Saint Petrock

Homepage - churches - Bodmin Church

There is no Cornish Saint whose life story would be greater historical interest than St Petrock. He has given his name, not only to the ancient town of Padstow (Petrockstow), and to 27 parishes in Devon and Cornwall, but probably to the ancient hundred of Pydar, which means Petrock's-shire. he was the founder of the Monastery at Bodmin, which was the religious capital of Cornwall down the middle ages. But he was also one of the saints of Devon, where there are many more churches under his patronage than in Cornwall. In Somerset he is the patron of Timberscomb. It is clear the Petrock was the apostle of the whole of the ancient kingdom of Damnonia. His cult carried over to Brittany, and it is because of his popularity in Brittany that his interesting life has been preserved for us.

Petrock born by nation a Welshman of royal stock named by his parents after St Peter "on this rock I will build my church" therefore Rock (petra) Petrocus. He was handsome in appearance, courteous in his speech, prudent, simpleminded, modest, humble, "a cheerful giver" and attained by watchful care the wisdom of riper years.

At the death of his father .( who could of been Gluigius (Glywys) in the life of St Cadoc it is mentioned that at his death nine of his children divided their fathers kingdom amongst them Pedrog the fourth would not receive his portion but took up a transitory for an everlasting inheritance ) the nobles of the whole province, with unanimous acclamation of the people, demanded Petrock as their king, by hereditary right in the place of the king just dead.But he, not caring for high place chose to "entangle himself with the affairs of this life".

Note.- Glywys is the same name as Gluvias the patron of the parish containing the town of Penryn.

Petrock accordingly called together his retainers and carefully explained to them what he had resolved in his mind to do, asking themselves also to follow whatever course he decided on. They all agreed to commit themselves and their fortunes to his disposal.

After his youth accompanied by sixty nobles (palatini) hastened to the church, where they assumed the clerical state and put on the new habit required by the religion of monastic order. After leaving the church it seemed good for the servants of God to go to Ireland, because Learning there flourished.

In Ireland he visited, as a native rather than a stranger (vix advena), all the famous seats of study and religion, and learn to be a disciple of the truth. During the space of twenty years, constant training in divine not human letters until they surpassed the greatest teachers.

After this training the servant of God rejoicing soberly in the special gift of knowledge and fullness of learning to which he has attained, revealed to his band of disciples that he proposed, if they thought fit to sail to the shores of Western Britain.

Account in the Life of Petroc.

In searching for a ship they found on the shore the ship that they had travelled to Ireland those many years before having been in the merciful care of God still perfect and uninjured in any part. At the command of Petrock they hauled up the sails to the top of the mast and as they had no sailing training it was by some miraculous intervention that the intervening space if ocean was crossed in a very short time, and the ship arrived at a calm haven.

Account John of Tynmouth C1366,

Somewhere in the middle of the sixth century after Christ a boat of wicker work, covered with hide (a sea going coracle) sailed into the estuary of the Camel. It came from Ireland the land of civilisation and religion, and carried Petroc and his three companions, Croidan, Medan, and Dagan He landed just above the town of Petrockstow, or Padstow the called Laffenac or Lodenic.

Close to the shore, by the river Haile (Haile or heyl is the ordinary Cornish word for a tidal estuary) a certain Samson, a worthy servant of God, had a habitation in the wilderness. This man, with zealous self -denial and continual prayers, offered himself with much penitential discipline as a living sacrifice God. It happened on this day he had gone to till the land when , turning his eyes to sea he saw a ship, an stood astonished to see with what extraordinary speed it was advancing in the water.

The river estuary being that of the Camel near Padstow.

When the disciples had landed Petrock saw some reapers close by in the fields, he asked them as a stranger would what religion they were. But being uncivilised they answered him rudely and told him the heat of the work had made them thirsty, and they would be glad if he could cause a fountain of fresh water to spring out of one of the rocks it was probably their intention of making fun of the stranger to test his sanctity. Petrock struck the rock with the staff he was carrying and immediately a fountain of the purest water sprung up before their eyes, and from it has never ceased to flow a most salubrious stream. They were marvelled at this, and when Petrock asked if there was any religious person in the province they pointed out to him the afore said Sampson. Petrock walked towards Sampson praying that he would not depart the place until he could speak to him. Immediately Sampsons limbs turned to stone and he was unable to put his hands to the instrument that was turning the soil. Meanwhile Saint Petrock had reached him and at the voice of his salutation Samson was freed of his stone like rigidity, and after they had exchanged the kiss of peace, he gave thanks to the Glory of God for the virtue and the holiness w which had been revealed in this miracle.

