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SAINT PETROC AND THE ANIMALS

Posted: 04.06.20 in Articles category

Have you heard about St Petroc? Neither had I until recently when I came across his name as yet another Celtic saint associated with animals. Originally from Wales, Petroc's better known in Cornwall where he lived as a hermit in the 6th century and founded monasteries at Padstow and Bodmin. Little is known about his actual life, but the subsequent legends which developed about him link him with saving a deer from a Cornish prince and befriending a wolf while living in India!

Let's start with the tale about the deer. One day Petroc was praying in woodland when he encountered a young deer, pursued by huntsmen on horseback, a pack of dogs and a warrior prince named Constantine. Seeing Petroc standing with the fawn, the huntsmen called off their dogs, but the prince demanded that the hermit move and hand over the animal. Petroc refused, told the prince that he was protecting the deer and prayed. Constantine grew angry and tried to strike Petroc with his sword, but he found himself unable to move. The prince was freed from his immobility only when he agreed to become a Christian and to cease hunting and fighting. And of course the deer was released as well and could return to the wild. Constantine subsequently joined Petroc’s monastery and lived in prayer under Petroc’s guidance for the rest of his life.

The wolf story begins with a tale about spiritual pride and penance. Arriving back in Cornwall on a typically wet day after a pilgrimage to Rome, Petroc confidently predicted that it would soon stop raining, but instead the rain continued to fall heavily for many days. Petroc was ashamed of his presumptuousness and losing his gift for prophesy. Realising that he needed to repent, Petroc decided to go back out on pilgrimage, so he travelled to the Holy Land and on to India where legend says that he lived offshore on a small island for seven years. During that time Petroc befriended a wolf who became his loyal companion and returned to Cornwall with him.

Petroc was not the only Christian saint alleged to befriend a wolf. The story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio is well known and celebrated in that Italian city where the bones of a large wolf were found inside a church back in 1872. That's a narrative for another article, but let's finish with St Petroc as I am writing this article on his feast day, 4 June. As I noted earlier, there's little that actually known about Petroc, but there is an intriguing claim that he lived in Ireland for a while and even taught St Kevin who's another Celtic saint famed for befriending animals (see our June 2017 website article). I cannot help wondering whether any Blackbirds tried to nest on Petroc's outstretched praying hands?

 
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