The Life of Saint Petroc
By Jacob Riyeff, Obl.S.B. - South Bend, Indiana, USA - 15 September 2013
Here we relate what we have found written
in ancient books: how the noble and pure
Petroc, the glorious servant of God,
sought sanctity and love in all his ways;
how this prince made poverty his consort,
embraced the mystery of his Master’s cross;
how he went to distant lands as a pilgrim:
to the Green Isle, the far East, and to Rome --
his great deeds are recounted by those who
still honor him, even in these dark days;
how he alone battled the fierce serpent,
befriended animal and saint alike;
how he healed the sick and founded houses --
as he grew in holiness and virtue.
In days long past, in Britain’s western lands,
Glywys, valiant young son of King Solas,
sired a large family who won for him
renown among those warring Celtic peoples.
After repelling foreign invasion
his own youngest son won praise and honor,
protected his people, holding his spear.
And when King Glywys went beyond this veil
of tears, this sad abode of suffering,
the people desired this Petroc as king.
Yet Petroc had no desire for the throne;
no powerful seat he sought -- rather,
to offer his praise to the Shepherd of all.
He saw clearly he had no city here:
peace and solace at the hand of his Master,
love of creatures his only goals. Nothing
could stop his complete immolation, whole,
in charity’s all-consuming furnace.
Petroc, ever hopeful to share the gifts
of love and joy, called to his faithful men.
He explained his mind to all gathered there:
his longing to study the ways of heaven,
his soul’s to see the fair Green Isle, to study
upon its shores with Ireland’s fire-pitched saints.
And these men, though there were sixty present,
foresaw their future happiness with him
to whom they owed their success, whom they loved.
Through fasts and toils and rigorous learning
they would watch with him, him whom they loved.
They placed themselves at his disposal and
Petroc knowingly wept, and smiled.
the band set sail upon a smallish ship.
As they made their way, our saint called to mind
the strict vows he and his men had professed:
true freedom purchased with strict discipline.
Their voices rose in rich Brythonic tongue,
speeding solemn songs of praise to their God.
They offered their wills, their minds, and their prayers,
praising all things in the glory of God.
The scent of frankincense and myrrh, lingering
upon coarse robes, rose to their senses still,
as they made their wet way to Ireland’s shores.
They landed on that Gaelic sand and sought
for holy teachers: hermits, monks, or nuns
tending perpetual fires through black nights
of sin. Glowing embers, ever alight,
beacons calling bodies back to their Source.
Quickly they found teachers worthy and wise
to break the Scriptures and Rule of life open.
As Wisdom sung her own praises they listened
with eager hearts and minds open to love:
love that loved them from all eternity.
Wakeful, they kept watch; in fasting stayed full.
Amidst blue skies, grey stone, green fields they lived
and spoke and had their being, saw their God.
In dark long watches of the night, they sat silent
and gazed at stars and moon, the spheres
that rang with nine choirs’ song, eternal praise
of heaven’s Guard, thrice holy, three times blessed.
Those Britons and Gaels sat under night skies
and pondered the Mystery: the Triune One.
Their hidden Pentecost threw untold sparks
into the dark, terrifying demons,
gladdening hosts of angels before the face
of God. Dominions ministered to them:
beneath the shining sun they broke the bread,
drank the blood of the world’s suffering Logos.
They learned at the feet of Patrick and Declan
how God became man that men might be gods,
as David sang of long ago with harp
and voice as one. Petroc grew in holiness.
Twenty times the earth had turned around the sun
before the servant of God was moved to leave.
Soberly rejoicing in what they had
received, they offered prayers of thanksgiving.
Petroc made known he meant to sail to Britain’s
western shore and all were agreed to go.
Those holy men came shortly to that place
where before they had left their faithful ship.
Anxious, those men scoured the beach, seeking some
new prow, when Petroc spied that same old ship,
battered by two decades of beachy years,
yet whole and sound, protected by the Lord.
Though untrained in navigation, our saint
mounted the craft and called his men aboard.
Taking on faith that all things would be made
possible for the eternal Lord’s saints,
the men Petroc chose had faith in their lord,
stepped on the deck with faith, with trust, with joy.
To the mast’s top he had them raise the sail,
the canvas spread; the ship was borne along
quickly though there were indeed adverse winds.
The crew made their crossing fast and settled
themselves in that calm haven, safe and sound,
which they desired in calm Trebedrek.
Upon the banks of Kammel, that lilting,
crooked river, St. Samson lived and worked.
This zealous man barraged heaven’s gate with
continual prayers, his works all merciful.
Living a penitential life, he called
the wild his home, working daily to raise
a temple to those Three he knew were One.
Going out to till a small plot of land
one terce, Samson turned his eyes to the sea.
He viewed far off a ship and crew moving
fast toward shore -- too fast for natural power
to be at work. He watched a man climb out
upon the shore; waited for them to come.