Note.-St Samson had a cell in what is now the garden of Prideaux Place.

After Petrock had a short conference with Sampson, receiving permission to depart, he turned his steps towards the cell of Bishop Wethmoc (Wethinoc of St Gildas Legendary) which Sampson had pointed out to him. Wethnoc received him with courtesy, and entertained both him and his companions honourably in the true spirit of hospitality. Next morning Petrock resolved to make a permanent stay in that place, and approaching Wethnoc saying he honestly desired leave to live with him. The bishop gladly agreed and promised of his own accord to make over a cell to him altogether, because he was confident that Petrock was the very man that the ancient prophecy current in that neighbourhood had foretold that a man would come from Ireland to magnify the name ofour Lord Jesus Christ far and near above the merits of the highest sanctity. He asked however , and obtained , that the place in memory of him should be called by his name. Wherefore in the language of that nation it is called Landuvethnoch (probably the original name for Padstow i.e Lodenic Laffenac must be corruption's of Lanwethnoc or Lan of Wethnoc) to this day.

Petrock is also spoken of visiting Docco (St Kew).

Bishop Wethnoc therefore with his men departed, rejoicing that he had been worthy to prepare a place of habitation for the man of God, and the blessed Petrock entered the cell with his disciple, and there for thirty full years he lived, and led so innocent life that he did to none what he would not should be done to himself, and so inflicted his body with vigils and endurance of cold that, to repress the unlawful motions of concupiscence, he often plunged himself into the middle of a torrent and stood there naked from cockcrow to dawn. Although indeed he practised such frugality as was sufficient of its self to conquer the longings of the flesh. For by constant abstinence he had tamed the pleasure and taste that he had not only did not seek for delicious food, but rejoiced on a diet of bread only. With the exception of Sunday's when out of reverence of the Lords resurrection he tasted sparingly of a little pulse.

Note.-William of Malmesbury tells us that "the seat of the Cornish bishopric was at St Petrock the Confessor's.. The place is in the territory of the Northern Britons on the sea by the river which is called Hegelmithe". (Hegelmithe of course = Haylemouth being the river mouth of the camel). The monks may of moved to Bodmin at a later date to avoid piratical attacks. In fact there is a reference in Fowey Church notes as follows --- St Finn Barr's church replaced an earlier one, that of St Goran (or Guron) who probably left his cell at Bodmin when St Petroc arrived, established a church at Fowey and finally settled at Goran (Celtic Christianity was an influence in Cornwall long before the Roman missionaries arrived in Britain in A.D. 597).

After so many years of strict abstinence the servant of the Lord Petrock set out on a journey to Rome, for the sake of devotion.

When he returned thence having observed everything which the pious customs of Pilgrimage enjoined. When he had come to new Town on the border of Cornwall (Cornubia) it came to pass that a storm of wind and rain had converted the roads into rivers and rendered them impassable., and while those whom travelled with Petrock were complaining about the weather, Petrock told them to cease their complaining for the next day would be fine, and they would have a prosperous journey. But the next day arrived and the storm did not cease. Which when the servant of God saw, he began to be sorrowful, and to accuse himself of presumption because he had promised what Gods providence had not ordained. When the tempest ceased the third day, and his companions wished to proceed with the journey, Petrock announced that he was going on a pilgrimage to Rome, because he had been to rash with his tongue and prophesied falsely. They consented albeit with regret and after exchanging the kiss of charity they separated with tears, and so they returned to Cornwall and he set out for Rome.

Petrock stayed in Rome for such time as he judged sufficient duty (of pilgrimage) after the custom of pilgrims, and then in turn visited the most famous places of saints of happy memory, till he came to Jerusalem to the Lords Sepulchre. Thus he fulfilled the task he had undertaken without mishap, but the thirst and hunger, sweat, and cold, and night watches, which he had endured for the name of Christ on the way he counted as delights.

Upon leaving Jerusalem, he turned his steps to the East to the furthest bounds of India, after many perils from robbers and rivers arrived at the Eastern Ocean, overcome by extreme fatigue, he fell asleep on the shore. Awaking from sleep Petrock saw a vessel borne towards him on the sea, full of light within, large enough to only hold one man. Beholding the vessel of clemency of the Almighty had prepared for him . Petrock confidently entered it, and was wafted across (the ocean) by the sole movement of the sea, without oar or rower, and joyfully reached a certain island. Here for seven years he lad a contemplative life, in the company of holy men whom he had found there, nourished only by a single fish placed before him from time to time by the divine will at suitable hours.

