Celtic GlorySpiritual

St Piran's Oratory

St Piran's Oratory Chapel

What an extraordinary place. This is St Piran’s prayer oratory, one of the oldest Christian sites in the country! How do you get your head around the fact Piran came over from Ireland in the 500s AD, established a living, praying community here on the sands at Penhale and his building still exists, his memory still exists and his name is all over the place: Perranwell, Perranporth, Perranazabuloe, Perranaworthal and so it goes on. He must have been extraordinary to leave behind such a legacy.

Dunes st Piran’s oratory

Over the centuries as you can see from the photos, the sand and sea have encroached. At one stage the whole site was buried under sand for centuries as the dunes moved. Rediscovered in the 1800s, re-buried in concrete to protect, then exposed and restored more recently. Sadly it is now encased in very ugly blocks, to try to prevent sand burying it again and the water table has risen to drown the inside but…it’s still here. A testament to courageous believers willing to lay their all down to share the good news about Jesus to anyone who would listen.

St Piran’s oratory 1

Throughout the Middle Ages there were relics of St Piran still at the nearby 12th century church. This was built after the original site was consumed by sand. According to the sign by the ruins of this church, these relics were paraded on occasions around Cornwall; quite a strange idea to our modern minds. The sign continues, 'The relics included a reliquary (box) bound with iron holding Piran's skull, a silver scutella (a saucer or bowl) a pastoral staff covered with silver, gold and jewels, a silver cross, a copper bell, a cross of St Piran made of bone and a shrine which held the body of the saint.'

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A helpful sign at the prayer oratory also tells us a little about Piran.

'According to legend, Piran was born in Ireland in the 6th century. Angering the jealous king of Leinster with his miraculous deeds and popularity, he was tied to a millstone and cast into the sea. The millstone floated towards the Cornish shore and he landed at Perran sands, now Perranporth, where he established his oratory in the sand dunes. Before we totally dismiss this as fictious I'm reminded that in the Bible God caused an iron ax head to float! 2 Kings 6:6

There is controversy as to who exactly Piran was, some saying he is St Ciaran of Saighir whilst others identify him as St Ciaran of Clonmacnoise who founded that monastery. (C and P were interchangeable in the Celtic languages at that time). The St Piran Trust hold with the former identity.

Legends surrounding him include that he preached to all creatures and that his first disciples were a badger, a fox and a bear. Whilst my friend and I were there, her newly adopted dachshund suddenly came and pushed himself into me as I worshipped and prayed. So, I stroked him and prayed for him to be peaceful. It was behaviour he hadn't exhibited before. Perhaps Piran's anointing remains.

Initially after landing he lived as a hermit in an austere lifestyle. Looking at the sand dunes at Penhale this is easy to believe. It's inhospitable as a landscape. However, he had the gift of miracles and this led people to seek him out for help. As a result many Christian converts joined him at Penhale and he founded a community of believers.

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He is perhaps best remembered for rediscovering tin when his black hearthstone leaked tin as it heated up. The silver metal became liquid and the smelting of tin was rediscovered, a skill that had been lost. As a result 'he is the patron saint of tinners and the people of Cornwall acknowledge St Piran's flag as their national banner, with the white cross on a black background said to signify the white tin coming out of the black ore and the light of truth shining in the darkness.'

On this visit my friend and I stopped to linger, to pray, to worship…as we often do. What a presence of God and holiness still remains. Incredible. As I worshipped (which was instant and easy, the adoration being pulled out of my spirit) I was enveloped in a peaceful hush that went beyond the natural surroundings. It continued when dog walkers called to their animals, it continued when a plane flew overhead, it pushed out all natural sources of noise and brought with it the presence of holiness, of God, of angels. A deep desire to pray in intercession flooded over me. Gratitude that Piran came to Cornwall all those centuries ago, an awareness of prayers still to be answered down the centuries, a deep cry for the fire of God to light up our hearts once more with that radical belief that God cares and wants to be involved in our lives. Then I could sense an angel, a red angel, kneeling with his sword firmly implanted downwards in the earth. He seemed to be kneeling in the centre of the church ruin. A warmth flooded the air, several degrees warmer than the surrounding air, the very presence of God drew near to us as we honoured and drew near to him. I've visited many of these Christian Celtic sites. I've prayed in many. I've been to St Piran's Oratory a few times now and there's something very profound lingering here. To say it's a 'thin place' in the sense these Christian believed is no understatement. It is holy and it is sacred. It may be a ruin. It may be misunderstood by most who pass by. It may seem a curiosity to the casual tourist. Yet, the prayers of those who have prayed here down the centuries permeate the place and yes, God draws near. I've no idea why it's easier to experience His closeness here than in other places, but maybe that's just another mystery which is unfathomable but it's undeniable that He responds to faith.

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The icing on the cake during this visit was watching three Cornish choughs flying up over the modern cross on the hill, calling to each other. The rare bird is an emblem of Cornwall  and here it was at the very site of Cornwall’s Saint and just two days after the county celebrated St Piran’s day on March 5th,( hence the daffodils in the ancient cross). A parade in his honour still walks to the site every year to commemorate with all things ‘Cornish’ including kilts and bagpipes.