The holy clan disembarked, made for fields
of grain and corn. The reapers in that field
perceived the man who stood before his friends
excelled in holy works. They asked our saint
to quench their thirst, make water flow from rock.
Seeing them bent from toil and work, he prayed,
imploring God’s mercy, struck the stone
and water flowed clean and pure: that fountain
still flows, sending streams to all the thirsty.
V. St. Samson
When all had drunk their fill St. Petroc asked
if anywhere in that locale there lived
a religious man, filled with zeal for God.
They told him of solitary Samson,
chaste and poor: how he lived on barley bread,
prayed on his knees all night long, lived by the
sweat of his brow, was in every way worthy
of being sought by other holy men.
When Petroc found Samson, sweet liberty
was embraced by both through the kiss of peace
and ample praise, calling to moor and sea.
Petroc took leave of Samson and his cell,
receiving his blessing; he sought Wethinoc,
that holy bishop, true shepherd of faith.
Wethinoc received them with care and grace,
showed them hospitality without guile.
Celebrating communion between such
happy men, they reveled in holy mirth.
When next day the sun arose above that
shining isle, upon which our saint was born,
Petroc asked if he could stay, to live
with his men where Wethinoc dwelt, to make that place
their home. Bishop Wethinoc agreed and gave
that place to the holy man’s tender care,
to magnify the Lord by his holy
works. Wethinoc asked only that these new monks
name the site for him, that they may recall
his blesséd memory in their future prayers.
Thirty long years that house sheltered Petroc:
his fasts, his vigils, his strict abstinence.
He did not long for savory food, like Samson
made bread his meat; at cockcrow he would plunge
his wiry frame into cold, icy streams.
Yet never did he let his sacrifice
of earthly pleasure drown him, rendering him
all unfit for the service of his Lord.
Thus after thirty years spent seeking God
alone, placing desire in rightful place,
one night Petroc woke to a splendid thought:
to worthily travel, make pilgrimage
to see St. Peter’s throne, his resting place
in far off Latin lands, and to witness
to Britain’s stake in matters God-fearing.
Little did he know what vast adventures
awaited that humble servant of God.
He left Lannwedhenek that day. He sought
the road to Rome; over sea and land
his band processed to shrines along the way.
They reached the eternal city, drove at once
to the flame that burned bright and clear over
the grave of him who holds the hallowed keys,
Prince of Apostles, who died for his Lord.
They knelt before the vicar’s tomb, besought
his intercession, aid come down from heaven.
Their charge fulfilled, back to Kernow they went
only to meet a vicious storm that turned
roads into rivers, leaving them stranded.
Noble Petroc cheered his friends, promised that
the storm would soon give way.
But God had not
ordained the ceasing of that storm; Petroc’s
promise was made in vain. Our saint wept tears
of ice, had bitter sorrow for his sins.
He turned about to make for Rome once more,
to dissolve his presumption in strict penance.
And so with the kiss of peace, turned once more
for Rome, Petroc walked the weary way back,
taking as nothing cold and fear and dark.
In that hallowed city Petroc stayed
a pilgrim’s time, sought more shrines, more grace,
never praying for himself, only others.
He beseiged heaven’s door with supplications
mild, magnanimous, and ever upright.
Grace called him then to Judah’s home, the Savior’s
fair land to see and painful paths to tread;
he prostrated before the greatest shrine
in all this holy world: the Lord’s dark tomb
from which He came and freed us all from sin.
In tattered cloak he knelt with tears dropping
from his silent eyes and besought the Prince
of Peace to turn his face from our great sin,
from all the unkindness mankind has done
with purpose and without, with his great Passion
to cover over our sins and gather us to
Once he had prayed, Petroc went out
and sat upon the ground. He waited there,
waited to hear where he ought to go now.
Without warning, without preparation,
he heard and obeyed his God, turned his steps
toward the east and continued on and on
in tribulation on road and river.
Thieves harassed him, hunger stabbed him, yet at
last he reached the Veda’s holy homeland.
Fatigued, he fell asleep upon the shore
and dreamt the dreams of saints; then awaking
he found a ship so small one man alone
would fit within its keel. He entered in
with trust in God; he was wafted across
the sea, impelled by its mighty power.
Glywys’s son beached, climbed onto the sand,
was hailed by several holy men, hermits
in that vast sea. He stayed with them and prayed
the prayer of contemplation, uniting
souls to Godhead, meeting heaven with earth.
Who knows what they taught him there? Who knows what
he taught them? In Indian nights, in silent
repose, what did those most hidden of men?
Abandoned to soulful agape, they
dwelt in surest, freest love as God dwells.
Yet this apophatic sojourn served a
preparatory purpose; Petroc knew
that with this new clarity his true trial
would soon face him, would soon be close at hand.
And thus an angel came to him in dream,
told him to go back home, to seek Britain.
