Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(6th century),

abbot, Cornwall's most famous saint. The sources for his Life are late and unsatisfactory. He came from South Wales, landed at Haylemouth, and founded a monastery in succession to Wethinoc at Lanwethinoc, now called Padstow (= Petroc's Stow). About 30 years later, he founded another monastery at Little Petherick (Nanceventon), where he also built a mill and a chapel. He later lived as a hermit on Bodmin Moor, where the hermit Goran met him, but departed southwards soon afterwards. Petroc built a cell for himself by the river, and a monastery on the hilltop for the twelve disciples who had followed him. At the end of his life he visited the other monasteries he had founded, but died at Treravel on his way. He was buried at Padstow, which became the centre of his cult. Like several other hermit saints, he had a special affinity with wild animals and is generally portrayed with a stag as his emblem, in memory of the one whom he sheltered from huntsmen.

His cult was diffused partly through the activities of his disciples and partly through the theft, and subsequent restoration, of his relics. Churches were dedicated to him in Cornwall, Devon (18), South Wales, and Brittany. Padstow became the Cornish see, but c.1000 the shrine and relics (including his staff and bell) were translated to Bodmin. There too went the community which claimed him as their founder, although they were by then canons rather than monks.

In 1177 Martin, a malcontent Bodmin canon, stole the relics and took them to Saint-Méen (Brittany). Bartholemew, bishop of Exeter, investigated the matter and brought it to the attention of the king. Henry II intervened; a rib was left at Saint-Méen; the remaining relics were restored to Bodmin; Walter of Coutances (his Cornish seal-bearer and future archbishop of Rouen and Justiciar of England) gave for a head-reliquary a fine ivory casket of Sicilian–Islamic workmanship. This was hidden at the Reformation, was discovered over the Bodmin porch in the 19th century, and remains in the parish church; it belongs to Bodmin's Town Council and is one of the finest reliquaries in England.

Petroc's feast occurs in several early West Country calendars as well as the Canterbury books of the 11th century, such as the Bosworth Psalter and the Missal of Robert of Jumièges. It eventually reached the Sarum calendar and even the Hours of Gregory XIII and a 15th-century Italian Franciscan psalter. York, Ely, and Bury were other churches which venerated him, while both Exeter and Glastonbury claimed relics. Feast: 4 June, 1 October (first translation), and 14 September (Exaltatio, which celebrated the return of the relics in 1177); a Truro calendar also gives 23 May.

R.P.S.; C.S.P.; N.L.A., ii. 317–20; P. Grosjean, ‘Vie et Miracles de S. Petroc’, Anal. Boll., lxxiv (1956), 131–88, 470–96; G. H. Doble, St Petroc (1938); id., ‘The Relics of St Petroc’, Antiquity, xiii (1939), 403–15; R. H. Pinder-Wilson and C. N. L. Brooke, ‘The Reliquary of St Petroc and the Ivories of Norman Sicily’, Archaeologia, civ (1973), 261–306; see also J. Stonor, ‘St Petroc's Cell on Bodmin Moor’, Downside Review, lxvi (1948), 64–74.


Subjects: Christianity.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.