Crosses, Cornish Saints and Holy Wells in Cornwall
Cornwall is a Celtic land, sharing a common identity with such places
as Brittany, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
During the Dark Ages, in the 6th century AD, the Celtic Saints came to
and as we can still see today, left their mark on it in its place names,
churches and chapels, crosses and holy wells, found across the whole of
Cornwall, or as it was then, part of Dumnonia, lay on the route between
Wales and Brittany (Armorica). Landing at Padstow on the north coast or
Fowey on the south, the Christian missionaries and pilgrims would cross
Cornwall, sometimes travelling in groups. This network of paths has now
been re-instituted as a walking route known as The Saints Way.
Saints of Cornwall
St Piran, an Irish missionary landed on Cornwall's north coast and
established his church, the oratory, at Perranzabuloe in the early 6th
century. Numerous churches and holy wells throughout Cornwall have been
dedicated to him from his first church which now lies preserved beneath
the sands at Penhale, Perranporth to Perranwell, Perranarworthal and
Holy Wells dedicated to him are at Callestick, Perranzabuloe and
Perranarworthal. Piran or Perran is Cornwall's patron saint and is also
credited with the discovery of tin smelting.
St Petroc, another famous Cornish Saint, landed at Lanwethinoc, todays
Padstow, around 520AD. Padstow was known for a time as Petroc-stow The
churches of Padstow and Bodmin are dedicated to him as is the Holy Well at
Bodmin. Trevalga, between Tintagel and Boscastle and Egloshayle near
Wadebridge are also dedicated to him. Legend tells that near his burial
place is a Holy Well which has curative properties for the eyes.
These are just two of the most well known Cornish Saints, Cornwall has
over 250 parish churches, many of them founded by or dedicated to the
Celtic missionaries who came to Cornwall more than 1,500 years ago, over
600 ancient crosses have been catalogued of various styles with the oldest
bearing the chi-rho monogram dating from the 5th and 6th centuries; and
nearly 200 holy wells.
There are a number of different types of Cornish Cross: Wheal-headed or
Round Crosses, Pillar or Slab Crosses, Latin Crosses, Lantern Crosses and
Holed Crosses. Some crosses are highly ornamented while others bear no
ornamentation at all.
Churchyard Crosses: Stone Crosses were erected in the 'lan' or sacred
enclosure of the burial ground in which the Saints established their
churches. The 'lan' would often have pre-dated the building of the church
which now stands on them.
Wayside Crosses: Many Crosses in Cornwall often served as route markers
guiding the faithful traveller and pilgrims crossing Cornwall to visit
their parish churches, chapels and other sites of pilgrimage. The parish
church could be miles away from some of the tiny hamlets. Visiting the
church would be a long walk which could cross fields, moorland and all
kinds of unmarked terrain making a route marker very necessary.
Boundary Crosses: Many crosses in Cornwall mark the boundaries of parishes
Memorial Crosses: Inscribed stones and inscribed crosses also occur in
Cornwall, most often in the north and east of Cornwall but not
exclusively. The King Doniert Stone at St Cleer is a fine example.
Market/Village Crosses: There are few of these in Cornwall. St Ewe, in
south Cornwall has the remains of one example.
Ancient crosses are found throughout Cornwall. Some are easy to find and
are located in easily accessable places, while for the more adventurous
explorer, there are those cross sites which require a good map and
guidebook and a walk into Cornwall's quieter hidden areas, of leafy lanes,
moorland streams and rugged rocky moors.
Holy Wells of Cornwall
Holy Wells are associated with the Cornish Saint to whom they are
dedicated. Many of them are believed to be curative for specific
illnesses, while others are generally restorative and some are thought to
have divinative powers.
Guidebooks are available which list the Holy Well sites, nearly 200 of
them, and directions for finding them. Visiting the Holy Wells in Cornwall
will take you into hidden corners of Cornwall away from the busy tourist
centres to explore secluded, peaceful havens frozen in time where you can
experience something of the feeling which these sites would have inspired
in their original visitors many centuries ago.
Three of the most beautiful Holy Wells in Cornwall are the Well of St
Clether in the parish of St Clether in North Cornwall, the Well of St
Keyne and Dupath Holy Well.
For more information about the Parish Churches, Holy Wells and Crosses of
Cornwall visit our A-Z of Cornwall, where you will find information in our
index of town and individual site pages.
The map (online soon) shows the locations of just a few of Cornwall's ancient Crosses
and Holy Wells.
Why not visit Cornwall to experience the sites for yourself.
Map of Crosses, Saints & Holy Wells locations in Cornwall
Use the + scale on the left of the map to zoom in on an area. Click on a marker to see the name of the location and click the box to go to the information about that place. To zoom out click - on the scale.