Cornwall is very proud of its Saints, most were Irish missionaries in the 4th and 5th centuries, many, supposedly, were from noble backgrounds. Many of these missionaries established a cell or church near sites that were already in use for religion - holy wells, springs, standing stones, shrines, etc. Although many of them were never officially designated saints by the church, their names do continue to live on with the the designation saint in over 200 old Cornish churches.
Legend and reality then became confused in the telling of the stories. Some saints were credited with arriving floating on a millstone, a barrel or a stone alter. Many were reported to have embarked on stone throwing contest with local Cornish giants, which of course the saints invariably won thanks to divine intervention.
They have given their names to places all over the county:
The Cornish flag is the flag of St Piran who is known as the patron saint of miners. It is said to represent the triumph of good over evil.
Legend tells us that St. Piran the patron saint of the tinners,sailed here on a millstone. Originally it had been tied around his neck and he had been cast into the Atlantic by people jealous of his power to heal and work miracles.As he was thrown off the cliff there was a bolt of lightning and a terrible crash of thunder,but as he reached the sea the storm suddenly abated,the sun came out and St.Piran could be seen seated peacefully on the millstone which was now floating on the surface of the water.It bore him safely across to Cornwall and he landed between Newquay and Perranporth at Perran Beach,to which he gave his name.
Piran built himself a small chapel in Penhale sands and his first disciples were said to be a badger,a fox and a bear.He lived a good and useful life,surviving to the ripe old age of 206!
It's claimed that a huge skeleton unearthed near Perranzabuloe (St.Piran In The Sands)could be his,and the remnants of his chapel were discovered in the sand during the last century,but sadly they have now been reburied to protect them from vandals.
St.Mawes was the tenth son of an Irish king and his name is revered not only here but in Brittany too,where he is known as St.Maudez and,possibly St.Malo.His stone chair is still preserved in the wall of a house in St. Mawes village.One day,so the legend goes,he was sitting there preaching when a noisy seal came out of the sea and interrupted him with its barking. After a while he became impatient,picked up a large rock and threw it at the animal.It missed,but legend tells us that the rock still remains where it fell,wedged on top of the Black Rocks halfway across Falmouth Harbor.
St. Petroc,who gave his name to Padstow (Petrocstow originally) and several local villages (Little Petherick,Trebetherick)arrived by more conventional means,but to a hostile welcome. Landing at Trebetherick,he asked some unfriendly locals for a drink and they refused him. Undeterred, Petroc simply tapped his staff on the ground and a spring of fresh water appeared.The hostile group were instantly converted to loyal disciples. After his death his relics were taken to Bodmin to be housed in an ivory casket decorated with brass and gold,where they remained undisturbed until 1994,when the casket was stolen from the church by thieves. Fortunately for the people of Bodmin who were distraught by the theft,the thieves were apparently unable to find a market for one of the most priceless reliquaries in Britain,and it was recovered shortly afterwards and returned to its display case in the church.
For more on St. Petroc click HERE
Close by Land's End lies the church of St. Levan. He was an enthusiastic fisherman and on his return from fishing trips would sometimes rest on a rock at the south side of the church,to the left of the porch. It is said before he died he decided to leave a reminder of himself for future generations,and so he struck the rock with his fist and split it open. The stone bears a prophecy,for St. Levan is supposed to have prayed over it and pronounced that when a pack horse with panniers astride it can be ridden through the split in the stone the World will end. Fortunately the fissure in the rock has not widened sufficiently for that to happen yet!
St. Neot was known as The Pygmy Saint,for we are told that he was a mere 15 inches high - possibly a tall story!He used to spend much of his day immersed up to the neck in his well during his devotions.Neot had a strange way with animals and birds and worked miracles with them,as depicted in the beautiful stained glass window of his church in the East Cornwall village named after him.
Like St. Piran,St.Ia,founder of the town St. Ives,arrived by unusual meanS. A woman of noble birth,she is said to have floated over from Ireland on a leaf which she had increased to a huge size by touching it with her staff.
