Curriculum Kernewek

Cornwall Agreed Syllabus 2011

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+ Guide to Cornish Saints

Cornish Saints are people who founded or inspired the foundation of Christian communities in Cornwall. Some were Cornish born but many were not, travelling to and through Cornwall from their native lands, mainly Ireland, Wales and Brittany. It is difficult to date the arrival of Christianity in Cornwall but British Christians were certainly spreading the Word for at least 300 years before Augustine of Rome and his missionary monks landed on the east coast of Britain, in 597AD. Augustine encountered active Christian communities (often known as the Celtic Church) with well developed and localised culture and traditions. As a representative of the Roman Church, Augustine sought to bring coherence to Christian practice and pressed for communities to adopt practices sanctioned by the Roman Church.

Whilst the names of Cornish Saints survive in place-names, wells and church dedications, for many the details of their missionary activities have been lost. Where records survive we find that many of the Cornish Saints were ordained monks, priests and bishops participating in an organised network of monasteries and Christian communities across Britain and into Europe. The Cornish Saints are often linked by their family or community connections, for example, up to twenty four of them are reputed to be the children of King Brychan and Queen Gladwisa of South Wales. Others seem to have sought solitude outside of such networks and commitment by living in remote places. This practice often attracted others, for instance, it is said that when St Petroc lived as a hermit in his simple cell (small building) on the moor so many people flocked to join him that the settlement of Bodmin was founded.

Whilst many Cornish Saints are forgotten in historic records they are remembered in stories which describe their special qualities and the 'signs and wonders' or 'miracles' they performed. That Cornwall was blessed with so many saints is captured in the traditional saying, 'There are more saints in Cornwall than in Heaven'. The significance of the Cornish Saints both in the past and today is evidenced by the sheer number of churches dedicated to them, settlements named after them and the early and continued presence of Christianity.

Traces of Cornish Saints and their lives can be found in:

+ Place-names – many of these bear the prefix of Saint, for instance, St Austell and St Breock. Other place-names are less obviously inspired by Cornish Saints, for instance, Anta probably gave her name to Lelant, Carantoc to Crantock and Gwbert to Cubert.

+ Churches – many are dedicated to Cornish Saints. Current church buildings have replaced or incorporated early places of worship and original structures dating from the age of Saints are difficult to verify. St Madern's chapel in Madron is a simple building which may not have changed much since it was built. Some churches acknowledge Cornish Saints that they are not dedicated to, for example, the medieval stained glass windows in St Neot Church depicts St Mabyn.

+ Holy Wells – these are in abundance across Cornwall and are commonly named after the local saint. It is likely that the wells had practical uses and were associated with spirits or gods in pre-Christian culture before they were used by Saints and their Christian communities for drinking, washing and baptism. Some of the stories about Saints mention their discovery of water or their ability to bring forth water from the earth.

+ Records – largely consist of calendars, prayers and an account of the life of the Saint. These were contained in church service books for use on the Saints' feast day but much of this material has been lost or destroyed.

+ Traditions – are the beliefs and customs of communities, such as the annual feast days that communities hold to commemorate their saint. Storytelling traditions preserve the tales of Cornish Saints, their adventures and achievements.

+ Relics – include the bones of the Saint which were considered sacred and were kept by the community for use on special occasions. A Saint's staff and bell were also treated as objects of significance. It is thought that Saints rang hand bells to gather people to hear their message, two examples are preserved in Brittany.