Piran of Cornwall vs. Cornelius the Centurion

Today in Lent Madness XV, it's the long-anticipated battle known as the Children of the Corn, as Piran of Cornwall faces Cornelius the Centurion. We invite you to lend an ear to hear about these two saints. And we do not apologize for the corny humor, for even in its midst, there is a kernel of truth.

Yesterday, Henry Whipple decisively defeated Jackson Kemper 71% to 29% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen.

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Piran of Cornwall

Piran was likely born in Ireland and began his ministry there. His ministry really took off after miraculously saving King Aengus of Ireland’s seven harpists. A month earlier, they had died in a storm, trapped in a bog; Piran prayed for three straight days and nights, and they were miraculously brought back to life. For obvious reasons, Piran thus became spiritual advisor to the king.

He served King Aengus for seven years until the king decided that he wanted to abandon his wife, the queen, for a young courtier. The king expected Piran’s support and was surprised when Piran publicly criticized him.

In a rage, the king had Piran bound to a millstone and thrown off a cliff into the stormy sea. Miraculously, when the stone hit the turbulent waters, the wind and sea miraculously calmed, the millstone floated, and the ropes that bound him to the granite simply slipped off. Piran was carried away on this unexpected raft and drifted aimlessly for days until he finally landed in Cornwall.

When he landed on the beach he built a chapel from which to proclaim the Gospel. Legend has it that his first disciples in the new land were a badger, a fox, and a bear. St. Piran’s Oratory is the oldest Christian church in all of Britain.

One night, quite by accident, Piran rediscovered smelting. A black rock in his fireplace got so hot that it began to leak out tin. He called people to come witness the miracle. Soon tinners were mining and smelting tin and turning a nice profit all over Europe. His flag, a white cross on a black background, symbolizes the bright tin emerging from black rock. He is to this day the patron saint of tin miners.

St. Piran has been described as “the merriest, hardest drinking, hardest living holy man Cornwall ever knew.” He would indulge in alcohol (there is a phrase, “as drunk as a Perraner,” that he apparently inspired) and would never miss the opportunity to celebrate with his congregations.

In addition to reviving the Cornish economy and knowing how to have a good time, Piran also performed miracles and many acts of charity. This drew more and more people to his communities.

Piran ultimately fell into disfavor with the king of Cornwall and was killed around 480 ce . He was initially buried but his remains were later exhumed and distributed to various churches for veneration. His feast day is March 5.

Collect for Piran of Cornwall

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Piran boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP)

David Creech

Cornelius the Centurian

Cornelius was a Gentile and centurion, a commander in the Roman army. Archaeological evidence suggests he was a commander in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, a cohort of made up of Roman citizens from the Italia region and Syrians. His name associates him with the gens Cornelia, one of the great Roman families that produced lauded statesmen and military leaders.

Cornelius appears in the Book of Acts and is described as a devout man who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously, and who prayed constantly to God. God-fearing signified a person who believed and followed proscriptions of Mosaic law but who had not fully converted to Judaism through circumcision.

Cornelius has a vision where an angel of God says, “Cornelius, your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter.” Cornelius does as commanded, not surprising for a career solider.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Joppa, Peter is also having a vision. He sees heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down filled with various kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Peter hears the voice of God commanding him to eat from the creatures he sees, which appalls Peter, as the creatures are considered unclean by Jewish dietary laws. Peter voices his disapproval, only to have God declare, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

While Peter is mulling over this vision, Cornelius’s people arrive at the house where Peter is staying. Peter and some women and men go with the messengers to Cæsarea, where Cornelius greets them. Peter and Cornelius share their visions, and both realize they each have part of the new thing God is telling them.

Peter puts it all together, proclaiming that anyone who fears God and practices righteousness is a follower, circumcised or not. Cornelius and his household are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, Cornelius is recognized as the first Gentile convert in some faith traditions.

Acts makes no further mention of Cornelius, and the annals of church history are equally thin. Some traditions hold he became either Bishop of Cæsarea or Bishop of Scepsis in Mysia.

Cornelius is the patron of St. Cornelius Chapel on Governor’s Island when it was a military outpost in New York. It has since been closed but is still owned by Trinity Wall Street. The only active Episcopal Church named after St. Cornelius is in Dodge City (yep, of Gunsmoke fame). Founded in 1888, St. Cornelius is the oldest church building in Dodge and has welcomed cowboys and cowgirls, marshals and outlaws, for well over a century.

Collect for Cornelius the Centurion

O God, who by your Spirit called Cornelius the Centurion to be the first Christian among the Gentiles: Grant to your church such a ready will to go where you send and to do what you command that the prejudices that blind us might cease, and that we might welcome all who turn to you in love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Laurie Brock


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70 comments on “Piran of Cornwall vs. Cornelius the Centurion”

  1. As a cook, I am happy to say
    That Cornelius helped widen the way.
    Thanks to him, we all feel
    That with beef, pork and veal
    We can make a great meatloaf today.

    1. Great little ditty today, John! He didn't get my vote, but I still enjoyed it!

  2. Here's to St Piran, the hard-drinking evangelist to the wild animals of Cornwall. Saved seven harpists from a bog. Floated on a granite raft. I haven't enjoyed a legendary hagiography so much since St. Melangell's hare.

