Piran’s family origins are obscure; tradition says he came from Ireland. Spent his youth in south Wales where he founded a church in Cardiff. Received religious schooling at the monastery of Saint Cadog at Llancarfon, where he met Saint Finnian of Clonard. The two returned together to Ireland where Finnian founded six monasteries, including his most famous one at Clonard. Piran lived there before Saint Enda on Aran Island, and then Saint Senan on Scattery Island. He founded his own community at Clonmacnoise, “Ireland’s University”.
Cornish legend says Piran was captured in his old age by pagan Irish, jealous of his miraculous powers, especially his ability to heal. They tied a millstone around his neck, and threw him off a cliff into the sea during a storm. As Piran hit the water the storm abated and the millstone bobbed to the surface like a cork. On his stone raft, Piran sailed for Cornwall, landed at Perran Beach, built a small chapel on Penhale Sands, and made his first converts – a badger, a fox, and a bear. He lived there for years as a hermit, working miracles for the locals.
Piran founded churches at Perran-Uthno and Perran-Arworthal, a chapel at Tintagel, and a holy-well called the “Venton-Barren” at Probus. He made trips to Brittany where he worked with Saint Cai. Arthurian tradition from Geoffrey of Monmouth says he was chaplain to King Arthur, and Archbishop of York after Saint Samson was exiled by Saxon invasions, though it is doubtful he ever took up his See.
Piran’s patronage of Cornwall derives from his popularity with the Cornish tin-miners. Legend says that Piran discovered tin in Cornwall when he used a large black rock to build a fireplace, and found that the heat made a trickle of pure white metal ooze from the stone. He shared this discovery with the locals, providing the Cornish with a lucrative living. The people were so delighted that they held a sumptuous feast where the wine flowed like water. Piran was fond of the odd tipple, resulting in the Cornish phrase “As drunk as a Perraner”. The trickled of white metal upon a black background remains as the White Cross of Saint Piran on the Cornish National flag.
Piran died at his little hermitage near the beach. His relics were a great draw to pilgrims but, due to inundation by the sands, they were moved inland to the parish church of Perran-Zabulo, built to house them
- Book of Saints, by the Monks of Ramsgate
- Kirken i Norge
- Medieval Religion Listserv, by John Dillon
- Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints
- Project Britain
- “Saint Piran“. Saints.SQPN.com. 5 March 2013. Web. 22 May 2013. <>