St Piran: The Patron Saint of Tin Miners

March 4, 2016 by becca.lazar No Comments

st pirans

St Piran washed up on the shores of Cornwall in the 6th Century, having been thrown from the cliffs of Ireland with a millstone round his neck. According to the legend, his miraculous deeds caused tribal elders to become jealous of his powers and influence, the solution being to throw him from the highest cliff into the sea. Lightning shattered the sky and thunder roared as he fell. But as he reached the sea all grew calm and they watched St Piran float happily towards Cornwall.

After days at sea, St Piran was eventually washed ashore at Perranporth, Perran being an alternative spelling of Piran. Immediately, he began to gather disciples to him and built an oratory in the dunes overlooking the beach. It’s said that his first disciples were a boar, a fox and a badger, but soon people came from all around to listen to him preach.

St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall and it is from his banner that we have taken the Cornish flag. The white on black colouring links to the tale of St Piran rediscovering tin. A black stone he had used on his fire issued forth a silver liquid and hooray, St Piran invented tin mining (in reality, the Cornish had been mining tin before this time). So the white cross came to represent tin and the black background the ore from which it came.

As well as bringing early Christianity to the Cornish and being a worker of miracles, St Piran was known to enjoy a few drinks. Yet, despite this implication of alcoholism, he lived to the ripe old age of 206 and only met his end falling head first into a well. If drink was involved in his death, time has erased all evidence.

In 1835 the oratory at Perranporth was excavated and in 1843 a new alter built with a slab inscribed ‘Sanctus Piranus’. But being exposed to the windswept conditions of the dunes, the walls began to warp and break apart, so a concrete preserving structure was erected around the chapel.

The oratory remained a shrine for much of the 20th Century, but due to lack of funding and damage, the decision was taken to rebury the structure in 1980, so St Piran’s works were once again committed to the dunes. But now the oratory has surfaced again and is accessible to the public.

St Piran’s Day is celebrated across Cornwall tomorrow, on the 5th of March. In Falmouth a St Piran’s Day parade will take place from 10.00am to 11.40am featuring brass bands, the Furry Dance and Cornish story telling.

Over in Redruth they will be holding a St Piran’s Day Festival from 11.00 to 3.00pm, featuring live music, tin panning, craft fairs and photography exhibitions in the Cornish Studies Library.

In Truro there will be a St Piran’s market along with entertainment from Cornish performers. In the evening there will be a St Piran’s concert, which I’m sure will feature the comedy of Kernow king and a liberal amount of Trelawny singing. Tickets are £10 and include a bowl of that very Cornish dish: chili.

On the Sunday the annual St Piran’s play takes place in the dunes of Perranporth. The play produced by the St Piran Trust, takes place in Perranporth crossing the dunes to St Piran’s Cross. Hundreds of people gather, generally dressed in black, white and gold, the colours of Cornwall, carrying the Cornish Flag.

You can take part in this celebration of Cornwall’s distinct identity by joining the spectators who walk over the dunes and watch the play acted out in three parts. Dozens of actors and musicians portray the stages of St Piran’s life from his birth in Ireland, his arrival in Cornwall, his miraculous discovery of tin and his Christian ministry in Kernow.





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