Celtic and Old English Saints          4 June

* St. Petroc of Cornwall
* St. Croidan, Medan, and Degan
* St. Edfrith of Lindisfarne
* St. Breaca of Cornwall
* St. Buriana of Cornwall
* St. Nennoc of Brittany

St. Petroc of Cornwall, Abbot
(also known as Petrock, Pedrog, Perreux)

Died at Treravel, Wales, c. 594. Cornwall's most famous saint was the
son of a prince from southern Wales. Petroc studied theology in Ireland.
He settled at Haylesmouth in Cornwall, had an active apostolate, and
founded a monastery at Lanwethinoc (later called Petrocston, now
Padstow). After 30 years there, Petroc made a pilgrimage to Rome and
Jerusalem, at which time he is also reputed to have reached the Indian
Ocean and lived for a time on an island as a hermit. Returning to
Cornwall, he founded another monastery at Little Petherick (Nanceventon)
with a mill and chapel, and a hermitage at Bodmin, where Saint Goran met
him. After meeting the hermit, Petroc travelled south. He built a cell
for himself by the river and a monastery on the hilltop for his twelve
disciples, among which were Saints Croidan, Medan, and Degan. Like
several other hermit saints, Petroc had a special affinity with wild

Petroc was buried at Padstow, which became the centre of his cultus.
There are 18 churches dedicated to him in Devon, plus others in Cornwall
and south Wales. About 1000, his shrine and relics, including his staff
and bell, were translated to Bodmin. In 1178, his relics were stolen by
a disgruntled priest named Martin and given to Saint-Meen's Abbey near
Rennes, Brittany, but were returned to Bodmin the next year at the
request of its Prior Roger after the intervention of Bishop Bartholomew
of Exeter and King Henry II. A rib was left at Saint-Meen's. During the
reign of Henry VIII, his shrine and tomb were in the church of Bodmin on
the eastern side of the high altar. During the Reformation the fine
Sicilian-Islamic reliquary containing
Petroc's head was hidden. It was rediscovered in the 19th century and
remains in the parish church at Bodmin.

Petroc may also have evangelized in Brittany, where more than 30
churches are dedicated to him under the name Perreux. His is also the
titular saint of a church in the Nivernais. It is possible, however,
that his many disciples carried his cultus across the Channel. The
extant vitae of Saint Petroc are unreliable (Attwater, Benedictines,
Delaney, Farmer, Encyclopaedia, Husenbeth).

In art, Petroc is generally portrayed with a stag--a reminder of one he
sheltered from hunters.

- - -

Another Life of Saint Petroc

There is no Cornish Saint, and there are many, whose life story is of
greater interest to most Westcountry men than that of St. Petroc. He has
given his name, not only to the ancient town of Padstow (Petroc's -
stow) and to Little Petherick near Wadebridge, but also to the whole
Hundred of Pydar, (Petrock's shire). He was the founder of Bodmin, which
for some time was an Abbey-Bishopric, and remained the religious capital
of Cornwall up to the end of the Middle Ages. He is also one of the
chief saints of Devon and in Somerset he is the patron saint of
Timberscombe. It is clear that this pan-Celtic saint, whose cult is very
widely spread both in Wales and in Brittany, was the apostle for the
whole Kingdom of Dumnonia.

During the Reformation and the succeeding centuries all the written
'Lives' of the patron saints of the Cornish parishes were deliberately
destroyed. In Brittany there was no Reformation and numerous 'Lives' of
the Cornish saints, which have disappeared entirely in Cornwall, have
been preserved in Breton manuscripts.

A fourteenth century monk, named John of Tynemouth, made an attempt to
translate part of one of the manuscripts, the 'Vita Petroci'. His
translation was vague and did little to arouse much interest in St.
Petroc. In 1928, however, some further studies were made of the same
manuscript, which revealed many interesting facts about Cornish History,
and in particular, references to comish places and people. Some nine
years after, a discovery of great importance was made which shed further
light on the life and times of St. Petroc. The Ducal Library of Gotha,
in Eastern Germany, was found to contain a volume of forty five 'Lives'
of English and Cornish saints. It is as well to remember however, that
few of the stories recorded in any of these manuscripts were written by
contemporaries of St. Petroc and were, of course, subject to the fears
and superstitions of the Middle Ages.

