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. With my Irish heritage, and living on a street called Cornwall, I must vote for Piran!

  2. My cousin, Bill Cornie, and I are thrilled to have so many references that include portions of our names. It is indeed an honor that leads one to scuffle his feet in the dust and murmur, "Oh, shucks."

  3. Another difficult decision, but I had to go with the one who was instrumental in spreading the word that all are welcome in the house of the Lord.

  4. I suppose Cornelius is the reasonable choice, but I voted for Piran for two reasons: I loved his story, especially the bit about the badger, the fox, and the bear, but also for a more personal reason. In the late 1970's we were missionary teachers in Nigeria. All the church services available to us were Protestant services without Communion. I did not become an Episcopalian until many years later, but I missed receiving Communion. Then one Sunday, we were able to attend the Anglican church of St. Piran's on the Plateau in Jos. It was such a joy, in a rather difficult time, to receive the sacrament.

  5. The choice between an Irishman who loved his liquor
    Or a Roman who knew how to follow orders

    I’ll take the Irishman who stood up against the king

    As an Irish decent - one would say I might be bias
    However as a God-fearing Combat Veteran, I understood the soldier too.

    This soldier does as directed, the Irish do out of passion.
    Rather than the ordered task, I will take the passionate act.

  6. What a hard choice: beer? or bacon? I love both. But I am a Celt, and it's St. Dewi Day, so how could I not vote for Piran of Cornwall, with his peaching to the animals, partying, and inventing tin? But the Roman Centurion's conversion to follow Christ is monumental and I won't be sad if Cornelius gets to advance.

  7. Loved your corny puns; even while learning new facts about holy people of our church history! Thanks

  8. I enjoy the lusty and utterly apocryphal stories of Piran (though my rational mind keeps thinking, "Why SEVEN harpists?"). But I feel as though the first gentile convert is a big deal for Christianity, so I'm going with Centurion, who followed orders in a good way. And I am mindful of Aaron Bushnell, whose military service opened his eyes to what his country was doing. In honor of Aaron Bushnell, who gave the last full measure of devotion to the great task remaining before us so that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that democracy shall not perish from the earth, for both Americans and Palestinians, I vote for Cornelius the Christian Centurion.

  9. There is a mountain named for Piran, overlooking Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. I have hiked past the peak quite a few times, but never stopped to wonder about the saint for whom it was named. I vote for Piran, because you have filled in some blanks from my youth.

  10. What great storytelling this morning! And such colourfully conjured saints. Cornelius is a strong contender on account of being an early, and possibly first, gentile convert to Christianity. But as a churchgoer who enjoys a tankard and appreciates the Celtic harp, it's Piran hands down. I also loved the corny humour. When I read the conceit of "Children of the Corn" I laughed so hard my ears popped!

    1. Great minds think alike! I hope the fun Irishman wins this round. We simply need more fun. And enjoying a pint now & again? Delightful.

  11. While I would love to see Piran advance for the Quirks and Quotes round, given his fondness for libations and his ability to annoy the rulers, and especially to the Saintly Kitsch segment, I think Cornelius has done more for Christianity. The test of "where would the Church be today without this person?" is a useful way to distinguish between some pairs of nominees.

  12. The (Cornish) Irishman, Piran, sounds a whole lot more fun. We need fun in this life.

  13. The Chapel at Valley Forge Military Academy and College is named for St. Cornelius the Centurion. The Alumni Memorial Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion in Wayne, PA was dedicated November 11, 1951, by General of the Army George Catlett Marshall, it is a magnificent memorial to the 89 men of the Academy who have given their lives in World War II and in Korea for God and Country. Its services have been frequently conducted by local Episcopal priests.

  14. Voted for Piran solely on the assumption that his kitsch will be better than Cornelius'.

  15. I voted against Piran from my modern-day sensibility, believing that he denied the king his wish out of opposition to a same-sex relationship.

    1. I thought that Piran was objecting to the king's putting aside his wife in favor of the young courtier mentioned in the writeup, and so violating the eighth commandment.
      I would suspect that if the "young courtier" was male then the king would have stayed married to the queen for the sake of appearances, and pursued the extramarital relationship on the quiet. Just like so many others, royal or not, throughout history.

  16. How can I not vote for a man who loved God and evidently a pont or three frequently. In honor of all the hard drinking faithful who in spite of their challenges with alcohol still attempt to follow Jesus. Hopefully into recovery!

  17. Whiskeypalians, arise. I am guessing that explains the close vote today. LOL for one who enjoys life -- all life.

  18. Neither one jumped out at me, so I voted with the Irishman as I am 7/8th Irish!

  19. Piran, a merry man of the sea be he, hard working, hard drinking, hard living holy soul is the one who can talk to me!

  20. A devout man who trusted in God and spoke truth to power (while enjoying a pint or two!) How could I not vote for Piran of Cornwall!

  21. A badger, a fox, and a bear for your first congregation. A lot of miracles and enjoying life. I voted for St. PIran.

  22. It's MOnday 3/4 and there is a glitch on the voting page. It says this page is not open for voting.

    You surely are having problems this year with the website. Using new technology?

    Elizabeth Massey
    New Canaan Ct 06840

  23. Although I missed the vote, I leaned toward Piran as well. The fact that Cornelius actually met Peter was rather inspiring but I love the raft, harp and drinking thing... right in time for St. Paddys. --))