25 Jun 2023 • Articles
Cornwall is a popular holiday destination, but did you know that Cornwall has three patron saints? They are St. Michael, St. Petroc and St. Piran.
St. Piran was born in Ireland and educated in a monastery in South Wales. He studied the Scriptures in Rome, then returned to Ireland and was consecrated bishop and founded his own community which became known as Ireland's University.
St. Piran sailed to Cornwall, landing on Perran Beach, where he and his followers built a tiny oratory in 450AD, probably of wattle and daub, in the Irish style with the carved heads of a man, a woman and a beast around the arched doorway. He also founded a chapel at Tintagel and his well at Probus was honoured as holy. It was said that St. Piran was chaplain to King Arthur and also Archbishop of York.
Tin-miners have claimed St. Piran as their patron saint because he rediscovered how to smelt tin: the Romans had smelted tin in Cornwall, but the method was lost when they left Britain. Piran built a fireplace from a large black slab of Cornish rock; this hearthstone contained tin-bearing ore and the fire became hot enough for the tin to melt so that a pure white metal began to trickle out of the stone. The liquid tin formed a white cross on the black stone background and this became St. Piran's emblem and the image on the Cornish flag. Saint Piran taught tin-smelting to the local people, providing them with work and a steady income.
After St. Piran died, about 480 AD, many pilgrims visited his hermitage at Penhale until the 10th century when it was abandoned because of encroaching sand. A small stone chapel dedicated to St. Piran was excavated in 1835 and was claimed to be the oldest known Christian church on mainland Britain, second only to Iona. For protection against erosion by wind and sand, the remains of this oratory have been reburied in the dunes, near an ancient cross bearing St. Piran's name. The mound is topped with a granite stone and a plaque which reads: "This stone is dedicated to the glory of God and in memory of St. Piran, Irish missionary and Patron Saint of Tinners, who came to Cornwall in 6th Century. Beneath this stone is buried the Oratory which bears his name. Erected on the site hallowed by his prayers."
May the lives and the generous faith of the saints inspire you in your life,