  3. I have to vote for Piran as I just love Cornwall, UK, and have worshipped at many churches in this county.

  4. Much as I love the story of Cornelius, I am voting for Piran. There is too little merrymaking in the church today.

    1. I agree and voted for him, as well. It rather sounded to me like he may have started...coffee hour!

  5. The voting went a little weirder for me today, but I think I voted for Piran. The Celtic Spirit reading for today is The Harp, so Piranha it was.

  6. The story of Cornelius' conversion includes Jesus telling Peter that what God has made clean should not be called profane. Of course, God has made us all clean in Jesus's sacrifice on the cross. All Of Us! I think that this story needs to be told more today, as our LGBTQ siblings are wrongfully being called profane. I voted for St. Cornelius to honor his story and the idea that we ALL are clean.

  7. Cornelius was a great guy, but I just have to raise my tankard to Piran, the wonderful leader who didn't abandon his "bad habits" in order to do God's work. He must have been the most popular clericus in Britain! LOL! I'm kind of partial to Cornwall, too.

  8. Anyone who's "first disciples" are "a badger, a fox, and a bear" gets my vote. Piran it is! as a vote to celebrate and protect creation.

  9. With St. Patrick's Day fast approaching, today's saints whetted my appetite for corned beef. Were today not a Friday in Lent, I might have dined on Cornish hen and cornbread.

  10. It was a close decision. However, I am an engineer and the discovery of tin is very appealing to me. Piran therefore gets my vote.

  11. (With grateful admiration to John Cabot)

    With respect for Cornelius’s meat stew,
    Can we not give Piran his due?
    When a guy floats a stone
    To call Cornwall his home
    I’ll gladly toast his green hue!!

  12. I voted for Piran. Not the typical saint, in my opinion. He seems just a regular guy, which reminds me of “I Sing a Song to the Saints of God.”

    “…….for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

    1. Thank you, Renee, for reminding me of one of my all-time favorite hymns! I learned "I sing a song of the saints of God" at a very young age, probably in early Sunday School. I,too, rejoice in the phrase "for the Saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one, too."

  13. Well, Cornelius should win as he is such a great example of Gentile devotion in the early Church and changed the ministry of the early Church. But I voted for Piran because he has an amazing story and I want to hear more in upcoming rounds.

  14. Great storytelling from both bloggers today! Piran's story unfolds like a fireside tall tale; the saga of Cornelius like a mid-20th century epic movie.
    But Cornelius embodies the expansive nature of God's embrace, and our call as Christ's people to see, love, and welcome all people as beloved. Without his conversion and his and Peter's visions, would we even today be studying and discussing Christ's saintly followers throughout the ages? I'll pass on a pilsner with Piran for a seat at the great welcome table and vote for Cornelius.

      1. yes - back at the wheel, and some handbuilding, now for 2 1/2 years, really just for enjoyment and dishes etc. worth keeping and sometimes good enough for gift-giving. Fun and cheaper than therapy!
        Are you a potter too?

  15. Piran's story is so Irish. I love the part about his first congregation in Cornwall, as well as the resurrected harpers and the floating millstone... all excellent stories. We are too burdened down with rational thought to enjoy stories that enchant. Just imagine a badger, a fox and a bear sitting and listening to a sermon.

  16. These pieces were cobbled together very well. Three (ch)eers for the merriest, hardest drinking, hardest living holy man of Cornwall.

  17. Piran is preaching to God’s creatures; Cornelius is eating them.
    In the spirit of St. Francis — Piran all the way.

  18. Hard choice. The charm of Piran, or the witness of Cornelius. Dodge City turned the tide for me. Go, Cornelius.

  19. I had to go with Cornelius today as my son was baptized in the Chapel on Governors Island.

  20. Another set of excellent and very worthy candidates! However for me today it is Piran. Imagine that millstone and the stormy sea; 2 sets of conditions nearly guaranteed to drag him down to the the deepest depths and ultimately kill him. However, God (for who else!) allowed him to use what would kill him to instead move him from where he had been, to a new place. And in that new place he was able to spread the Gospel. I love that his first disciples were the wild animals-- preach and teach to all -- conditions may not be as you hope but don't wait until everything is perfect; start somewhere and never give up!
    Thanks Laurie and David for an uplifting start to my day!

  21. This was a tough one. The animals and the beer, not to mention that I love Cornwall, inclined me to Piran. However, I love the story of Cornelius and Peter, as well as all my pork products.

  22. A hard drinking Irishman who saves harpists and defies kings certainly has my vote. It was an ordeal to vote today because of the photo test. Judging whether or not there is a bus in the distance in a blurry photos is not easy for those whose eyes are showing their are! Take pity, please.

  23. I love the write up for Piran, but I just couldn't vote for someone who was so obviously unreal. Besides, as a veteran, I identify more with Cornelius.

  24. Who can't love Piran of Cornwall? His first followers were a badger, a fox and a bear and he never turned down a cocktail.

  25. You gotta love a saint who can lift a pint (or a quart) with his friends after a hard day of miracles. Piran it is.