Saint Piran

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Bornc. 5th century
Diedc. 480
Perranzabuloe, Cornwall (possibly)
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodoxy[1]
Anglican Communion
Major shrinePerranzabuloe
Feast5 March[1][2][3][4][5]
PatronageTinners; Cornwall

Piran or Pyran (Cornish: Peran; Latin: Piranus[6]), died c. 480,[1][7][8][9] was a 5th-century Cornish abbot and saint, possibly of Irish origin. He is the patron saint of tin-miners, and is also generally regarded as the patron saint of Cornwall, although Michael and Petroc also have some claim to this title.[note 1][note 2]

The consensus of scholarship has identified the "Life" of Piran as a copy of that of the Irish saint Ciarán of Saigir with the names changed.[3][4][5][12][13][note 3][note 4] While we cannot be certain of Piran’s origins, it is generally accepted that he was Irish, that he spent time in Wales and later was expelled from Ireland because of his powerful preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[15] Having been thrown into the sea tied to a mill stone, he miraculously arrived on the shores of Cornwall where he built his tiny oratory and continued his work of evangelism, founding communities.[15]

Saint Piran's Flag, a white cross on a black background, is the county flag of Cornwall.[16] Saint Piran's Day falls on 5 March.

Suggested Irish origins[edit]

Piran is the most famous of all the saints said to have come to Cornwall from Ireland.[2][3][4][5] By at least the 13th century, since Brittonic languages and Goidelic languages regularly alternate p and k sounds (see the classification of Celtic languages for an explanation), he had become identified as the Irish saint Ciarán of Saigir who founded the monastery at Seir-Kieran in County Offaly.

The Celtic Scholar Charles Plummer suggested that Ciaran of Clonmacnoise was the patron saint of Cornwall, challenging the more broadly accepted belief that he was Ciaran of Saigir. The difference in spelling is for dialect or linguistical reasons between the two Insular Celtic languages. Brytonic was categorized as P-Celtic, as it replaced the harder 'c' or k sound in the Goidelic languages with the softer letter 'p'.[citation needed] On the other hand, Goidelic was seen by scholars as being Q-Celtic, as one of the earliest Ogham inscriptions used a 'Q' represented by Queirt, which was symbolised by the Apple Tree to phonetically pronounce the k sound, although Q was later replaced by the letter 'C' in the Old Irish alphabet.[17][18][19]

The fourteenth-century Life of Saint Piran, probably written at Exeter Cathedral, is a complete copy of an earlier Middle Irish life of Ciarán of Saighir, with different parentage and a different ending that takes into account Piran's works in Cornwall, and especially details of his death and the movements of his Cornish shrine; thus "excising the passages which speak of his burial at Saighir" (Doble). However, there is no shrine to him in Ireland.

5 March is the traditional feast day of both Saint Ciarán of Saighir and Saint Piran.[note 5] However the Calendar of Launceston Church records an alternative date of 18 November for the latter.[21] In Perranzabuloe parish Perran Feast is traditionally celebrated on the last Monday in October. On the previous Sunday there are services at the site of St Piran's Oratory and in the parish church of St Piran.

Views from modern scholars[edit]

  • Charles Plummer suggested that Piran might, instead, be identified with Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, who founded the monastery of Clonmacnoise also in County Offaly, but this is doubtful since this saint is believed to have died of yellow fever at the age of thirty-two and was buried at Clonmacnoise. His father is, however, sometimes said to have been a Cornishman.
  • Joseph Loth, moreover, has argued, on detailed philological grounds, that the two names could not possibly be identical.
  • G. H. Doble thought that Piran was a Welshman from Glamorgan, citing the lost chapel once dedicated to him in Cardiff.
  • David Nash Ford accepts the Ciarán of Clonmacnoise identification, whilst further suggesting that Piran's father in the Exeter life, Domuel, be identified with Dywel ab Erbin, a fifth-century prince of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall).
  • The St Piran Trust has undertaken research which[22] suggests that Piran was either Ciarán of Saighir or a disciple, as indicated by James Brennan of Kilkenny and T. F. G. Dexter, whose thesis is held in the Royal Cornwall Museum.[citation needed]
  • Professor Nicholas Orme writes in his Churches of Medieval Exeter, that "it may well be that Piran was the inspiration for the Kerrian dedication (in Exeter), albeit believed (as Piran usually was) to be identical with Ciarán."[23] Also, the saint of the church in Exeter was Keranus or Kyeranus [Queranus] in Latin documents, with Kerrian being the local vernacular pronunciation.[23][24]


