St. Ia and Pendinas

The Island from Porthmeor Beach

St. Ia and Pendinas

It never ceases to amaze me how saints of old had powers that would put David Blaine and Uri Geller to shame, and St Ia is yet another one.

St. Ia was a 5th century Irish princess who, after being converted to Christianity, decided that it was her duty to join a missionary party that was planning to cross the Celtic Sea in order to convert the good people of Cerniw.

The story goes that the boat left without her, but undeterred, she set about making her own arrangements – so what did she do? she sailed over on a leaf of course! Now, I have to admit I am partaking in a glass of fruit cider while I’m writing this, but I can assure you that the story is true, it must be, I’ve read the same story from several different sources just to confirm that I haven’t been hallucinating.

Call me an old cynic if you like, but I don’t believe a word of it. Having said that, it seems pretty likely that the Irish princess did make it across to the shores of Cornwall one way or another, and it also seems likely that she landed at Pendinas, or ‘The Island’ as it’s called today.

The Coastwatch Station and Gun Emplacements

Pendinas (which gets its name from ‘Pedn Enys’ or Head Island), is a great location for defensive purposes and traces of an old prehistoric fort have been found up here: Even the Victorians used it as a Battery, and it’s still possible to make out the gun emplacements as well as the building that was used as the gunners’ quarters.

These gun emplacements became the foundations for the Coastguard lookout and the subsequent National Coastwatch Station, but perched at the top is an even more prominent landmark – a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas, a patron saint of seafarers. It would have been used as a daymark to help ships navigate the coast safely, but it nearly came to permanent grief itself in 1904 when the War Office started to demolish it after it had outlived its usefulness. After a public outcry, the demolition stopped and funds were raised to rebuild the structure as we see it today. It’s open to visitors when a volunteer is available.

St Nicholas Chapel
St Nicholas Chapel
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Even if none of this background history interests you in the slightest it’s worth climbing up here just for the views alone; bring a pasty up with you as well, and you’ll feel as though you’ve died and gone to heaven.

View from The Island
View from The Island

Talking of which, if you can separate fact from fiction in Celtic Cornwall, it appears that St. Ia founded an oratory on the site of where the parish church now stands. Some reports suggest that she was murdered and buried at the oratory, but I don’t suppose we’ll ever really know the truth of it all. What I do know though, is that the 15th century parish church built of large granite blocks, is dedicated to her and worth a visit. Look out for the Lantern Cross in the churchyard which was quite possibly the original medieval cross that was discarded at the time of the Reformation and rediscovered in the 19th century.

St Ia's Church
St Ia's Church
The Lantern Cross
The Lantern Cross

The settlement here at the time of St. Ia was confined to the neck of land that connected Pendinas to the mainland and now known as Downalong. In her recognition the village was renamed Porthia (St. Ia’s Bay) which later became corrupted to St. Ives.

Cornwall has many towns and villages named after saints, and if you travelled to St. Ives by train you would have had to change at St. Erth for the single-track branch line to St. Ives. St. Erth was named after St. Erc who was St. Ia’s brother, but I don’t suppose he travelled over here by train, but then again who knows? nothing would surprise me anymore.

Downalong
Downalong
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20 thoughts on “St. Ia and Pendinas

  1. toonsarah

    Such an interesting read! I had never heard of St Ia nor her connection to the name of St Ives. Yes, I too doubt the leaf story but I wonder if it’s possible there was some sort of ‘Chinese Whispers’ going on and her original mode of transport (presumably a boat) got changed into a leaf over the years??

    Oh, and I’m so glad that chapel was saved from destruction – it looks just perfect sitting there!

    Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      There’s a school of thought that it could have been a Currach, which is obviously a lot more plausible, but still a bit of a challenge if you ask me. Thanks for passing by again Sarah

      Reply
  2. Stuart Templeton

    I’ve been there, and there, and there! Great stuff. I’m sure I remember standing up near that coast-watch station one December years ago, watching some surfers in a really nasty sea – I thought they were mad! Mind you, at least they had surfboards, I wouldn’t want to be out there on a leaf…

    Another great post Malcolm – Really interesting to read and great pictures as ever.

    Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      Thanks for your comments as always Stuart. I don’t know about being out there on a leaf, I wouldn’t even want to be out there on a surfboard 🙂

      Reply
            1. Malc Post author

              The North Cornish and Devon coasts are going to take a battering overnight and through tomorrow morning, but I’m sure there’ll be some who’ll venture out there on their surfboards

              Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      Thanks Albert. I hope you don’t mind my not replying to your comment on the grounds that it might incriminate one of us 🙂

      Reply
  3. Malcolm Post author

    I’m glad that the origins of St Ives entertained you Alli. As you probably know Cornwall is full of tales, myths and legends and some are more far-fetched than others. I’m not sure how old Maddie is but I hope that a bit of info on The Island helps her to enjoy the Longest Johns YouTube clip even more.

    Thanks for following my blogs. It means a great deal to me that someone enjoys reading them as much as I enjoy writing them 🙂

    Reply
    1. Alli Templeton

      Maddie is 15, she’s pretty unique and I’m really proud of her and her naval history and seafaring ambitions, and the fact that she listens to sea shanties rather than pop music! I showed her this post and she loved it. I can imagine there’s a plethora of tales, myths and legends to explore in Cornwall, it seems that kind of place, and I can’t imagine anyone better to regale us with them. Thanks for such great posts. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Malc Post author

        I really don’t deserve such kind words Alli, but thank you. Like I said, it means a lot.
        It sounds as though you’ve brought Maddie up well and you should be proud. Perhaps she may start some blogs of her own. That would be interesting wouldn’t it?

        Reply
        1. Alli Templeton

          Thanks Malcolm. 🙂 I’m not sure how much credit I can take for bringing her up though – she’s just an amazing kid.

          Funnily enough, I recently suggested to her that one day she might think about a maritime history/sailing blog (great minds think alike – again!) and she thought it was a great idea. She’d be well qualified when she’s done a degree, and considering we have a pirate ancestor called John Stockwell who sailed with Blackbeard, she’s kind of set up! So watch this space… (well, alright, another space, but watch it anyway… 😉

          Reply
          1. Malc Post author

            I’ll need to look up about John Stockwell, but as you probably already know Blackbeard is generally regarded as another miscreant from Bristol 🙂

            Reply
            1. Alli Templeton

              Oh yes, I’d forgotten that! Not sure where John Stockwell came from originally, but he sailed with Blackbeard on the Queen Anne’s Revenge. I do know that he ultimately evaded the noose, retiring from piracy to grow cabbages in Covent Garden. There’s a family legend that he hid a secret hoard somewhere in England, but no-one’s ever found it. As you can probably imagine, Maddie is extremely proud of him! 🙂

              Reply
  4. Alli Templeton

    Yes! The Island! Thanks for posting this so quickly, Malcolm, and full marks for entertainment value and cracking stories. I’ve loved reading all about The Island and it’s wonderful history. It looks an amazing place. Well, at least St Ia had some guts to try and get cross the sea alone having been abandoned by her fellow Christians (not a very Christian thing to do, I can’t help thinking!). But I agree, the leaf thing does seem to be stretching the old suspension-of-disbelief a bit, unless she was a borrower or a Lilliputian, of course. It does make one wonder how much cider she’d had if that’s the story she spun her fellow missionaries when she caught up with them. It’s great to know how St Ives came by its name, even if her parents clearly favoured rather abstract, truncated names for their kids (Ia… Erc…?). Maybe they’d had too much cider as well.

    Fab photos as always, and the church looks lovely, especially the lantern cross. And Maddie loves the stories too. Thanks for giving us some great context for the location of the Longest Johns song, and for another great read. 🙂

    Reply

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