Very little is known about St. Petroc, the man, his very origin and
descent being in dispute. Some say that he was of Cornish stock while
others prefer to think of him as descended from the royal house of
Wales. The Gotha document described him as being "handsome in
appearance, courteous in speech, prudent, simpleminded, modest, humble,
a cheerful giver, burning with ceaseless charity, always ready for all
the works of religion because while still a youth he had attained by
watchful care the wisdom of riper years". He is reported to have had
twenty four brothers and that after having repelled a foreign invasion,
he declined to accept the right of accession, preferring to retire from
the world. He was succeeded by one of his brothers called Winleus.

Petroc and sixty of his retainers set sail for Ireland where they
visited "as a native rather than as a stranger all the famous seats of
study and religion". Their wanderings and instruction in monastic ways
is described in the "Vita Petroci" as lasting twenty years! Their
studying completed, the whole band agreed to return to Britain and were
delighted to find the original ship, which had brought them to Ireland,
completely seaworthy. "The sails spread, the ship was borne along by the
fear of God with great rapidity, although the winds were adverse". St.
Petroc is recorded as having arrived at the mouth of the river Camel,
near Trebetherick.

Trebetherick is but a stone's throw from Padstow and it was to this
ancient seaport that St. Petroc and his monks came around 600 A.D.
There, St. Petroc and his followers established themselves in the Celtic
Monastery of Lanwethinoc, which was founded by the Bishop Wethinoc. The
monastery became known as Petrocstow, Petroc's Church. It is interesting
to note that the name Lanwethnoc remained long enough to be recorded in
the Domesday Book and referred to the Manor of Padstow.

Padstow was evidently the principal centre of Petroc's activities for
there are many street names and houses with a "taste" of Petroc to be
seen in the town. The monks of Petroc-stow acquired large amounts of
land on both sides of the Camel estuary extending west as far as
Portreath near Redruth, North east as far as Tintagel, and inland to
Lanhydrock and Bodmin. A large part of this ground forms the Hundred of
Pydar or Pydarshire, derived from Petroc-shire.

The bulk of the Gotha manuscript described the numerous pilgrimages and
wanderings of the saint. St. Petroc travelled to Rome and Brittany,
performing many miracles and healing the sick, but it is the founding of
the Priory at Bodmin, which provides us with the focal point.

The hermit St. Guron had discovered how suitable a spot Bodmin was and
he established his "cell" on the site of the present Parish Church. The
hermitage had all the natural advantages of a suitable position. It was
near running water, there was a pool, copious water springs, and the
valley, then, as now, must have been verdant and sheltered. St. Guron
became the founder

Of Bodmin. It is possible to see the Well of St. Guron in the grounds of
the Parish Church. St. Petroc came to this hermitage, from Padstow, with
three of his fellow saints, Credan, Medan and Dechan. St. Guron nobly
resigned his abode and proceeded to the south coast to a spot named
after him, Gorran.

It was not long before St. Guron's hermitage was enlarged into a Priory
of considerable size and importance. St. Petroc became the first Prior
of Bodmin; and later not only the Church at Bodmin and the Church at
Padstow, but a number of other Churches in Cornwall, Devon and Wales
were named after him. Over the two Petrockstows, for Bodmin was at first
also a Petrocstow, as well as Padstow, there have been many confusions.
A Petrocstow was burned by the Danes in 981 A.D., but it is recognised
as being Padstow, for the Danes pillaged and burned usually coastal
places. How long Bodmin was known as Petrocstow is not certain. From old
manuscripts it is evident that the name Bodmin in one or other of its
variants had been in use many years before the Anglo-Saxons, and later
the Normans, visited the place.

St. Petroc died at Padstow and his bones were placed in a "fair shrine"
placed before the high altar in the Church which he founded. His relics
and his handbell (the cimbalum) were used for ecclesiastical purposes
for at least five hundred years after his death, and, moreover, they
were preserved for upwards of another five hundred years, until the

It might be interesting to try to visualise what a Celtic monastery of
the sixth or seventh centuries was like. It was a simple, indeed
primitive, establishment and bore no resemblance to the magnificent
abbeys and priories of the Middle Ages. These Celtic monasteries of the
Dark Ages were usually a little church and a few huts or cells; each
occupied by one brother, protected by a surrounding wall of earth. The
Abbot lived like his subordinate brethren. In time the manuscripts
written by these monks came to be regarded as libraries. These books
were not stored away on shelves but kept in leather cases and hung on
pegs around the walls. The better equipped of these monasteries became
our first schools.

