St Justinian, Hermit of Ramsey Island

December 5 is the Commemoration of St Justinian, Hermit of Ramsey Island
“Saint Justinian (also Stinan, Jestin or Iestin) was a 6th-century hermit who lived on Ramsey Island, near St. David’s, in the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire.
Ramsey Island
Tradition states that he was a Breton nobleman who settled on the island of Ramsey as a hermit. He was visited by Saint David who was so impressed with his holiness that he made him his confessor and Abbot of St David’s Cathedral.
St David
However, Justinian became disillusioned with the poor attitude of the monks at St David’s and took himself away the short distance to remote Ramsey Island to establish a more holy spiritual community. His more loyal monks followed him. Legend has it that he was eventually murdered by some disgruntled servants or monks fed up with his strict regime, it is said by beheading him. Apparently he picked up his head and crossed Ramsey Sound walking on the water carrying his head in his arms and his body was buried in the small ruined chapel which still stands on the mainland at St Justinian’s, immediately opposite his island home.
Justinian is listed on very ancient Welsh calendars of saints and martyrs and the Anglican church at Llanstinan, near Fishguard, is dedicated to him.
Justinian church
His body was transported to the shrine of Saint David in St David’s Cathedral. The remains of their supposed bones are housed in a casket in the Holy Trinity Chapel there, although the earliest of these have been carbon-dated to the 12th century.”

“Our holy Father Justinian was of noble Breton stock. Brought up from childhood in the study of literature, he shone among the most illustrious of his race by the depth of his knowledge. And having been ordained to the priesthood, he carried out his duties faithfully.
At length a Divine voice came to him: “Go out from thy land, and thy kindred, and the house of thy father.”
Having collected together some companions, the holy man embarked in a boat made of hides, praying to God to lead him to a land in which he could lead a solitary life. And at length he arrived at a land by the name of Hormay, where, after he had stayed for some time, many were fired by his example to leave the world and hasten under his direction.
But after a short while he received a second command from God to leave his dwelling-place. Then, embarking in a boat, and committing himself to the winds and waves, he arrived at the island which is now known as Ramsey, off the western coast of Wales. There he found a man named Honorius, the son of King Thefriauc, who had abandoned the world and devoted himself entirely to God. Honorius received him kindly, and then, fired by zeal, he handed over to Justinian his land and dwelling-place so that he could devote himself without hindrance to the winning of souls for Christ.
Seeing that the place was fitting for the monastic life, and far from the tumult of the world, Justinian said:
“I agree to your petition so long as your sister with her handmaid removes her bed far from us.”
Some unbelievers laughed at this. But, impressed by the eloquence and grace of the holy man, Honorius said:
“Holy father, I wish to enjoy your sweet and honorable company, so I shall send my sister to another region.”
So the sister of blessed Honorius, having received the blessing of the holy man, departed into a distant country.
Now the fame of the holy man reached the ears of St. David, archbishop of Menevia, who rejoiced in his arrival and sent messengers to him, beseeching him to come to him.
St David 2
When he came he was received with great honor; and St. David was so pleased with him that he took him as his confessor and spiritual father. And whatever dwellings he chose, whether on the island or on the mainland, he gave to him and to the brothers who flocked to him.
One day, while Justinian was giving himself over to prayer and reading on the island, five men in a boat came to him and said:
“He whom you love is ill and commands you to come to him without delay.”
On hearing this, the saint hurried to the boat and began to chant psalms. But when they had rowed to the middle of the channel, he looked up and saw that the men were much uglier than those he was accustomed to see. Then he clearly understood that they were evil spirits. Raising his hands and eyes to heaven, he began to chant the psalm: “God is my Helper”. And while he was chanting the second verse, “Let them be turned back and confounded that seek after my soul”, the spirits vanished like black crows. And thus supported by the help of God, he was lifted from the depths of the sea onto a rock on the mainland, where he found St. David, whom the evil spirits had said, was ill, safe and well.
When the enemy of the human race saw that he had been conquered by the saint, and was able neither to overcome him be repeated assaults, nor to draw him by evil suggestions from the service of God, he used other crafty machinations, and infiltrated three of his demons among the servants of the man of God. Then the servants were seized with madness, and not only refused to obey the salutary counsels of their master, who was entreating them to work and not to lead an idle life, but also did not fear to rush at him, throw him to the ground and cut off his head.
At the place where his head fell a most beautiful fountain gushed out of the rock, whose water confers healing on all the sick. Thus a man by the name of Jonah had been given poison in his milk and his stomach had turned ulcerous. When he had taken some of the water, he vomited a living frog and the ulcer disappeared completely.
But those sons of iniquity who had committed the crime were struck with leprosy, and recognized that this was God’s vengeance on them. Then they came with groaning and weeping to a rock which is still called “the lepers’ rock”. There they lived, loading their bodies with heavy penances, and were counted worthy of forgiveness through the prayers of St. Justinian.
One great miracle is followed by another. For St. Justinian’s decapitated body rose and took the head in its arms and descended to the sea shore. Walking across the water, it came to the port which is called after his name, and to the church which is now dedicated in his name: Llanstinian, near Fishguard. There it lay down and was buried. Many miracles were wrought there. The ill came there and returned cured, giving thanks to God. St. David came with his brethren in response to a Divine vision, and taking the holy body with psalms and hymns to the church of Menevia (now St. David’s), placed it with honor in a new tomb.
St Davids Cathedral
Behind an iron grill at the back of the altar in the Anglican cathedral of St. David’s, one can still see the bones of two men, one big and one small. There are probably the bones of St. David (who was a big man) and of his confessor, St. Justinian. The saint died in the sixth century.
Holy Hieromartyr Justinian, pray to God for us!
St Davi's Relics
The original pilgrims recess set in what was an external wall (12th century) of St David’s Cathedral. The casket contains bones believed by many to those of St David and St Justinian:

