St Nectan's Keive and the Lonely Sisters


At Trevillet in the parish of Tintagel, on a pile of rocks, deep in the woods, lay the chapel of St Nectan. The chapel was concealed with trees from passers-by but visible to those out at sea. In the tower of his chapel, St Nectan hung a silver bell, which he would ring to warn sailors of a coming storm. Sailors came to know the ringing of the  bell and took the sound as a sign St Nectan was praying for them, they would be safe from harm on the stormy seas.

At that time there was a struggle within the church. St Nectan was very wary of incomers from the Church of Rome and their threat to his celtic faith. He prophesied this faith would be almost lost save for a tiny spark. He told the people of Tintagel  he was going  to hide his bell within the rocks of the Kieve. The bell was to be left there until a time when true faith was restored to Cornwall. ‘My bell will only ring for a true believer!’ he said. Nectan rang his bell three times and dropped it into the waters of the Kieve where it disappeared never yet to be found.

Some time after this St Nectan died. As if out of nowhere, two strange sisters came and buried St Nectan, his treasure and possessions from the chapel in a large chest. They diverted the course of the river and dug a hole big enough for the chest. They buried the chest and in an instant, the river flowed back over the buried saint..

The sisters lived at the chapel and were self-sufficient, never troubling the villagers for anything. Curious, the villagers of Trevillet tried to find out who the ladies were but the two never said a word. One sister died and the villagers watched helpless as one cried over the other. They helped the living sister to remove the body and left her to grieve. No one heard any more of her, until a child went to peer in the window and there found the second woman motionless and quite dead. The people buried the woman under a large slab of rock in the river.

Many years later, a group of miners came to St Nectan’s Kieve. They diverted the river to work on the rock. They bored holes in the rock but it didn’t budge. Instead, a voice was heard amongst the ringing of tools,

“The child is not yet born who will this treasure recover.”

The work was stopped and the river restored to its natural course. And if you listen carefully at St Nectan’s Kieve, amongst the birdsong, lapping river and roaring waterfall, you may be the one with the purest of faith, Celtic faith, who will once again hear the ringing of St Nectan’s bell.


Retold by Anna Chorlton


from 'Popular Romances of the West of England' Robert Hunt

  • Boscastle, Bude and Beyond