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The Welsh Fasting Girl



26th February marks the beginning of eating disorders awareness week. We tend to think of anorexia and other eating disorders as a fairly modern phenomenon. In the 19th century, however, numerous young women, inspired by medieval saints, alleged they were forgoing food and surviving on faith alone. In reality some of them may have had anorexia, others like Dyfed’s own Sarah Jacobs had a more sinister story.

 

Sarah Jacobs became known far and wide as 'The Welsh Fasting Girl'. She was born at Llethr-neuadd farm, Llanfihangel-ar-arth, Carmarthenshire in 1857. After taking to her bed following an illness she appeared to have not eaten or drunk for nearly two years. 

 

Visitors travelled miles to see her, eminent physicians debated her case and she was the subject of extensive press coverage. Queen Victoria was interested in the case and there were even rumours of a royal visit.

 

Sarah and the potential visit were certainly the subject of discussion here in Aberaeron and is recorded in Ann Howell’s letter of July 1869, written from Portland House to her son, J M Howell: 

   “They say that the Queen is coming here next week to see Sarah Jacob.

     Ha, Ha!“

 

Sarah’s tragic death later in 1869 led to a man-slaughter case, the preliminary investigation for which took place in the Wilkes Head, Llandysul.

 

Sarah’s life and death have been featured in works of Welsh fiction, including Sarah Arall  by Aled Islwyn and Gwenlyn Parry’s play Sal. She was also clearly a major inspiration for Emma Donogue’s novel, The Wonder and the subsequent film based on the book. 

 

You can read her story in the blog below by historical fiction writer S E Morgan:

 

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