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News Archive > General > Who was St Piran? A guide to Cornwall’s patron saint

Who was St Piran? A guide to Cornwall’s patron saint

By Kirstie Newton 3rd March 2021

Who was St Piran? A guide to Cornwall’s patron saint
Scenes from last years St Piran´s Day procession in Perranporth

St Piran was born in sixth-century Ireland. He studied in Rome, then returned to his homeland to be made bishop.

Legend has it that his miraculous healing powers made him extremely popular with common folk but angered the Irish king, who had him cast out to sea tied to a millstone.

However, instead of sinking and drowning, Piran floated and landed at Perranporth, on Cornwall’s north coast, where he established his oratory.

His first followers in Cornwall were said to be a fox, a badger and a boar, but he was soon joined by fellow Christians in numbers sufficient to found the Abbey of Lanpiran. Although St Piran’s buildings were covered by sand, in 2014 money was raised to dig out the oratory.

Skeletons were unearthed which were proved to date back to 800AD. St Piran is also credited with the discovery of tin, and with teaching the Cornish how to extract it by smelting its ore.

This act gave Cornwall its national flag: the white cross represents the stream of tin emerging from its black ore, as well as the association of the Christian light shining through the darkness.

As the patron saint of tin miners, St Piran travelled with the Cornishmen who emigrated in search of work during the late 19th century; there are sure to be many Cousin Jacks tuning into this year’s online celebrations.

Like many Cornish folk, St Piran is rumoured to have been fond of a pint, and to have met his end by falling down a well while under the influence – hence the phrase “as drunk as a Perraner”, which is often used this side of the Tamar.

Ordinarily, celebrations around this time include parades in towns across Cornwall, with Cornish pipers, dancing and St Piran flags fluttering proudly.

In Truro, the parade ends with rousing speeches on the cathedral steps at High Cross; at Penhale Sands, close to Perranporth, the St Piran Play takes place on the Sunday closest to March 5, including a procession across the dunes to St Piran’s Oratory, and reenactments of scenes from his life. 

By Kirstie Newton 3rd March 2021

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