Melor (also known in Latin as Melorius; in Cornish as Mylor; in French as Méloir; and other variations) was a Breton saint who, in England, was venerated particularly in Wiltshire where he was titular of Amesbury Abbey, which claimed his relics.
Melor had a popular cult in Brittany, but his story has been obfuscated by a number of biographers who confused names, dates and places to the point where reality has been almost completely obscured. There actually appear to have been at least three, if not four, saints of this or similar name:
- Prince Melor of Cornouaille
- Saint Mylor of Cornwall
- Saint Meglar of Cornwall
- Bishop Melor of Redon
The first and second individuals are generally believed to be the same, and the Melor commonly identified as the Amesbury saint.
Melor's legend makes him a prince who was only seven when his uncle, Riwal, murdered his father, St Miliau or Milio. Riwal wished the child's death also, but was dissuaded from carrying out his intentions by a council of bishops. At their intervention, he decided instead to maim the boy, cutting off his right hand (later replaced by a silver prosthesis) and left foot (replaced with one of bronze). Melor was then sent away to Quimper Abbey to be educated. Here, his metal limbs began to work as if they were natural, and to grow along with him. By the time the prince was fourteen, Riwal decided that he must die and ordered his guardian, Cerialtan, to kill him. The boy was decapitated. Riwal is said to have touched the severed head and to have died three days after. Melor was subsequently buried at Lanmeur.
The cult of St Melor in Brittany grew to considerable importance and there are a number of place names and dedications to him. Locmélar (hermitage of Melor) is a parish in Finistère. The parish of Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes, in eastern Brittany, was founded by the monks of Mont Saint-Michel in the early 11th century.
Melor in England
Melor's cult probably spread to Cornwall from Brittany. There are churches dedicated to him at Mylor and Linkinhorne and Amesbury.
In the 10th century, Melor's body is said to have been taken on tour to England. When it was placed on the altar at Amesbury Abbey, it was prevented from being removed by the saint's own power. This legend was likely invented to explain presence of Melor's relics at Amesbury. It seems likely that, along with those of other Breton saints such as Branwalader and Samson, they were really collected by King Athelstan, and given by him to monasteries in which he had a special interest, as happened to Milton Abbey. Amesbury was to become among the most famous of English medieval monasteries but, despite the nuns producing their own version of Mellor's 'vita', William of Malmesbury could not discover any information about its patron.
[Note that in Wikipedia's life of St Miliau the wicked uncle's name is given as Rivod]
In the publication "Notes on the Parish of Mylor" (1907) is the following reference to the saint: "This St Melior or Melioris is reputed to have been the son of Melianus, Duke of Cornwall, and is said to have been slain for embracing Christianity, August 28, A. D. 411, by his pagan brother-in-law Rinaldus, or Remigius, who first cut off Milor’s right hand, then his left leg, and finally his head.” But the same book later quotes another source (the Somersetshire Archaeological Society, 1898) thus: “If we may credit the Legenda Sanctorum compiled by Bishop Grandison, Meliorus was the son of Melainus, King of Cornwall, by his wife Aurella, a lady of Devon; that at seven years of age he lost his royal father; that his uncle Rivoldus by his father’s side returning from abroad cruelly treated the youth and at length contrived his decapitation.” During the restoration of Mylor church in the late 19th century an obelisk of granite which had been serving as a flying buttress was discovered to be the 17½ -foot granite cross which had purportedly stood on St Mylor’s grave. It was replaced in the churchyard on what was reckoned to be its original site. In the east of Cornwall, St Mellion is also believed to be dedicated to Mylor. The late poet Charles Causley published "The Mystery of St Mylor" in his 1988 collection A Field of Vision.
The feast day of Prince Melor is 1 October. This is the date celebrated at Exeter Cathedral, although there are also alternative dates used in Cornwall. The feast days of St Melorus of Mylor are 3 January, 1 October and 25 October (Mylor feast used to be on 28 August but was transferred to the Sunday nearest 25 October). Bishop Melor's day is 4 December.