St Piran's Cross

Eileen Carter's Photo Exhibition

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Davies Gilbert 1820

"Thousands of teeth and human bones, even whole skeletons lie in exposed in regular order."

Sir Paul Molesworth July 1863

The bones were taken by me, out of the altar tomb, when the stone, erected by Rev. Haslam had been overthrown, about the time of the visit of the Cambrian archaeological society in 1862. I restored the stone to its place and buried the bones.

St Piran's Oratory

West Briton Dec.1861
People dug up skulls. All around the church, but especially on the south side, were graves of the old inhabitants, now obliterated by the sand. It has been a constant practice ever since public curiosity was directed to this ancient cemetery and Church, for persons to come here and dig up the bones of the dead. Now they would carry off three or four skulls now a dozen teeth, then a thigh bone etc. day after day and year after year. It is well known that many people in respectable class of life have boasted of their success in this new kind of oryctology.

18/08/1904 Centenary St Piran in the Sands
The event was made known, not only in the neighbourhood but to the large number of visitors who flock to Cornwall in August. It was decided on an open air service at the Cross, a fitting spot. At 2-3pm vehicles made their way from every direction. A great number on foot streamed across the pathless wastes, towards the hoary old monument of Celtic Christianity.
Men and boys of Truro Cathedral Choir led the singing. Messrs. H&N Robins of Perran ably accompanied with 2 cornets. At 3.30pm robed clergy and choir arrived at the Cross followed by the Dean and Chaplain, The Rev Canon Flint, rural dean of Powder. The service conducted by the vicar, Rev Edwardes, opened with “O God our help in ages past” taken up by the vast body of voices, the people being gathered around the cross in ring after ring as far as the eye could reach. Then behaviour of the multitude itself was reverence, many standing bareheaded in the sun which lit up the yellow sand hills and green vegetation around.

The bishop addressed the people from a small platform near the Cross, he took no text for his remarks. The place on which they stood, the ancient cross round which they gathered, symbol of that faith preached on that spot, so many years ago, was text enough for him and them. The crowds slowly dispersed, many of them making a pilgrimage to the lost church on their way home. estimates vary, between 1000 -2000, but counting was exceedingly difficult under the circumstances. Perhaps 1500 is a more reasonable conjective.

The following clergy were present:-

Canon Flint
Rev. Buck
Rev. Hulme
Rev. Young
Rev. Smart
Rev. Lewis
Rev. Perry
Rev Spry Leverton
Rev. Edwardes
Canon Thornton
Rev. Forth
Rev. Fisher
Rev. Graves
Rev. Parsons

St Allen
St. Clements

Thurstan Peter, Lecture 27/08/1910

Since Mitchells day, a good deal of the wall has fallen, because of the efforts to put railings round. Unfortunately, they put the struts in the wall itself, so that every animal that came here to rub itself, brought down another stone or two. Cost of railings £40.

A.G.M. Institute of Cornwall 22/11/1904

The Arch Deacon of Cornwall proposed that Mr. T Peter be appointed representative to consider preservation. "It was great importance that a building, so significant in itself, but so extremely valuable, should be properly cared for. Trustees: 2 Laymen nominated by Diocesan Conference: Mr. Coulter Hancock, Gear Estate. Vicar Rural Dean. 2 members Royal Institution of Cornwall: Mr. T Peter. Mr. J Enys. Architect Mr Sedding F.R.I.B.A. Draining, underpinning and roofing £500.

Thurstan Peter Aug 1910

The wall outside west of the Oratory was part of a water course 2feet 4inches thick, this was put in at a later date. The outer side was destroyed in clearing. the water had clearly run N.W. to the sea.

Excavation 08/09/1910

Discovered; A skull with skin attached in a five slate kist. A large stone on top, 9 feet below the surface. The excavators were struck by the great number of bones scattered around, lending the sand a distinctive whitish appearance.

The Standard 01/09/1910

Close to the ruin, I found a tent pitched by Mr. Athelston Riley, who was busy with a shovel. As the sand is cleared away, the ancient walls take visible shape again. Windows, stone benches and flooring. There was disinterment of innumerable bones in what was clearly the burial ground around the Oratory.

Excavation 1910

A woman and baby wrapped in a shawl exposed at S.W. corner. Many skeletons lie under and in close proximity to the oratory.

The Standard 01/09/1910

As I stood watching, Mr. Athelstone Riley brought to view a stone with rudely chiselled tracery, part of a doorway. Thurstan Peter, " The burials on a level with the floor of the church, are in slate kists. On a higher level, are bodies buried without. The kist burials are only found North & South of the building. The enclosed skeletons are in every quarter. Those on the East very much disturbed and scattered.

Thurstan Peter Cornubian 09/02/1911

The committee saved every bone, to give a decent burial, but someone broke into the shed and took them away. Archaeological specimens remain untouched.

West Briton 27/08/1910

A large number of people walked across the dunes to ruins amid the undulating waste. A platform had been erected for the lecturer. Thurstan Peter addressed the gathering, "What they saw before them was more than anyone had seen for centuries. A moth ago they would only have seen the top of a gable." Canon Raffles Flint thanked Mr. Coulter Hancock for handing over the structure to the trustees.

The Standard 01/09/1910

Attempts have been made from time to time to protect the remains. Fortunately proper steps are now under way, being completely enclosed by a concrete outer. A dome lighted by tourist proof glass.

Royal Cornwall Gazette 09/02/1911

Who is responsible for the lamentable state of the Oratory? The building is a blot on the surrounding sand hills. The ground is covered with skulls and bones, rusty nails and desolation. A dismal scene and a hideous building.

Dr. Dexter 1922

If the buried (covered) Church could speak, She would complain bitterly of writers who have misunderstood Her, of trippers who have robbed Her, of the Church that sold Her and of enthusiasts who have entombed Her, in that hideous cement structure which suggests a reservoir, a powder magazine, a motor garage, an aerodrome, a picture palace, anything except a Church !

Royal Cornwall Gazette 01/09/1910

Any induced to attend the gathering at Perranzabuloe, were amply repaid by what they saw of the old oratory. After considering all that history, folklore and hagiology, I have to say, Thurstan Peter thinks even a court of law there is evidence that Piran existed and connected to a school founded by St. Patrick. Such a landmark in the county's history should not be of merely local interest, nor should it be preserved merely by local benefactors. It should be the duty of the State to preserve it as a National monument, in order that it be handed down to the generations that follow.

Pilgrimage 12/08/1926

Bishop Walter Frere, Canon Doble and Rev. Ogilvy Boyd.

Pilgrimage 1955

Rev. Harvey, and St. Agnes Silver Band

Oratory 1955

Altar and Priests door. Note candles and flowers, tended regularly by parishioners.

Canon Doble

We have more information as to the cult paid to St Piran at Perranzabuloe before the reformation, than about the cult of any other Cornish Saint and standing at the lonely Oratory amid the sand hills, we feel more than anywhere in the Country, that we are treading in the footsteps of one of the makers of Christian Cornwall.