St. Gundred,one of Cornwall's lesser known saints was,so legend tells us a very holy and virtuous lady whose father was a leper,(though there are no records of her and she may be confused with the male saint St. Gonand!).It is said that she lived in a remarkable chapel which stands on the top of Roche Rock,near St.Austell,tending to her sick father's needs.The Roche Rock chapel also features in the Cornish legend of "Jan Tregagle"and is one of the most curious religious monuments in the whole country. The ruined chapel of St. Michael stands on the edge of china clay country at Roche,near St. Austell and is easily accessible by means of a steel ladder screwed to the rock face.
Said to have arrived from Wales with 3 wives, 12 sons and 12 daughters (including Endillion, Issey, Kew, Mabyn, Minver and Teath, who all became saints themselves)
Arrived in Cornwall floating in a barrel.
Arrived from Ireland with his brothers St Breaca, St Euny and St Erc. His sister, Ia, arrived separately floating on an ivy leaf.
The daughter of King Brychan, who settled in Saint Endellion and taught the Christian faith. Two nearby wells are named after her. Wells were a source of water used for baptism and other religious purposes.
An Englishman who came to Cornwall in the 8th or 9th century (between 700 and 900 CE). He preached and built a church on the edge of Bodmin moor - today's village of St. Cleer. The village also has a holy well and two ancient Celtic crosses. St. Cleer was a monk devoted to a life of celibacy, but a local chieftainess fell in love with him and pursued him. When he fled to a lonely hermitage in France, the lady was furious and had him murdered.
A daughter of King Brychan. King Brychan's twenty four children started churches throughout Cornwall, England and Wales. Her hermitage, chapel and holy well were at Tredizzick, which is not far from the present church and town of Saint Minver. This religious settlement would have formed a base for spreading the Christian faith in the area. One of the popular stories about Saint Minver says that the devil attacked her when she was combing her hair. She threw the comb at him and he ran away.
One of the children of King Brychan - his church is between Wadebridge and Padstow. Mevagissey is also named after St. Issey.
Saint Nectan was the first-born of the children of the pious King Brychan of Brecknock. He had a very large family and all the children dedicated themselves to God: some lived as recluses, still others founded monasteries and churches. Saint Nectan heard of the great hermit of the Egyptian desert, St. Anthony, and was inspried to imitate his way of life.
With faith in God, St. Nectan set sail, intending to settle wherever his boat should come to rest. Given a good wind and a safe passage, he arrived on the north coast of Devon at Hartland. There St. Nectan settled and lived in solitude for many years.
It happened that St. Nectan found a stray sow. He returned it to its rightful owner who in gratitude sent a gift of two cows to the Saint. The Saint was a strict faster, but he appreciated the intention of the giver. After a while the cows were stolen by two robbers and when St. Nectan went in search of his beasts, he also fell into the hands of the wicked men. In spite of the danger, the old hermit began to boldly preach the Gospel to his pagan captors, who, losing their patience with him, struck off his head. Immediately a miracle occurred for the Saint picked up his head and carried it to the nearby fountain and there laid it down. At this amazing sight he who had struck the blow went out of his mind and the other, seeing this, followed St. Nectan and reverently buried him at his dwelling. “Surely it was the effect of God’s mercy that he who had been the author of the crime should become the first herald, witness and preacher of the martyrdom.” From that day henceforth many miracles occurred at the place where the holy relics of St. Nectan reposed. And each year all his saintly brothers and sisters would have a reunion at St. Nectan’s hermitage at Hartland.
The Saints' Way
The Saints' Way (or Forth an Syns in Cornish) is a route across Cornwall from the fishing town of Padstow on the north coast, to the port of Fowey on the south coast.
It follows the route used by traders, drovers, missionaries and pilgrims from Wales and Ireland during the Dark and Middle Ages to avoid the treacherous waters around Land's End.
The Saints' Way is a fascinating walk through Cornish history as it passes barrows, menhirs and hill forts from the Bronze and Iron Ages; ancient granite clapper bridges and stiles; Celtic crosses, holy wells, chapels and monastic settlements; fine medieval churches; and derelict chimneys and engine houses from the tin industry of the 18th. and 19th. centuries. The route also takes you through a variety of scenery including estuaries and creeks, secluded river valleys, ancient woodland, bleak and windswept moors, rolling pastures dotted with farms and several villages and towns.