When the seven years had passed behold! the angel of the Lord stood before him in a vision as he slept, and spoke to him saying, " Come now Petrock servant of God depart hence for the Lord at Whose bidding that fish on which He feed for seven years still remains whole and entire (commands thee to depart) and the very vessel in which thou wast brought hither is at hand for thy use. And when thou hast crossed the sea, thou shalt find the staff that thou hadest left with the sheepskin, with a wolf guarding it which the Lord has prepared thee for a companion for thy journey, to go before thee and lead thee safely till thou comest to familiar regions, where many shall be rejoiced by thy merits". He therefore at the angels admonition, departed, and finding everything according as had been told him by the angel, he came to Western Britain, where his followers received him.

There reigned at that time Teudur, a cruel and fierce man who, to punish thieves and criminals, had with savage cruelty caused various serpents and all kinds of noxious worms to be collected in a marshy lake. At his death, his son who succeeded him in the kingdom by hereditary right, forbade this kind of torment to be inflicted on men, and the hungry reptiles, turning against each other, destroyed one another by frequent attacks with livid tooth, so that only one of their number remained a horrible monster of enormous size who tore to pieces cattle and men in fearful fashion with his savage jaws. When the news of this reach Petrock, he boldly approached the monster, determined to conquer him, armed with the invincible shield of faith, in conjunction with Wetroc and Sampson. he bound him with a handkerchief, and was leading him to the sea, when petrock met a party of 300 men carrying amid lamentations the lifeless body of the prince's son, to fulfil the rites of burial, according to the custom of the country. They were terrified at the sight of the monster, and some fell prostrate on the ground like dead men, others trembling where they stood were hardly able to carry the bier. Petrock therefore compassionating the mourners, kneeled and prayed, and having implored the clemency of the Almighty restored all their strength, and raised to life again the young man (Ephebus) whom they had been bearing as a corpse. Then , while they were rejoicing in the praises of God, the saint commanded the monster which had been bound to hurt no one anymore and to depart to the solitude's beyond the seas.

Returning Petrock appointed Dom Peter (Domonum Petrum) a most religious man whom he had lately received into the faith as Prior over the eighty brethren over whom he had ruled, conferring his own authority upon him.

Petrock continued for some time worshipping God and performing miracles. But continually longing for heavenly things, after inflicting his body to such rigour full of days departed to God on the day before nones of June (4th June) 564.

The sacred body therefore worn out with fastings and vigils, is committed to dust, and the bosom of Abraham receives his spirit. At his tomb miracles frequently take place, and his bones albeit dry, retain the power of his virtues.

1177-A Breton priest called Martin who had become "canon of the Abbey of Bothmenia" (Bodmin) stole the body of St Petrock from Bodmin immediately after the feast of the Epiphany and escaping across the sea to Brittany gave it to the Abbey of St Meen (Mewan).

Roger prior of Bodmin appealed to King Henry II who at that moment was overlord of Brittany. At the kings order Rolland of Dinan took a party of Soldiers to St Meen and required the monks to surrender the sacred body. As they "were unwilling to incur the wrath of the king, they handed over the body to Roger on the Sunday after Pentecost June 19th by the abbot and monks of the church of St Meen who swore on the relics of the same church that they had not kept back any part of the body. Roger brought back the body in an ivory shrine (which can still be seen to this day)

Note -The abbey of St Meen celebrated the feast of St Petrock as late as the 17th Century.

Everything points to Petrock being a contemporary of St Sampson St Mevennus of (Meen) in Britany was a disciple of St Sampson.

Saint Petrocks Bell-Like every Celtic saint St Petrock has a portable bell which was regarded with great veneration long after his death. Manumissions of slaves took place in its presence. On one occasion it was sent to Liskeard that a pious lady might free her slaves. "This woman was named Aelfgyth, whom Aethaelflaed freed for her own soul and for the soul of her lord Aethtaelwerd the Duke".

Note.-King Eldred (died 955) "confirmed to the Prior and Canons of Bodmin and their successors for ever the manor of Newton, with its appurtenances, in the county of Devon, free of all services except prayers to God. ("New Town on the border of Cornwall" the later is Newton St Petrock in North Devon 10 miles east of the Cornish border )


Homepage - churches - Bodmin Church