Our Saints

Saints are Christians who have fought the good fight on earth and now live with God in Heaven. Christians have always believed that the Holy Ones with God can pray for us on earth and it is generally held that they have a special interest in the places where they lived. Cornwall is the Land of Saints and our own patch of North Cornwall has long been a place of devotion to Mary and to our own local Saints, some of whom link us to the wider Christian world. The greatest of the local Saints is St Petroc who was active in all the three parishes of the Benefice, living at Padstow and Little Petherick and installing St Constantine as a hermit in the parish of St Merryn. Devotion to local Saints survived the Protestant Reformation and they are still celebrated on their Feast days in the local community and children learn about them at Church and in the local Schools.

Holy Saints of Cornwall, pray for us to God!

“Cornubia, Land of the Saints” by John Miller, in Truro Cathedral

St Petroc

Feasts: 4 June (Death – heavenly birthday) ; 14 September (Exaltation – the return of his relics to Bodmin) ; 1 October (Translation of his relics from Padstow to Bodmin).

A great deal is known about St. Petroc, there having been two “Lives of Petroc” written in the middle ages and discovered in comparatively recent times in a library in Paris. A translation of the text of “The Vita Petroci”, written in the 12th century, was published in 1930 by the late Canon G.H.Doble, called “St. Petroc, Abbot and Confessor”. A more recent study of his cult is The Medieval Cult of St Petroc (Boydell, 2000), by Karen Jankulak. His image is found in many churches in Cornwall.

Petroc was a Welshman of noble birth, who, having been educated in an Irish Monastery set out with a small band of followers, by sea, to spread the good news of the Gospel. The winds and tides brought him to the Padstow estuary. With the help of the local inhabitants he began to build at the top of the creek, the sea level coming further in than at present, first a church, and gradually other buildings, enlarging the establishment into a Celtic monastery complete with a school, infirmary, library, farm and cells for the monks.

Having established the monastery and church here, Petroc travelled widely, and legend has him travelling to Rome, Jerusalem and India. The Celtic King Constantine ruled this area at that time and was said to have been converted to Christianity by St. Petroc, when the Saint rescued the deer that the King was hunting. There are many legends and tales about him of miracles, healings and the banishing of monsters. Later in his life he retired with a few companions to live a hermit life at in caves and huts at Little Petherick where he built a church on the site of what is now St Petroc Minor. A holy well there is associated with him. When old and sick he was making his way home to Padstow, but died a few miles away at Treravel and he was brought home by his companions.

St Petroc’s Well at Little Petherick

Petroc’s body was venerated by the faithful in Padstow but translated to Bodmin by his community at the timeof the Viking attacks, Padstow was sacked by the Vikings in 981. Gradually Bodmin became the main centre for Petroc’s Community but in 1177 his bones were stolen by a priest and taken to the Abbey of Meen in Brittany. Such holy relics were a valuable asset to any church in those days and there was probably already a devotion to Petroc in Brittany in those days because of the close connection with Cornwall. A priest was despatched to ask for them back and he managed to persuade the Abbey authorities to return the precious relics and searched for a suitable receptacle to contain them.

He purchased from a craftsman a painted ivory casket, which is at present on display in St. Petroc’s Church, Bodmin. Athelstan, first King of England, when he annexed Cornwall in 936, granted privilege of sanctuary to Padstow, there only being two other churches in Cornwall with this privilege.

Collect for St Petroc in Cornish and English

A Dhuw, neb a dhanvonas dha servyas Petrok dhe drehevel dha Eglos yn Kernow: gront dhynny may lafurya yn lel rag drehevel war an keth sol; dre Yesu Cryst agan Arluth. Amen.

O God, who sent your servant Petroc to build up your Church in Cornwall: grant that we may work faithfully to build on the same foundation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Orthodox Troparion of St Petroc – 2nd tone

O Petroc, Master Builder of the Faith in the West, who didst prefer the heavenly warfare to thy kingly heritage and military prowess: with thy companions thou didst travel through the West Country establishing churches and didst include the animals in thy loving care. In thy monastic zeal thou didst recite the psalms in rivers: through thy prayer may the flow of Christian Faith ever increase in our land.

St Issey

Feast day 20 November

A sermon preached on the Feast of St Issy in her Church by Fr Stephen Holmes

+ ‘As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire… I saw one like a man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship… his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.’

We are at the feast of Christ the King, the end of the Christian year, and we are also celebrating our patronal feast in this church, the feast of St Issey, Itha, Ida or Idi. St Issey is as mysterious a person as that bit of the book of Daniel I just read. A vision of the Ancient of Days and the one like a man who was given kingship – a vision of Christ and the Father and the angels who are wheels of burning fire – just think of the wheels carved on the screen at St Petroc Minor.