Bodmin seems to have flourished during the Anglo-Saxon period, and in
the year 938 A.D., King Athelstan is recorded as having granted the
lands of "Nywanton" to St. Petroc's monastery. The monastery had won
royal approval by conforming to Romanized-Anglo-Saxon practices. The
Cornish Church with its Celtic clergy must by that time have thoroughly
adopted Roman ways.

The fact that English influence was at work during the ninth, tenth and
eleventh centuries, is revealed in the manumissions of slaves recorded
in the Bodmin Gospels. These Bodmin Gospels, now in the British Museum,
are the only books of a Cornish monastery of the Dark Ages to survive.
Most of the owners of the slaves whose liberation is recorded appear to
have been English, but there are some whose names were Cornish and, not
all the slaves were Cornish, for some were English!

How the slavery and manummission system worked is illustrated in the two
following stories.

A certain Englishman, Aelfric, son of Aelfin, wanted to enslave a
Cornishman named Putrael. The man appealed to Boia, a priest of St.
Petroc, and it was finally agreed that Putrael should escape enslavement
if he gave Aelfric a team of eight oxen at the door of St. Petroc's
church, and paid a fee of sixty pence to the priest for his services as
mediator. The second story is about the same period. A great English
noble, the Ealdorman Aethelweard, apparently held the manor of
Lyscerruyt, from which has grown the town of Liskeard. His wife,
Aethaelflaed, wishing to liberate a slave-woman for the good of her soul
and that of her husband, but not wishing to go to Bodmin to perform the
ceremony in the usual way at St. Petroc's altar, apparently requested
that some of the clergy of Bodmin should travel to Liskeard. They were
to bring with them the saint's bell which was to sanctify the
manummission. Later, however, the Ealdorman Aethelweard himself went to
Bodmin to St. Petroc's monastery to confirm there the grant of freedom
in the presence of the Bishop of Cornwall, the Abbot of Bodmin and the

The relics of St. Petroc were brought to Bodmin Priory by the monks who,
it is thought, chose to move to Bodmin to be free from the perils of the
Danes. The head of the saint was placed in an ivory casket and kept in a
shrine in the church of the Priory. The Priory however suffered much
damage during the Reformation and the casket was hidden in the room over
the South porch of the Parish Church. It remained hidden until the
eighteenth century. The casket can still be seen on display in the

In 1177, one of the Canons of Bodmin, Martin, who had fallen into
disgrace with the Prior, stole the relics of St. Petroc and carried them
off to the Abbey of St. Meen in Brittany. One can imagine how
horror-struck at this sacrilege the monks and people were. The populace,
incensed at this outrage, demanded the return of the sacred bones. The
Gotha manuscript contains a long account by one, Robert de Tautona, who
accompanied the Prior of Bodmin torecover the relics. The ivory casket
was returned with "due honour, apology and homage". On the return
journey the relics were venerated by Henry II and his Court at
Winchester, and the King gave a silk pall to cover the sacred shrine.
The Bishop of Exeter accompanied the Prior and Canons of Bodmin on the
way to Bodmin which they reached on the 14th September. This date is
still celebrated in the Parish Church at Bodmin.

Disaster struck again in 1994 when thieves broke into the Church and
once again targeted St. Petroc's reliquary. The County of Cornwall was
devastated and prayers were said throughout Cornwall, and in many places
outside the Country, for the safe return of what is considered to be the
very symbol and heritage of Cornwall. Indeed, the Bishop of Truro
referred to it as "representing the spirit of everything Cornish".
Letters appeared in both local and national newspapers expressing anger
and sadness at the theft and a direct appeal was made to Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II to help secure its safe return.

To the great delight of everyone, the casket was later "found in a field
in Yorkshire" and was handed to detectives in the Devon and Cornwall
Constabulary. Bodmin Town Council, the rightful owners of the reliquary,
received it back into the Church of St. Petroc and agreed to have it
reinstated in the Church, subject to adequate security arrangements
being made by the Church authorities. All of Cornwall breathed a sigh of
relief and a new zest for life was born throughout Cornwall.

