Posted by: anna | April 17, 2010

St Gwerir, hermit of Liskeard

Today (4 April) we commemorate St. Gwerir, hermit of Liskeard (9th century). From Baring-Gould:

Of the saint nothing is known except that he was a hermit at Ham-stoke, near Liskeard, in Cornwall, and that king Alfred was cured of a painful disorder when praying in the church built over his grave by S. Neot. Asser, in his life of Alfred, thus relates the matter: ” He had this sort of disease from his childhood ; but once Divine Providence so ordered it, that when he was on a visit to Cornwall for the purpose of the chase, and had turned out of the road to pray in a certain chapel, in which rests the body of S. Gwerir, and now also S. Neot rests there, — for king Alfred was always from his infancy a frequent visitor of holy places for the sake of prayer and almsgiving, — he prostrated himself for private devotion, and after some time spent therein, he entreated God’s mercy, that in His boundless clemency He would exchange the torments of the malady which then afflicted him for some other lighter disease ; but with this condition, that such disease should not show itself outwardly in his body, lest he should be an object of contempt, as makes men useless when it afflicts them. When he had finished his prayers, he proceeded on his journey, and not long after he felt within him that, by the hand of the Almighty, he was healed, according to his request, of his disorder, and that it was
entirely eradicated. . . . But, sad to say! it was replaced at his marriage by another which incessantly tormented him, night and day, from the twentieth to the forty-fourth year of his life.”

=*=*=*=
Which tells us more about King Alfred, about whom we already know quite a lot, than about St Gwerir, about whom we know pretty well nothing. But he is described as a ‘taciturn hermit’ – are there loquacious ones?? – and would probably have regarded the bare biographical details of his own earthly existence as of no use to anybody.
It occurs to me (finally) to ask – why are there so many early Cornish saints, or rather, saints of Cornwall, mostly Irish and Welsh? Many were hermits and monastics, and I should think if they were trying to live apart from the world Cornwall would be a good place to do it, but what of the Irish and Welsh missionaries? The population of Cornwall must have been small compared with other parts of Britain, even in those days – or was it? I suppose the climate is excellent for farming, and although the coast is tricky, travel by sea was quicker and simpler than by land, so perhaps there were plenty of people there. And was it a particularly pagan part of Britain? Of course now it’s associated with Arthurian legend etc, but Arthur is often claimed as a Christian king, and anyway his period – the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ or early medieval period, is precisely the era of the early British saints as well. But there do seem to have been a lot of them to this particular area, and I wonder why. The Celtic connection? hmm…
Holy St Gwerir, pray to God for us.
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