Posted by: anna | February 14, 2010

St Crewenna of Cornwall

Today (1 February in old money) we commemorate St Crewenna (late 5th- early 6th century). Baring-Gould provides a somewhat unedifying list of half-mentions and confusions of persons:

THIS Saint, according to Leland and William of Worcester, was one of the party of Irish that came over and settled in Penwith and Kerrier in Cornwall at the dawn of the sixth century.
The parish church of Crowan is dedicated to her, and her feast is observed on February 2.
The Bollandists gave her on October 27, but merely as one of a number of Cornish Saints whom they lump together with S. Hia, whom Challoner arbitrarily inserted on this day. It will, therefore, be seen that there is no traditional or other warrant for giving October 27 to S. Crewenna.

The name is common in the Irish Calendars as Croine or Crone. There was one so called at Kilcrony in Wicklow, where are the remains of a very early church. She is commemorated on January 27.

Another Croine, Virgin, was of Tallagh, in the County of Dublin, and is commemorated on February 25.

Another Croine Becc, or Croine the Little, on July 7 ; she was of Tempull-Croine in Donegal.
Another, again, on October 15, of whom nothing is known, not even to what part of Ireland she belonged.

But Crewenna is certainly the first of these. Not only do the Irish Saints who settled in Cornwall all belong to the south of Ireland, but the feast is observed in the Octave of the day on which Croine of Kilcrony is venerated in Ireland.

But who this Croine was is not so easy to determine. Leland distinctly asserts that she came over with Breaca and Germoc, and that migration took place about 500. Some of these Saints went on to the Continent and visited Rheims in 509, and among those whose names are given by Flodoard is Promptia. One is disposed to equate Promptia with Crewenna, as the hard C of the Gaelic would become P in Brythonic.

There was a Croine sister of Ainmire, King of Ireland 568-71, and daughter of Setna MacErc. She is invoked in S. Moling’s poem on the Saints of Leinster

O nun of Cethanladet,
O highly happy nun,
O Croine, daughter of Setna,
Bless the track of my way !

But this cannot have been the Croine who crossed over with Breaca. Again, in the Life of S. Molua, of Clonfert, we have a story relative to a Croine, his sister ; they were the children of Carthach the Red. Molua had been on a visit to Wexford. On his return to his own people, the Hy Fidgeinte, in Kerry, he found his sister Croine dead, or apparently so, and women were weeping around her. “May the everlasting joy be for thee in heaven, sister,” exclaimed S. Molua. Hearing his voice, she opened her eyes and smiled. Then he bade her rise and accompany him to the church, where he celebrated the Eucharist, and communicated her. And when he had so done, she said, ” I am aweary, let me enter into my rest.” So she returned to her bed, laid herself down, and died.

S. Setna, disciple of Senan of Iniscathy, was a friend of Molua, and the latter may have entrusted his sister to Setna, or to Senan, to bring over to Cornwall. But Molua’s death in 608 is too late to allow that his sister can have come across with the first swarm of Irish Saints, unless she was very much older than himself. Molua was confessor to Aidan of Ferns, disciple of S. David.

On the whole, therefore, it is impossible to equate Croine, sister of Molua, with the Croine or Crewenna who settled in Cornwall, for just a century intervenes between her settlement there and Molua’s death.

We are rather disposed to think that Crewenna is the Croine of Kilcrony in Wicklow, of whom, unhappily, nothing is known. There would seem, however, to have reigned great confusion between the saints of the same name. The Saint of Kilcrony is supposed to have been the sister of Ainmire. But this she cannot have been if she be the same as Crewenna.

Croine of Kilcrony is commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal, in that of Tallagh, in that of O’Gorman, but not in the Felire of Oengus. It is remarkable that Croine should be venerated on the day before Aedcobran, who was one of the party that left Ireland, visited Cornwall and crossed into Brittany, and thence went on to Rheims, where they were received by S. Remigius in 509. x

Whytford, in his Martiloge, gives on April 24 “The feest of Saynt Crowne a virgyn.”


This tangle of half-remembered, half-recorded, half-surviving names, places, journeys, visions, relationships, miracles, reminds me of John Donne and one of those famous bits of Meditation XVII:

‘…all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.’

It can seem a little pointless to flick through all these tattered, fragmentary lives – but no matter how much writing is left behind, what life can be fully recorded? And like so many other things in this life, we do not understand fully or perfectly anyway. These lives lived for and with God are not lost to Him and indeed continue in Him – we are the ones in the dark, for the moment! So it is far from futile to say, to a saint whom we do not know and about whom we know next to nothing,

Holy St Crewenna, pray to God for us!

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