Throughout the history of Bodmin the name of Saint Petroc can be found.
There was a Guild of St. Petroc for skinners and glovers until the end
of the 16th century, unfortunately there is no trace of these industries

The relic-stealer who carried the body off to Brittany in 1177 said it
was that "of the chief of the saints of Cornwall"; Bodmin certainly owes
much to this son of a Welsh King.

Another Life, on the web site of St Petroc's church, Cornwall

Another Life

St Petroc's Reliquary

St.Petroc is Patron of Saint Petroc's Orthodox Monastery, Tasmania

Troparion of St Petroc and his Companions Tone 2
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. Croidan, Medan, and Degan
6th century. Three disciples of Saint Petroc.

St. Edfrith (Eadfrith) of Lindisfarne, Monk & Bishop
Died 721. Edfrith's life is obscure prior to his becoming bishop in 698.
He studied in Ireland and was well-trained as a scribe, an artist, and a
calligrapher because it seems almost certain that he alone wrote and
illuminated the Lindisfarne Gospels, which can now be seen in the
British Library. His masterpiece was dedicated to Saint Cuthbert and
would have taken at least two years to complete. He welcomed the new
text of the Gospels and the new layout, both of which came to him from
Italy via
Wearmouth-Jarrow. He provided evangelist portraits as a creative artist
in a field of Mediterranean expertise, but he also excelled in insular
majuscule script and Irish geometric and zoomorphic decoration of
extraordinary delicacy and accuracy. The fusion of all these elements in
one work is a tribute to Edfrith's well-rounded education and the
merging of Roman and Irish elements in Northumbria about 35 years after
the Synod of Whitby.

The manuscript would have been enough to ensure Edfrith a place in art
history; nevertheless, he was also a good bishop. Most of his memorable
actions, however, are associated with Saint Cuthbert. The anonymous Life
of Cuthbert was dedicated to Edfrith and he commissioned Saint Bede to
write his prose Life of Cuthbert. He restored Cuthbert's oratory on the
Inner Farne Island for the use of Saint Felgild. He may also have been
the recipient of a letter from Saint Aldhelm.

Edfrith was connected with Cuthbert even in death: He was buried near
his tomb. His relics, together with those of Saints Aidan, Eadbert, and
Ethelwold, were taken with Cuthbert's in their wanderings through
Northumbria from 875 to 995, when they reached Durham. When Cuthbert's
relics were taken to the new cathedral, Edfrith's were translated, too.
Today's feast is that of the translation (Farmer).

See the British Library's web site for the Lindisfarne Gospels:

A Brief Chronology of Hiberno-Saxon or Insular Manuscripts:

The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells:

St. Breaca of Cornwall, Virgin
(also known as Breague, Branca, Banka)

5th-6th century. Saint Breaca was a disciple of Saint Patrick and Saint
Brigid. Obviously not too much is known of Breaca: Some consider it a
male name; others female. She is said to have migrated with several
companions from Ireland into Cornwall (c. 460), where she landed at
Reyver on the eastern bank of the river Hayle in the hundredth of
Penrith. There she led a solitary life in great sanctity and was
honoured with a church famous for pilgrimages and miracles. Montague
claims martyrdom for the saint (Benedictines, Husenbeth, Montague).

St. Buriana of Cornwall, Virgin
6th century. Saint Buriana was another Irish woman who migrated to
Cornwall, where Saint Buryan across from the Scilly Island perpetuates
her name. King Athelstan built a college and church there to house her
relics (Benedictines, Husenbeth).

St. Nennoc of the Tribe of St Brychan of Brecknock,
Abbess in Brittany
(also known as Nenooc, Nennoca, Nennocha, Ninnoc, Ninnocha, Gwengustle)

Died c. 467. Saint Nennoc is said to have been a daughter of the
prolific Saint Brychan of Brecknock. After serving God in her native
Britain, she is said to have followed Saint Germanus of Auxerre into
France, where she became abbess of one or more monasteries in Armorica.
Many miracles are ascribed to her in her legend in the monastery of the
Cross of Quimperle in the diocese of Quimper in Brittany (Benedictines,
Farmer, Husenbeth).

Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:

These Lives are archived at:

Reply via email to