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.
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.
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.
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.
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.