Today is the feast day of Saint Petroc or Petrock (Medieval Latin: Petrocus; Welsh: Pedrog; French: Perreux) (d. c. 564). He’s a new one to me; I learn something every day. He gives his name to Padstow in Cornwall, which is a well-known location in folkie circles, and which I visited back in my wild youth (as a folkie myself). Padstow comes from Pedroc-stowe, that is, ‘Petroc’s Place.’ Petroc was probably born in South Wales but is known for his ministry to Britons in Devon (Dewnans) and Cornwall (Kernow). He is associated with a monastery in Padstow which appears to have been his earliest major cult center, but Bodmin became the major center for his veneration when his relics were moved to the monastery there in the later 9th century. Bodmin monastery became one of the wealthiest Cornish foundations by the 11th century. There is a second ancient dedication to him nearby at Little Petherick or “Saint Petroc Minor.”
There are 17 ancient dedications to Petroc in Devon (plus Timberscombe just over the border in Somerset), mostly coastal and including one within the old Roman walls of Exeter as well as the villages of Petrockstowe and Newton St Petroc. In Wales his name is commemorated at St Petrox near Pembroke, Ferwig near Cardigan and Llanbedrog on the Llŷn peninsula. He also became a popular saint in Brittany by the end of the 10th century.
The earliest Life of Petroc states that he was the son of an unnamed Welsh king: the 12th century version known as the Gotha Life, written at Bodmin, identifies that king as Glywys of Glywysing and Petroc as a brother of Gwynllyw and uncle of Cadoc. Petroc studied in Ireland, where later he is said to have been the teacher of Saint Kevin. For continued personal development he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and returning to Cornwall, shut himself up in a monastery of which he was himself the founder, at Petrocs-Stow (Padstow). All accounts indicate that Petroc moved from Padstow to Bodmin, and there founded a second monastery and a great church which king Athelstan afterwards favored with great benefactions and singular privileges, including the right of sanctuary (which was rarely granted).
Petroc founded churches in Little Petherick and Bodmin and in many parts of Britain, Wales, and Brittany. He is said to have converted Constantine of Cornwall to Christianity by saving a deer Constantine was hunting. After 30 years, legend says that he went on his pilgrimage to Rome by way of Brittany (which is quite possible but unverifiable). The place of his death was reputedly at a house belonging to a family named Rovel, thought to be a farm now called Treravel near Little Petherick, south of Padstow.
With Saint Piran and Saint Michael, Petroc is one of the patron saints of Cornwall. The legendary tales surrounding Petroc are exceptionally colorful and imaginative (giving him a second pilgrimage, travels to India, taming wolves) and may represent interpolation from local non-Christian legends. In iconography, like several other British saints, Petroc is usually shown with a stag.
Petroc’s chief shrine was always at St Petroc’s Church in Bodmin. In 1177, a Breton stole his relics from Bodmin and gave them to the Abbey of St Meen. However, Henry II restored them and, though the relics were thrown out during the English Reformation, their ivory casket is still on public display at St. Petroc’s in Bodmin. His remains were reputed to have been thrown into the bay of Hailemouth near Padstow.
The St. Petroc’s Society is a non-profit working to address homelessness in Cornwall.
I have given plenty of Cornish recipes already, including Cornish pasties (of course), fairings, stagazy pie, pilchards, etc. I have not mentioned hevva cake yet – normally now called “heavy cake.” It is well known in Cornwall, but not especially known to visitors. It was originally made with lard only, but now it is more common to use a mix of lard and butter, or butter only. It was also, originally, a plain cake with little or no spices or fruit. I find some spice and fruit useful, but not necessary. Some modern cooks use self-raising flour because they find the cake too dense. This, I think, is a major mistake.
175 gm plain flour
¼ tsp fine salt
1-2 tsp ground ginger, cinnamon or mace, or a combination, to taste (optional)
40 gm granulated sugar
40 gm each of unsalted butter and lard (or 80g butter, if you prefer), cold, cut in small chunks.
75 gm currants
25-50 gm chopped mixed peel (optional)
2 tbsp (approx.) milk or water
Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F.
Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Mix the flour, salt, spices (if using) and sugar together. Rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (I use a food processor for this step).
Mix in the other ingredients with a wooden spoon, dribbling in the milk (or water) until you have a stiff dough with no dry ingredients showing.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1 cm thick and in a rough oval shape. Carefully lift the dough on to the baking sheet. Make a criss-cross pattern on the top with a sharp knife for ease of cutting when cooked.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden.
Serve warm from the oven, or allow to cool then store in an airtight container.