crying children or snoring neighbors leaning in our shoulders in each of our own ways. We beg the Almighty for an empty middle seat and no turbulence.
Here are a few of the Catholic patrons of traveling or travelers including my own patron, St. Elen.
I’ve read that St. Christopher is no longer a patron of travel. I know many thousands of people who would disagree so I’ve included him in this list.