Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Piran

PIRAN or PIRANUS, Saint (fl. 550), is commonly identified with Saint Ciaran (fl. 500–560) [q. v.] of Saigir. The names Piran and Ciaran or Kieran are identical—p in Britain being the equivalent of the Irish k. The history of the two saints is in the main features the same, though the Irish lives of St. Ciaran do not record his migration to Cornwall. But Capgrave in his ‘Nova Legenda Angliæ’ (p. 267), following John of Tinmouth, says ‘Beatus Piranus, qui a quibusdam Kerannus vocatur, in Cornubia, ubi quiescit, Piranus appellatur.’ The same narrative states that Piran went to Cornwall at the bidding of St. Patrick, and, after performing many miracles, died, and was buried near the Severn sea, fifteen miles from Petrockstow or Padstow, and twenty-five miles from Mousehole, a situation that agrees with the ancient oratory of St. Piran at Perranzabuloe. Leland (Itinerary, iii. 195) says that Piran's mother, Wingella, was buried in Cornwall. Mr. C. W. Boase favoured the identification of Piran and Ciaran, remarking that the Irish lives ‘seldom notice any such migrations, though the Celtic saints were very migratory’ (Dict. Christ. Biogr. iv. 404). Other authorities, however, take an opposite view, and hold that if Piran were an Irish saint, he was probably some other St. Ciaran than Ciaran of Saigir (Haddan and Stubbs, i. 157, 164).

Piran holds a foremost place in Cornish hagiology; he was the patron saint of all Cornwall, or at least of miners; and his banner, a white cross on a black ground, is alleged to have been anciently the standard of Cornwall. According to Cornish legend it was Piran who discovered tin, and hence he was the patron saint of tinners. Three parishes in the county are dedicated to him, Perranzabuloe or Perran in the Sands, which is called Lampiran in Domesday, Perranuthnoe or Perran the Little near Marazion, and Perranarworthal on Falmouth Harbour; as well as chapels in other parishes such as Tintagel. The Irish form of the name may be preserved in the parish of St. Keverne in the Lizard district, and St. Kerian in Exeter. The shrine at Perranzabuloe contained his head and other relics, and was a great resort of pilgrims (Lysons, Cornwall, p. 264); Sir John Arundel made a bequest to it in 1433. The very ancient oratory of St. Piran at Perranzabuloe may perhaps date from the sixth century. An account of the discovery of this oratory, which was laid bare by the shifting of the sands in 1835, is given in Haslam's ‘From Death unto Life,’ together with some illustrations. The most interesting of the remains were removed to the Royal Institution of Cornwall's museum at Truro. The ruin of the oratory is still uncovered, but has suffered much from exposure, and has, in its present state, little interest. St. Piran was commemorated on 5 March, and this day is still kept as a feast at Perranzabuloe, Perranuthnoe, and St. Keverne. There was anciently an altar in honour of St. Piran in Exeter Cathedral, where an arm of the saint was also preserved. One of the canons' stalls in the new cathedral of Truro is named after Piran.

[Capgrave's Nova Legenda Angliæ; Colgan's Acta Sanct. Hibern. i. 458; Bolland. Acta Sanct. 5 March, i. 389–99, 901; Haddan and Stubbs's Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents, i. 157, 164; Dugdale's Mon. Angl. vi. 1449; Oliver's Monasticon Exoniense, p. 71, and additional supplement, pp. 10, 11; Dict. of Chr. Biogr. iv. 404; Whitaker's Cathedral of Cornwall, ii. 5, 9, 210; Collins's Lost Church Found; Hunt's Romances of the West of England, pp. 273–5, 475–6; Borlase's Age of the Saints.]

C. L. K.