“St Justinian was known as a thoroughly pious man, a strict disciplinarian and a no nonsense kind of guy. As a result of this he was sent from Italy to St David’s in the early 6th century by the pope to keep an eye on the people of this revered Welsh city. The monks of St David’s had wavered from their religious path and engaged in bribery, fornication, gambling and many other unholy activities. After a long and almost certainly arduous journey across Europe St Justinian could not bring the wayward monks back into line and could not cope with the debauchery.
After a striking vision from God, St Justinian saw what he needed to do and built himself a coracle in order to strike out from the mainland and find himself a sanctuary. After casting himself into the strong Pembrokeshire currents he found himself on Skomer island.
Not quite feeling comfortable on Skomer St Justinian soon had another vision from God telling him to once again go to sea in his coracle and head for Ramsey. Once on Ramsey St Justinian soon settled and built himself a chapel so that he could spend his days in prayer and quiet contemplation.
St Justinian however was not to be left alone to become a hermit as a small band of devout monks from St David’s soon heard of his strong Christian faith and followed in his footsteps. St Justinian accepted his new band of devout followers and agreed to lead them in a strict religious practise. At this time Ramsey was connected to the mainland by a slim land bridge and St Justinian and his followers were often disturbed by hooligans and time wasters. The people of St David’s were uncomfortable with his strange ways and eventually confronted him at the base of the land bridge. Unafraid, St Justinian looked to God who provided him with a giant and holy axe which he used to cut away the land bridge turning Ramsey into an island. The axe however was not perfect and as St Justinian hacked his way through the stone the blade became blunter and blunter until it could no longer be used. In cutting Ramsey off from the mainland St Justinian had formed the Bitches and Whelps reef. The remaining rocks get larger (more or less) the closer they are to Ramsey which shows just how blunt his axe became.
Being isolated the monks were now free to worship undisturbed under St Justinian. St Justinian was famously holy and even St David visited him on Ramsey island making him his confessor and the abbot of St David’s cathedral. Although incredibly holy, St Justinian was a strict disciplinarian and an unforgiving leader. When he felt a monk had broken his vows or committed a religious misdemeanour he would row them out to an island just off the Southern tip of Ramsey. The island is known in Welsh as Ynys Cantwr or Chanter’s isle. Carved into the island there is a large cave which harbours a large rock at its centre. St Justinian would row them out to this rock under Ynys Cantwr and chain them to it for the rise and fall of two tides.
The troublesome monk would be required to loudly chant his penance in the hope that God would forgive him. If God felt that the man was soundly repentant he would hold back the tide and the monk would live to pray another day…if not he would succumb to the turbulent waters.
Eventually some of his followers grew tired of his harsh manner and beheaded him just outside his Ramsey chapel. God was upset that St Justinian had met such a sticky end and therefore caused a spring to well up just where his head hit the ground. This spring still supplies Ramsey with water and is known to have healing properties. Well into the medieval times the sick and injured would come to the island to drink or bathe in the water. According to the records it was quite common for people to sick up a number of frogs and then find themselves full recovered from whatever was troubling them. This is especially interesting as there are no frogs on the island anymore!
It wasn’t just God that was upset about the murder of St Justinian as St Justinian was pretty peeved himself. He picked up his head and walked across Ramsey sound with it wanting nothing more to do with Ramsey island. He picked a place just on the mainland to lay at rest and a chapel was built over him. This chapel still stands in a place that is now known as St Justinian’s.
St justinians Chapel
The killers did not walk away without punishment as they were sent out to a lonely rock called the Gwahan to the North of Ramsey. Everyone was told that they were lepers and not to offer them rescue lest they want to catch leprosy too. Presumably they perished out on their tiny isolated island but nothing more is said about them.


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