Cornish Saints

It is often said that there are more saints in Cornwall that there are in heaven, indeed every other place name seems to be St. something or other. Early Christianity in Cornwall was represented by the Celtic church and based mainly on the monastery. Becoming a saint was a matter of leading a pilgrimage, usually from Wales or Ireland, converting some heathens and possibly founding a church. Most of the Cornish saints have legends and myths surrounding them. Most Holy Wells are dedicated to a saint, as are the crosses that pop up everywhere, on the moors and in graveyards.

I could probably make a whole web-site just to their memories but I have selected a couple of better known ones and a couple with myths that I like.

This is St. Piran's cross and is said to mark the place where he landed.

St. Piran is the tin-miners patron saint. He arrived in Penhale Sands, north of Perranporth, after being thrown off an Irish cliff with a millstone around his neck. As the saint hit the water, the storm that had been raging abated and the sea grew calm, the millstone floated and the 200-year-old saint landed in Cornwall. He lived for another hundred years, becoming patron saint to tin miners and of three parish churches, before falling into a well whilst drunk. 

One night he discovered how to smelt tin when he built a bigger than usual fire in his cave and a large hearthstone cracked under the heat giving forth shining white tin metal.

The Cornish flag of St. Piran is a white cross on a black background which is said to represent this event although others say it signifies the triumph of good over evil.

St. Petroc is the 'official' patron saint of Cornwall and he founded two monasteries at Bodmin and Padstow, where he landed from Wales in 520AD. He lived at Lanwethinoc for over 30 years and also went on several pilgrimages to Rome, Jerusalem and India. One particular journey was taken in a boat that had no oars and no steering. He ended up on an island where he spent seven years with holy men before returning to Cornwall.

It is he that is credited with ridding Cornwall of its last dragon. He is reputed to have approached it and threw his stole around its neck. St. Petroc then led the dragon to the sea where it swam away never to return. He is also said to have turned water into nectar. He is also credited with converting the war-loving Constantine to Christianity, after coming across him hunting a fawn one day. Constantine spent the rest of his life in a cell (church) in the bay named after him, passing the time by praying and living in poverty.

The relics of St. Petroc were so revered that when, in 1177, some Augustine monks stole them and took them to St. Meen, the King of England, Henry II, ordered that they be returned. He even provided an ornate, carved ivory box to store them in and this can be seen in the south wall of Bodmin parish church.

 St. Nectan was a hermit and rather eccentric. He lived in a sanctuary behind a waterfall now known as St. Nectan's Kieve. Legend says that he had a silver bell that used to ring in stormy weather when ships were in trouble off the coast of Tintagel. He would then pray for the safety of the sailors. Before he died St. Nectan vowed that unbelievers would never hear his bell ring and he dropped it into the kieve (basin) of the waterfall, and now if the bell is heard it is taken to be a bad omen.

After his death his two sisters buried his body in an oak coffin beneath a great slab of granite in the basin.

Much later, in the 18th century, some local miners decided to find the bell and any other treasure buried with the coffin and diverted the waterfall to give easier access. They searched around the pool and suddenly heard a bell and a voice saying 'the child has not yet been born who shall recover this treasure.' Needless to say they didn't hang around there for very much longer and came away empty-handed.