Travel down to Cornwall – as you may have done this summer – and you can’t help noticing how many places have saints’ names. There’s St Austell, St Ives and St Agnes for starters. Then St Mewan, St Mawgan, St Martin, St Erth, St Ervan, St Eval (an unfortunate one), and so on. You trip over them everywhere. A relic of
the past, or something to draw from?
Bestowing ‘sainthood’ is today the preserve of the Catholic church. (The Church of England has a rather more ambivalent relationship with ‘saints’). The 12th century popes were the first to insist on approving ‘canonisations’, a symptom of the church’s worrying instinct to control. Between 993 and 1500 AD, there were just 78 canonisations. Yet in May 2013 Pope Francis smashed the records by making 813 people saints in one day. This is saint-inflation on quite some scale. What is going on?
Canonisation has been victim to fashion. Most ‘saints’ strangely have been white and male. Pope Francis (of whom I am a fan) is helping redefine it, to be broader and more inclusive.
Which brings us back to Cornwall. Its Celtic history is illuminated by its plethora of saints’ names. These ‘saints’ were people the community had known, folk who lived amongst them. The faith of Celtic Christians was rooted in their community and not governed by a distant hierarchy.
Each of the EFP churches has a patron saint, with Escot having a two-saints-for-the-price-of-one deal. Historically the patron saint would have deemed to bestow spiritual blessing, in the manner a patron would bestow monetary blessing. Every year we celebrate the ‘patronal festivals’, and it is valuable to recall the lives of the ancient saints. But what of the local connection?
At our patronal festivals – the first in Payhembury on 1st September – we will make this local connection. We will celebrate our communities and the people in them, and pray for them; the services will be themed, “This is Our Story”. Our patron saints will be remembered – they are part of our story – but they will be more than happy, I think, to play second-fiddle to those in today’s living community.
Whether or not you wish to come to these celebrations (Feniton’s St Andrew’s service is on 1st December and Escot’s patronal 3rd May), be assured that your community will be celebrated – saints live all around us.
Rev David Carrington
Team Vicar of Escot, Feniton and Payhembury
The Rectory, Station Road, Feniton 01404 850905