The Wheels of the Thrones (an Order of Angels) on the Rood Screen by Sir Ninian Comper at St Petroc Minor, Little Petherick

But who is St Issey and why do we remember her (or him) today? What is the point of it? I’m a historian as well as a priest, and I’m married to someone called Izzy, so I ask you to indulge me for a bit as I talk about names and saints. The patron of this place first appears in 1161 as Iti and then varies between Iti and Ida. About 1350 Ida gets a friend called Lidy, so this is the church of saints Idy and Lidy. St Issey only appears three hundred years later. To find out more we have to look farther afield. A saint Iti appears in a list of Cornish saints written about 950AD together with a saint Meva – these were the patrons of Mevagissey and both female. Iti is the same as our saint but at St Issey she is sometimes male and the mysterious Lidy was certainly a man, probably St Elidus who lived on the Isles of Scilly. We don’t know why he was associated with this church. The only other clue is that an ancient list of holy men and women who sailed from Wales to Cornwall included an Yse, who was thus the cousin of St Petroc – so it is appropriate these churches are linked together.

Beyond this, nothing is known. Not the inspiring story in our hymn to St Issey, not the story that she set up a convent of nuns here to worship with St Petroc’s monks at Little Petherick, and not the tales that say she is the same as the St Ita the nun, who is as famous as St Brigid in Ireland. So what’s the point of remembering her, if we’re not even sure she is a ‘her’? Well, I think it is because she is here. She’s here with us in the landscape. In this church. In Mevagissey. In Cannalidgey and St Jidgey, because they are named after her. We live in a landscape where saints have trod and every ditch and tree and stream carried a memory of them. She and the other local saints like Petroc, Wethinoc, Cadoc, Constantine and Piran make us the Christians of this place, just as Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Jerusalem or Jesus of Antioch. I think they are interested in us Christians here.

Because God wanted to be born as man of a particular woman, Mary, and to be earthed in a particular place, all places are holy and each person has their own special place. On 30 December at Little Petherick I will be baptising twin girls called Issey and Merryn. They are from Nottingham but their families are connected to North Cornwall and they wanted that link. Issey is our saint, but she can be shared with anyone as everyone is welcome in each and every church. Christ is the King of the Universe, the son of the Ancient of Days, but he was also Jesus of Nazareth – of one village. To be earthed in his own place, for Jesus, meant his mother Mary. I think it is significant that this building is named after a woman and has a precious survival from the ages of faith in the Lady chapel. A carving of this same Mary cradling her dead son, Our Lady of Pity, or Our Lady of Sorrows.

Our Lady of Sorrows, the Pieta, at St Issey Church

As a community we are called to stand with all the unknown Christian women throughout the world who stand with their secret sorrows, their sadness. Women who each day stand at the foot of the cross on their own plot of land. Our mysterious patron saint, Issey, calls us as a community to a hidden life of faith and service. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus our Lord and God, we are being called to a particular work here in this village. The question is what is it?

St Merryn or Marina

Feast day 7 July.

St Merryn Church is first mentioned in 1259 as being dedicated to St Marina. Marina, also known as Margaret, was a young woman who was executed for her faith in Jesus Christ about the year 300 AD in the city of Antioch in what is now Turkey. She became a very popular saint in the Eastern Roman Empire.

Image result for st marina
Icon of St Marina the Great Martyr beating up the devil

For four centuries after her death, fragments of pottery found in the local area prove that North Cornwall was closely linked by trade with the Eastern Mediterranean and the cult of Margaret may have been brought to this place by merchants and sailors. The feast day of St Marina of Antioch is usually 20 July but early manuscripts show that from at least 800 AD Christians in South West England remembered her on 7 July which has remained the date of the parish feast here at St Merryn. The Cornish Historian William Hals (1655-1737) suggested that St Thomas Becket, who was also remembered on 7 July, became the patron and a modern statue of him is found by the high altar but the case for St Marina is much stronger.

From 1477 we find the title of the parish given as St Meryn (Merryn, Merin) which could record the local way of saying ‘Marina’. Some modern scholars believe that it could record an original dedication of the parish to a Celtic saint called Merin which was translated into Latin as ‘Marina’. Nothing is known of him but the name is found in Wales at Bodferin (‘House of Merin’) and in Brittany at Lanmerin, Plomelin and Plumelin.

St Constantine

Feast day 9 March.

St Wethinoc

Feast day 7 November

When Petroc sailed to Padstow there was already a monastery there presided over by a holy man called Wethinoc. He agreed to give the monastery to Petroc as long as it retained his name, Lanwethinoc, or the church of Wethinoc, which was later corrupted to Lodenek and remained the Cornish name of Padstow for many years. He appears in the earliest life of Petroc, where he also helped him defeat a dragon, and was venerated in Brittany by the ninth century where he appears in a life of St Winwaloe of Landevennec and gave his name to Lanvezennec and Saint Vennec in Briec. In Brittany his feast is 8 February and that of the translation of his relics and those of Winwalloe 5 July.

St Cadoc

Feast day 24 January