Padstow is Petroc’s lasting memorial. A contraction of Petrocstow, it is the name given to it by the Saxons. Petroc is probably the most influential of Cornwall’s saints, although he was born a member of one of the royal houses of South Wales, probably Gwent. He was the uncle of Cadoc (see September 25th). He was very young when he first became a monk and spent about twenty years in Ireland studying. Later he and his companions were called to Cornwall and settled at Petrocstow on the Camel estuary. When they arrived there Petroc asked someone for a drink of water, but was told to look for it himself. Ignoring the unfriendly welcome, he struck the ground with his staff three times, and water gushed out. They worked in the surrounding countryside, and later, through gifts of land, the monastery came to own much of the area around. The monks’ diet there is described in the Life of Petroc as being ‘bread and water, with porridge on Sundays’.
Petroc also had a cell at Little Petherick (‘Petroc’s little homestead’) two miles south of Padstow. The Life says he built a little mill nearby, fed by the water of a creek which flows into the Camel. He spent much time standing up to his neck in the water, reciting the Psalms.
Two stories are told about Petroc and dragons. In one he showed kindness to a dragon by taking a splinter from its eye. In the other he banished the last dragon from Cornwall. It was terrorising the people in and around Padstow, so he bound his belt around it, led it into the sea and allowed it to swim away. The Padstow ‘’Obby ‘Oss’ celebrations every May 1st may have their origin in this story, but the hero has become the much more well-known St George, rather than Petroc.
In old age Petroc travelled with some companions to what is now Bodmin Moor to meet a hermit named Guron, who lived by a fast-flowing spring in a green, sheltered valley. Guron left his house to the monks and travelled to a place near St. Austell. Petroc stayed in the house as a hermit and his companions founded a small community on a nearby hilltop. Petroc saved a deer that was being hunted, by hiding it under his cloak. When the hunting party arrived they were so impressed by the hermit’s holiness, purity and powerful message that they all became Christians.
Petroc realised that his death was drawing near and he journeyed to say farewell to all his communities. Taking rest in the home of a man named Rovel and his family at Little Petherick, also known as Petroc Minor, he died on June 4th 564. A farm in the vicinity still commemorates Rovel in its name, Treravel. Petroc’s body was taken to Padstow for burial, but was later moved to Bodmin, by the eleventh century a pilgrimage site for him. His relics were stolen by a Breton priest in 1177 and taken to St Méen in Brittany, but they were recovered and returned to Bodmin Priory through the intervention of Henry II of England, who was also overlord of Brittany. At some point Petroc’s remains were placed within an ivory casket, richly decorated in the Arabian style. The casket and remains were removed and the relics lost, but the casket was recovered by nineteenth century excavators and, in 1957, it was placed in Bodmin parish church. Unfortunately his staff and bell, the latter lost before the reign of Henry I, have never been found. A pilgrim way, ‘The Saints’ Way’, begins at the south door of Padstow parish church and runs to Fowey.
Lord, just as Petroc had no idea of his life’s course, but trusted You for every step, give me the same trust that You will direct me and use me to bring Your blessings to those I meet on the journey, wherever You take me. Amen.