Cornwall has three saints, Michael, Petroc(k) and Piran (Perran) each often regarded as our "Patron". There is nothing wrong in this; other countries have had more than one patron, e.g. Scotland with Andrew and Columba, and Portugal with George, Vincent and Anthony.
The Truro Diocesan Calendar keeps "St. Michael, Protector of Cornwall," on its feast of special Cornish importance of May 8th, leaving on September 29th the more general "St. Michael and All Angels". March 5th is "St. Piran of Cornwall, Abbot"; June 4th is "St. Petroc of Cornwall, Abbot". St. Michael is associated with hilltops, especially in Celtic countries. 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.
In England most parish churches are dedicated to saints from the scripture, or 'universal' ones like Nicholas. In Cornwall it is different the majority are named after saints found only in Celtic countries or nearby. In Cornwall most have only one or two parishes. However St. Petroc, sometimes called "Father of the Saints of Cornwall" has five churches. There are nine in Devon (though some of these may only date from the Middle Ages, and not be remaining Celtic dedications from before the English came), as well as some in Wales and Brittany.
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. At Bodmin, Guron (Goran), whose well is by the church, did the same. 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 are also Perran-ar-worthal, Perranuthnoe and a chapel near Tintagel.
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!).
Saint Pirans oratory, near Perranporth was the site of a 6th century early Christian church established by St. Piran. It lies a few hundred yards west of the ancient cross that also bears his name, in the wide expanse of Penhale Sands. Because of constant erosion by wind and sand the remains of the building have been buried to protect it. The mound is now topped with a smallish granite stone and a plaque.
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.
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