Saint Piran's Flag consists of a white cross on a black field
  • The Irish tied him to a mill-stone, rolled it over the edge of a cliff into a stormy sea, which immediately became calm, and the saint floated safely over the water to land upon the sandy beach of Perranzabuloe in Cornwall. His first disciples are said to have been a badger, a fox, and a bear[25]
  • He landed in Cornwall, and there established himself as a hermit. His sanctity and his austerity won for him the veneration of all around, and the gift of miracles, with which he was favoured, brought many to seek his charitable aid.[2]
  • He was joined at Perranzabuloe by many of his Christian converts and together they founded the Abbey of Lanpiran, with Piran as abbot.
  • Piran 'rediscovered' tin-smelting (tin had been smelted in Cornwall since before the Romans' arrival, but the methods had since been lost) when the tin in his black hearthstone, which was evidently a slab of tin-bearing ore, was smelted out of it and rose to the top in the form of a white cross (thus the image on the flag).[25]

Death and veneration[edit]

Roll of arms of Saint-Piran's family
St Piran's Oratory at Trézilidé, Finistère

Piran was reportedly executed by Theodoric or Tador, King of Cornwall in 480, about the time of Vortigern (Usher's Prim. 869). It is also said that at his death,[note 6] the remains of the Blessed Martin the Abbot which he had brought from Ireland were buried with him at Perranzabuloe.

His own remains were subsequently exhumed and redistributed to be venerated in various reliquaries. Exeter Cathedral was reputed to be the possessor of one of his arms, while according to an inventory, St Piran's Old Church, Perranzabuloe, had a reliquary containing his head and also a hearse in which his body was placed for processionals. In 1443, Cornish nobleman, Sir John Arundell bequeathed money in his will for the preservation of the head of St Piran in the chapel at Perranzabuloe.[26]

The churches at Perranuthnoe and Perranarworthal were dedicated to Piran and holy wells at Perranwell and Probus, Cornwall are named after him. In Brittany St. Peran, Loperan and Saint-Perran are also named after him.[27] The former Methodist chapel at Laity Moor has served as the Orthodox Church of Archangel Michael and Holy Piran since 1996.[28]

The earliest documented link to the design of the St Piran's Flag with Piran is on the coat of arms of the de Saint-Péran or Saint-Pezran (pronounced Péran) family from Cornouaille in Brittany. The earliest evidence known comes from the 15th century, with the arms being De sable à la croix pattée d'argent. (a black shield with a white cross pattée).[29][30]

Mount St. Piran is a mountain in Banff National Park near Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, named after the saint. St Piran's crab, Clibanarius erythropus, was also named in his honour, in 2016.

St Piran's Day[edit]

St Piran's Cross in the dunes at Perranzabuloe

St Piran's Day on 5 March is popular in Cornwall and the term 'Perrantide' has been coined to describe the week prior to this day. Many Cornish-themed events occur in the Duchy and also in areas in which there is a large community descended from Cornish emigrants. The village of Perranporth ('Porthpyran' in Cornish) hosts the annual inter-Celtic festival of 'Lowender Peran', which is also named in honour of him.

The largest St Piran's Day event is the march across the dunes to St Piran's cross which hundreds of people attend, generally dressed in black, white and gold, and carrying the Cornish Flag.[31] A play of the Life of St Piran, in Cornish, has been enacted since 2000 at the event. Daffodils are also carried and placed at the cross. Daffodils also feature in celebrations in Truro, most likely due to their 'gold' colour. Black, white and gold are colours associated with Cornwall due to St Piran's Flag (black and white), and the Duchy Shield (gold coins on black).

