The pagan ‘Celts’, a group of cruel and warring tribes, invaded the British Isles and Ireland only a few centuries before the Romans came, some arriving not much before them. However, by the first centuries AD these ‘Celts’, some Christian, some, according to St Gildas, definitely not, had separated into two main groups. These were the Irish (in Ireland, and then by emigration, in what is now Scotland) and the Brittonic (in Wales, Cornwall, and then by emigration, in Armorica, the future Brittany in France, and also in Galicia in Spain). The Church in all these lands was represented then by Irish and Brittonic, both Latin-speaking, but both with a strong monastic ethos. So much for the ‘Celtic Church’ myth, about which so much new-age nonsense is talked.
What can we say of Brittonic Cornwall specifically? The word Cornish (Cornovii) is itself Latin, meaning those who live in the ‘horn’, that is to say, those in the horn-shaped peninsula of south-west Britain. Later, by deformation, ‘Corn-wall’ came to mean the land of the ‘Welsh’ (= Non-English) who live in the horn. Cornwall was first taken into England, though only on paper, in the tenth century by King Athelstan. However, in some ways it would be truer to call Cornwall an island, for, surrounded by the sea on three sides, on its fourth side it is separated from Devon and so from England by the River Tamar. Only 70 years ago, and perhaps still today, those who lived on the Cornish side of the Tamar and crossed it spoke quite naturally of ‘going to England’.
Today, it is true that those who have grandparents born on the Cornish side of the Tamar have very different DNA from those born on the English side in Devon, even though the Cornish language has been lost. This is because, Cornwall lies between Wales and Brittany and so became a land through which saints passed, coming from north and south. Thus, Cornwall is a land of local saints and of their names – 140 in all unique to Cornwall. Unfortunately, most of these names are precisely only names. Usually, virtually nothing is known of the saints behind the names, sometimes if they were even saints at all, not even the correct form of their name, not even the century when they lived (usually the sixth or seventh), and sometimes even their gender is unknown.
As for their Lives, when they exist – and that is rare – they were often written over 600 and up to 1,000 years after the saints lived. In other words, most of their Lives are almost completely untrustworthy and sometimes absurd. All that remains is speculation without edification, ‘games with names’, as in the booklets on them, written by the Anglican researcher G.H. Doble in the last century. Here we see all the sadness when people forget their saints, their tradition of holiness. All we can say is that a large number of mainly Welsh monks, nuns, hermits and ascetics came to live in Cornwall in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, and that that was a golden age of holiness. In all this two Cornish saints stand out, St Piran and St Petroc.
St Piran (Perran) (+ c. 480) came from Ireland or Wales and settled in the north of Cornwall, giving his name to Perranporth, where he had his hermitage. He is commemorated on 5 March and is now considered to be the patron saint of Cornwall. St Petroc (Peter) (+ c. 564) was a sixth-century abbot who for long was considered to be Cornwall’s most famous saint. He came from south Wales and lived near what is now Padstow (Petrocstow), where he founded a monastery. He later founded another monastery and then lived as a hermit on Bodmin Moor. He was famed for his closeness to the natural world and founded other monasteries. At his repose his relics were venerated in Padstow and later at the main Cornish monastery in Bodmin. His feast is on 4 June.
Any Orthodox who wish to set up a parish in Cornwall would perhaps wish to start in Truro, the capital of Cornwall and which is located relatively centrally. As for a dedication, we would suggest, quite simply, All Saints. However, in any such parish there should be a large icon of Sts Piran and Petroc.
All the Saints of Cornwall, known to the Lord, pray to God for us!