Celtic GlorySpiritual


Constantine, Cornwall

Constantine is situated on the north coast of Cornwall. Today’s village is full of well maintained houses many of which are second homes and a large golf course sweeps down to Constantine Bay. The location is idyllic with both Constantine Bay and Treyarnon Bay offering some of the best scenery and beaches in Cornwall. It’s a magnet for surfers and swimmers alike as the wind comes in off the Atlantic Sea forming great waves; truly beautiful location on a sunny day. However, come winter and the brisk Atlantic gales also sweep in across the sand dunes, pounding the land and preventing trees from thriving. On days like this it can be bleak, inhospitable and brutal. Yet this is where a Celtic saint established his prayer hermitage amidst the sand dunes in a slight depression and next to a copious spring. The original name in Cornish was Langostentyn, the ‘lan’ (holy enclosure) of Constantine. The holy well was only uncovered from the sand dunes in 1911 but has had a purpose built covering built to protect it. Legend says  if you drank the waters during dry weather it would bring rain. The nearby chapel is now ruined and covered in undergrowth. It’s unclear how old it is. The saint at Constantine Bay was almost certainly the 'wealthy man' of this name mentioned in the Life of St Petroc. He was converted to Christianity by that holy man at nearby Little Petherick after the deer Constantine was hunting took shelter with him. A Constantine "King of the Cornishmen" also appears in the Life of Saint David as having given up his crown in order to enter this saint's monastery at St David’s in Wales. 

Constantine bay

Constantine was most probably a 6th century Cornish king who became a Christian. There is also a Constantine who entered an Irish monastery but it’s unclear whether it’s a different person with the same name.

Constantine well

We visited for the second time in early September. The golf course was very busy and we had to be careful of flying golf balls. There is a public footpath marked on the OS map to the well and ruined chapel but we were still challenged by the golf course marshall as it is a private golf course. However we said we were visiting the ancient site, which he didn’t seem to be aware of sadly. 

Constantine well
Constantine well
Constantine well

Anyway, we managed to take time to pray down at the holy well and at the ruined chapel. As I walked down the steps into the well enclosure there was an immediate hush of holiness. It was more than just coming down out of the blowy wind but a sense of God, peace, serenity. The water itself is running sparklingly clear and full even though we are in a drought right now. I lingered, not particularly praying but enjoying communion with God and His tangible presence of peace. 

Constantine church

We walked up the neighbouring mound to the chapel ruins. I wasn’t particularly expectant but more curious. However it was here that I found myself praying and worshiping Jesus. There remains such a sense of this being a holy site where Jesus was honoured, so that’s what we did. We praised and prayed once more for Cornwall and the deposit of this place to be released once more.

Constantine church

A little further history can be found on constantinecornwall.com. As with most hagiography there are differing opinions and it’s hard to unpick sometimes but I like this account.

“Once Roman Britain had accepted Christianity Constantine became a popular name. Most sources state that our saint was, at first, a wild and violent man and may even have committed murder, but after his conversion he put away his sword and became a monk and missionary. One legend associates him with St. Petroc and the building of his monastery at Padstow, and a few miles south of Padstow, just inland from Constantine Bay on the north coast, are the ruins, and a holy well, of the only other church (other than the one in the village built on a ‘lan’ a Celtic Christian site) in Cornwall to be dedicated to St. Constantine. Most of it has been overwhelmed by sandstorms but the font, of catacleuse stone, was removed to St. Merryn Church, the parish church nearby.

Similar legends in Wales, Ireland and Scotland remember Constantine as king, monk and martyr. The Feast of St. Constantine is observed on March 9th or the Sunday nearest. The name was known locally as Constenton or Constentan until recent times.

One legend claims that St. Constantine was a nephew of King Arthur to whom he bequeathed his crown when he was mortally wounded. There was a Constantine, King of Dumnonia (a kingdom which comprised Devon and Cornwall) mentioned by some early historians as living around the middle of the sixth century or earlier.