In 2006 Cornish MP Dan Rogerson asked the government to make 5 March a public holiday in Cornwall to recognise celebrations for St Piran's Day.[32] In 2010, a short movie about St. Piran was made and premiered at the Heartland Film Festival.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The cult of Saint Michael was largely due to the Norman Earls of Cornwall, while that of Saint Petroc was the most important in the Diocese of Cornwall since he was the founder of the monastery of Bodmin the most important in the diocese and, with St Germans, the seat of the bishops. He was the patron of the diocese and of Bodmin.[10]
  2. ^ According to an article in the 1859 edition of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology:
    • "...St. Ciaran, under the name Piran, [is the patron saint] of more than one church in Cornwall."[11]
  3. ^ Rev. Richard Stanton notes the following in his Menology of England and Wales (1892):
    • "According to Lanigan (Hist., i., 22, and ii., 9), St. Piran is known in Ireland as Kieran of Saigir, and was a pupil of St. Finian in the sixth century. He is generally spoken of as Bishop of Ossory, but the Irish accounts do not mention his going to England."
    • "Queranus, mentioned by Whitford and Wilson on 9 Sep., and honoured in Scotland, is said by Forbes (Kal. of Scottish Saints, p. 435) to be St. Piran of Cornwall. "[2]
  4. ^ "Piran or Kiaran (of Saighir)".[14]
  5. ^ "5 March.- St. Piran's day is a miners' holiday. St. Piran is the patron saint of "tinners," and is popularly supposed to have died drunk. (However, this appears to conflate Piran with St. Pyr of Caldey.)"As drunk as a Piraner" is a Cornish proverb."[20]
  6. ^ "At length, however, worn out with age and infirmity, St Piran called his followers around him, and, having addressed them for the last time, desired a grave to be prepared. He then took leave of them, and, descending into it with calmness, his spirit departed on the 5th day of March, about 480. He rests, continues an old narrative of his life, in Cornwall, on the shore of the Severn sea, fifteen miles from Petroc-stowe or Padstow, and twenty-five from Mousehole (two ancient harbours of Cornwall, the former on the north, and the latter on the south coast)." ("Severn sea" = Bristol channel, but now called Celtic sea.) [9]


