Died 460. This saint's "vita" was not written by Anselm, probably a
Cornish canon, until about eight centuries after his death.
There is evidence that the basics of the story are true. When Saint
Patrick was evangelizing Ireland, he came to the court of King Clito and
was treated with scorn. But the king's son Gwinear was more courteous
than his father. Though not yet a
Christian, he recognised Patrick's piety and rose to his feet to offer
the saint his own seat.
Later, as he was hunting and at the same time meditating on
Christianity, he was converted. Gwinear let his horse go free and
began to live as a hermit. After King Clito's death, the saint returned
home, but not to assume the throne. Instead he took 770 men and women
(including his converted sister Piala) to spread the Christian faith in
Wales and Brittany. At first they landed at the mouth of the Hayle
Among the celebrated miracles performed by the saint, one--at Puvigner
in Brittany--indicates his reputation for loving animals. Short of
water the saint struck the ground and created not one fountain but
three: one for himself, the other two for his dog and his horse.
The saint and many of his followers died as martyrs. The Cornish tyrant
Teudar had long hated the Christians. He kept a lake filled with
reptiles in amongst which he threw those he disliked. It is said that
Teudar came upon a band of Gwinear's Christian friends
Later Gwinear and some companions came across their bodies. The saint
knew his own martyrdom could not be far off.
Here brethren is the
place of our rest,
he told his companions.
Here God has appointed
that we should cease from our labours. Come therefore and let us gladly
sacrifice our lives for him. Let us not fear them that kill the body.
Rather let us fear him who has power to cast both body and soul into
Shortly afterwards the saint was caught by Teudar and beheaded at Hayle
near Penzance. A basilica was built in later years over his grave. And
the Cornish village of Gwinear bears his name to this day. He is also
still venerated in Pluvigner (diocese of Vannes), Brittany, where he is
known as Saint Guigner. At Pluvigner, there is a stained glass window
of Gwinear hunting a stag with a cross between its antlers (reminiscent
Saint Eustace (f.d. September 20)
) and a well near the church to
which processions go on the day of Pardon.
Some of Gwinear's company escaped and gave their names to churches from
Saint Ives to Porthleven. While there is no reliable evidence that
Gwinear and his companions were Irish or missionaries nor that they were
massacred by a tyrant, the historical record suggeststhat he came from
Wales with another local saint,
(f.d. June 7),
district of Comborne and Gwinnear (Cornwall), and went to Brittany
A party of missionaries from Ireland arrived in Cornwall at the Hayle
Estuary early in the 6th Century. The leader is known in Cornwall as
Gwinear although his Irish name was more likely to have been Fingar. The
party included his sister Piala, ? and her brothers Erc and Uny. It is
difficult to be sure whether these were the first Christians in that
part of Britain or whether they came to rekindle those whose faith had
grown dim, but we do know that they aroused the wrath of the local lord.
Tendrig, the Dark Tyrant of Cornish legends, had his stronghold on the
Towans side of Hayle Pool at a place called Riviere and he set out to
make a swift end to his spiritual invasion of this territory. He slew
them in a field near a wood and the Church of S. Givinear is said to
mark the spot of the martyrdom and where Gwinear picked up his head
after he had been decapitated and walked carrying it. Later he appeared
to a countryman called Gurr and asked him to bury his body and those who
had died with him which Tendrig had left lying where they had fallen.
The Church of Phillack which is very close to Tendrig's fort is S.
Piala's church and although it is medieval the Chi/Rho set into the wall
over the south door may well come from her time and there is a splendid
ancient cross in the churchyard and several incised stones. It is
generally believed that she died with her brother in the massacre but
some have suggested because of the position of the church that Tendrig
may have repented and given her the land in reparation.
Erc, softened by the Cornish to S. Erth, is the patron of the parish
which adjoins Hayle on the eastern side and is identified by many as the
early disciple of S. Patrick converted at Tara when the apostle had lit
the fire on Slane Hill. This saint is known in Ireland as S. Erc of
Slane and his dates would coincide with those of S. Erth. S. Uny or Uny
in Cornwall, was a relative probably a brother and is the patron of
Lelant and Redruth.
William of Worcester says that ? was sister to Erth and Uny and that she
alone escaped the massacre. Anselm, a monk of S. Michael's Mount tells
the story of how she had intended to join the expedition but found that
her brothers had left her behind. Not to be thwarted she crossed the sea
on a leaf and arrived in advance of Givinear's party. A more reasonable
lord called Dinan gave her land at St Ives, Porth la in the Cornish,
where she is buried. Her tomb in the church was venerated in the Middle
Ages. The story of the leaf and similar stories show that the medieval
writers recognised the miraculous way the Irish managed to cross over to
Britain in the frail crafts