The Leaping Hare
Religious Fables, Folklore, Legends, and Stories
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Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko

The Leaping Hare

by George Ewart
Evans and David Thomson (Newton Abbot: Country Book Club, 1974)

There is a district in Wales where hares are called wyn bach Melangell (Melangell's little lambs) to this day. The phrase is a clue to an attractive legend of a very early saint: Monacella or Melangell.

She became the patron saint of hares: and for centuries no one in her parish - Pennant Melangell in Montgomeryshire - would kill a hare. If by chance a hare was pursued by dogs, one had to cry out: 'God and Saint Monacella be with thee!' for the hare to escape from its pursuers.

Melangell, according to one version of the legend, was a daughter of an Irish king. Her father had chosen a nobleman of the court for her husband: she refused him; fled the kingdom and settled in Powys in Wales.

But one historian wrote 'Melangell, the daughter of Tudwal Tudglyd, of the line of Macsen Wledig, was the foundress of Pennant Melangell, Montgomeryshire. She was sister to Rhydderch Hael ap Stratt Clyde; and her mother was Ethni, surnamed Wyddeles or the Irishwoman. Festival May 27.'

The genealogy of the saint indicates the age of the legend; and according to a seventeenth century manuscript the incident upon which it was founded took place in AD 604: ' Brochwel Ysgythrog, Prince and Earl of Chester, dwelt at that time in Pengwern Powys (Shrewsbury).

One day the Prince was out hunting near Pennant within the principality of Powys when his hounds put up a hare. The hare took refuge in a nearby thicket of bramble; and the Prince following his dogs into the thicket found a maiden of great beauty, praying devoutly, her thoughts entirely on God; and the hare was lying outstretched under the edge of her garment, its face turned boldly and fearlessly towards the dogs. The Prince shouted: " Prendite, caniculi, prendite!" [Seize her, little dogs, seize her]. But the more he shouted and urged the dogs forward the faster they retreated howling, from the little creature. At last the Prince addressed the maiden, and asked her how she had fled from her native soil and had been guided to this spot. The Prince, greatly impressed thereupon granted this part of her land for a perpetual and inviolate sanctuary for any man or woman.

Melangell lived for thirty-seven years; and the wild hares were about her like tame animals throughout the whole of her life.'

The incident concerning the Prince, and Melangell and the hare, was carved on a fifteenth- century rood-screen, a portion of which forms part of the west gallery of Pennant-Melangell church.

Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow.  He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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