  1. ^ a b c Patrons - The Orthodox Church of Archangel Michael and Holy Piran. Oecumenical Patriarchate, Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Laity Moor, Nr Ponsanooth, Cornwall. TR3 7HR. Retrieved: 16 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Rev. Richard Stanton. A Menology of England and Wales, or, Brief Memorials of the Ancient British and English Saints Arranged According to the Calendar, Together with the Martyrs of the 16th and 17th Centuries. London: Burns & Oates, 1892. p. 102.
  3. ^ a b c Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). March 5 - St. Kiaran, or Kenerin, Bishop and Confessor. The Lives of the Saints - Volume III: March ( 1866. Retrieved: 15 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b c "Saint Ciaran of Saigir". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge; Vol. III: Chamier - Draendorf. p. 117.
  5. ^ a b c William Haslam (Rev). Perran-Zabuloe: With an Account of the Past and Present State of the Oratory of St. Piran in the Sands. London: John Van Voorst, Paternoster, 1844. pp.53-56.
  6. ^ St Piran’s Oratory. St Piran Trust. Retrieved: 15 September 2015.
  7. ^ Piran (Pyran) March 5. Orthodox England on the 'net (St John's Orthodox Church, Colchester). Retrieved: 15 September 2015.
  8. ^ Matthew Bunson and Margaret Bunson. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints. Second Edition. Our Sunday Visitor, 2014. pp. 683-684. ISBN 978-1612787169 pp. 683-684.
  9. ^ a b William Haslam (Rev). Perran-Zabuloe: With an Account of the Past and Present State of the Oratory of St. Piran in the Sands. London: John Van Voorst, Paternoster Row, 1844. p. 56.
  10. ^ Caroline Brett, 'Petroc (fl. 6th cent.)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 16 December 2008
  11. ^ "The Irish Monasteries in Germany." Ulster Journal of Archaeology. First Series, Vol. 7 (1859), p. 231.
  12. ^ (in Latin) Horstmann, Carl. "De Sancto Pirano Episcopo Et Confessore." In: Nova Legenda Anglie. VOL. II. Re-edited from the 1516 Edition of Wynkyn de Worde. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1901. pp. 320-328.
  13. ^ Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (M.A.). "S. KIERAN OR PIRAN, AB. OF SAIGIR. (ABOUT A.D. 552.)" In: The Lives of the Saints. Volume the Third: March. London: John C. Nimmo, 1897. pp. 66-72. p. 69.
  14. ^ Horstmann, Carl. Nova Legenda Anglie. Re-edited from the 1516 Edition of Wynkyn de Worde. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1901. p. xxvi.
  15. ^ a b Patrons. The Orthodox Church of Archangel Michael and Holy Piran. Oecumenical Patriarchate, Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Laity Moor, Nr Ponsanooth, Cornwall. TR3 7HR. Wayback Machine: 31 March, 2016. Retrieved: 10 February 2023.
  16. ^ "Flag of Cornwall". The Flag Institute. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  17. ^ "Tree Lore: Apple, Susan Morgan Black, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids".
  18. ^ "The Celts Origins and Background, Some thoughts on the Celts, Desmond Johnson, Knowth".
  19. ^ "Alan Griffiths, Quiert, Ogham, Academia".
  20. ^ M. A. Courtney. "Cornish Feasts and "Feasten" Customs. [Continued]." The Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3 (1886), p. 221.
  21. ^ F. Wormald. "THE CALENDAR OF THE AUGUSTINIAN PRIORY OF LAUNCESTON IN CORNWALL." The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 39, No. 153 (JANUARY 1938), p. 4.
  22. ^ "St Piran Trust". Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  23. ^ a b "St Kerrian". In: Nicholas Orme (Professor). The Churches of Medieval Exeter. Impress Books, 2014. ISBN 9781907605529.
  24. ^ "Devon has a legacy of Celtic Saints." Western Morning News (Plymouth). Tuesday, 2 May 2006. Page 3.
  25. ^ a b "St Pirans Day". St Pirans Day. 4 March 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  26. ^ The Saints of Cornwall, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820765-4; by Nicholas Orme (page 221)
  27. ^ Cornish Church Guide (1925) Truro: Blackford
  28. ^ "Home". Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  29. ^ Guide des drapeaux bretons et celtes (English: Guide of Breton and Celtic flags) by Divi Kervella and Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, published by Yoran Embanner (in French), (2008) ISBN 978-2-916579-12-2
  30. ^ P. POTIER de COURCY, Nobiliaire et armorial de Bretagne, A. Aubry, 1862, p390
  31. ^ "VIDEO: St Piran's day performers defy torrential rain and howling winds | Cornwall Live". 2 March 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  32. ^ St Piran's holiday. BBC News. 2 March 2006, 12:19 GMT. Retrieved: 15 September 2015.


  • Carter, Eileen. (2001). In the Shadow of St Piran
  • Doble, G. H. (1965). The Saints of Cornwall. Dean & Chapter of Truro.
  • Loth, J. (1930). 'Quelques victimes de l'hagio-onomastique en Cornwall: saint Peran, saint Keverne, saint Achebran' in Mémoires de la Société d'Histoire et d'Archéologie de Bretagne.
  • Plummer, Charles. (1922). Betha Naem nErenn
  • Tomlin, E. W. F. (1982). In Search of St Piran
  • Rev. Charles William Boase, M.A. (Fellow and Tutor of Exeter College, Oxford). PIRANUS, ST. In: William Smith and Henry Wace. A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines During the First Eight Centuries. Volume IV: N-Z. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1887. pp. 404–405.

Further reading[edit]

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