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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 animals.

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 Reformation.

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 Clergy.

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 Church.

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 today.

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.

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