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Cornwall's Patron Saints
The reference to Saint Petroc as Cornwall's patron saint is certain to surprise readers who have learnt that Saint Piran or even Saint Michael were the patron saints. In order to forestall any queries Cornish World has consulted the Reverend Brian Combos, Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd. He has kindly offered the following explanation.
May 8th celebrates his 'apparition' to fishermen at Monte Gargano in Italy in 492 he is patron of Helston and nine other Medieval parish churches, more than any other saint, and of many chapels. However he probably is 'patron' because Robert Count of Mortain, the leading landowner in Cornwall at Domesday Book (1086) fought under his banner at Hastings in 1066. Helston was one of Robert's manors. Michael's most famous shrine in Cornwall, a major place of pilgrimage, was of course, St. Michael's Mount.
Like all great men the Cornish saints gave rise to legends, so stories of Petroc's voyaging to Jerusalem or the Indian Ocean are probably exaggerations. However, he may have gone to Rome, and stories of his healings, his saving of a stag from hunters and removing a splinter from a dragon's eye may reflect the care of people and the love of all creation that the Celtic Church had.
It does seem clear that in the 6th. century Petroc came from South Wales of Royal Lineage (an uncle of St. Cadoc) and travelled to Padstow (Petroc's Stow or church) after landing at Trebetherick. Little Petherick and Egloshayle are also linked with him. At Padstow it is said that the hermit Gwethnoc moved for him.
It does seem that his bones and other relics were moved inland from Padstow to Bodmin at the end of the 10th. century, possibly to escape the Danes who raided Padstow in 981.
In 1177 a monk of Bodmin stole the bones and fled to St. Meen in Brittany. They were restored in the casket, now the object of another restoration saga. Piran, or Perran (not "Pie-Ran") was another saint who came to Cornwall from South Wales in the late fifth century. He landed near Perranporth where his churches have been buried by the sands.
There is a long Medieval "Life", but this is the result of mistaken identification with the Irish Ciaran of Saighir. However, there are some Cornish traditions. Piran came from Ireland on a millstone (with a portable stone altar or stones to ballast a coracle type skin boat?). He was patron of miners (as late as 18th century Breage tinners had a holiday on his feast, hence the expression, "Drunk as a perraner"). Davies Gilbert writing in the early 19th century says that the ancient flag of Cornwall was his white cross on a black ground (doubtless an illusion to white tin coming from black ore... and giving the story of his discovering tin smelting!)
St. Piran's flag has become more and more recognised. Forty years ago, or less, we had to always explain what it was. Now it is common. It is a sign of Cornwall Its increasing use is a sign of an increasing sense of Cornishness.