Arising, Petroc left his friends, told them
the Lord had called him on; so saying he
set sail back to mainland, where he had left
his staff seven years before. He found it
attended by a great grey wolf, tame and
kind: he led Petroc through many dangers.
The friends made their way to the Tamar’s shores,
to the great good cheer of all Petroc’s monks.
A happier sight none saw that great day
when their father came home from long journeys.
IX. The Worm
And so that venerable abbot was home;
that coenobitic family possessed
great joy: they performed with care and mindful
attention daily rounds of hours and masses.
Petroc had passed through many long dark nights,
was a faithful father to his family.
Yet noble Petroc’s home was not left to
this peace. There was a monster in the land,
a dire inheritance left by the king,
a monarch just recently dead. Liars
and thieves he had thrown viciously into
a snake-filled pit -- eaten cruelly,
eaten alive: a sin against the Lord.
The crime was stopped upon the old king’s death,
but serpents and worms needed food, feasted
on one another. They grew great, greater
still, until one alone remained. And this
worm sought out other food, innocent
lives cut short to satisfy his hunger.
Petroc saw clearly that his learning and
penance, his quiet contemplative years,
were all for this good fruit: that he might stand
alone with God and face the wretched serpent,
that he might fight the best of all fights, not
for himself but for all who are oppressed
under the foul enemy’s cruelest yoke.
The abbot set out for the beast’s stinking home
to work the works of mercy, to free the
land by dislodging the terrible worm.
Holy Samson and Wethinoc joined him
on the road; they proceeded with great haste
and came quickly to where the stinking thing
lived among the bones of his poor victims.
No words were needed in that fight, we read --
lighthearted sanctity against foul hate.
The worm resisted, despised Petroc’s presence,
yet the glow of holiness rent his rage,
and Petroc bound the creature with his stole.
The three saints commanded the beast to leave
Kernow’s shores and depart into the sea.
The serpent complied and swam away, and was
never seen in Brythonic lands again.
And so Petroc faced that vile worm and serpent,
confronted malice with high sanctity;
in spiritual battle he confounded
the ancient worm, threw down the sin which had
for so long ruled the land, brought all joy and peace.
X. Into the Desert
Thus ridding the land of spiteful evil,
Petroc returned with his saintly comrades.
With work well done he turned his mind again
to the grace of silent retreat. Wild woods
called, the desert empty and consoling.
Authority placed in a convert’s hands --
Peter, new to the faith but dutiful --
Petroc set out with twelve men to the woods
to dwell in the hollows as anchorites.
Yet even there the man of God’s virtue
could not be hidden long. A certain day
in a peaceful grove Petroc prayed alone
and saw a stag running toward him, fleeing
the huntsmen of Constantine, a rich man.
Kernow’s simple saint protected the hart
from the teeth of the bellowing, barking dogs.
The chieftain himself arrived with his men,
was furious and would have struck Petroc,
had his strong hand not been held back by God.
The Creator of all held back that hand
and Constantine was struck with wild terror.
The powerful man was stuck till he sought
pardon from Petroc, perceiving his soul’s fault.
After gaining his freedom, Constantine
lodged with the saint, learning the ways of God.
He and his men, nineteen in all, converted
that very day, became adorers of
the three-fold God, servants worthy and true.
XI. Final Retreat
After several years’ abode in that place
in prayerful life and true conversation,
holy Petroc went off at night alone
across the moors to a lone hermitage.
An angel showed it to him: where Guron dwelt
alone and unencumbered by the world.
There in the deepest wilderness, Guron
lived a hermit’s life, praying ceaselessly,
likewise laboring for his daily bread.
The two met and, wordless, sat together,
for no words are needed for souls to speak.
They shared a meal and thanked divine goodness,
two souls burning brightly amidst the dark.
At daybreak Guron left to seek the coast,
offering his small cell to his new-found friend.
Petroc accepted Guron’s gracious gift,
watched his brother’s steps, hoped the best for him --
the love of saints remains when bodies don’t;
their communion is in the hands of God.
The abbot’s disciples had been anxious,
scouring the wilds for their missing father.
Arriving at St. Guron’s hermitage,
they found him absorbed in the praise of God,
besought him, asked him, and entreated him
to return promptly to his house and monks.
But he longed to stay where the world was quiet,
to retire from the noise and the worry.
Some stayed there on the moor with their father,
they heard his teaching, followed his example.
He discoursed on true religion, taught them
how to renounce their corrupt affections
once they had forsaken the world’s affairs,
how they might disdain seductive pleasures,
how to restrain the passion of anger,
how to dissolve irritability,
how to extinguish envy, flee from lies,
cease speaking evil and prepare their hearts
to become temples for the Holy Spirit.
“Fear alone buries our talents,” he said,
and those who had ears to hear did hear.
Happy were those instructed by Petroc:
it seemed Sophia taught with her own lips
as that holy abbot smiled upon them.
Bodmin was founded there, a glad retreat
for any poor soul who deigned to enter.
After these events and many others,
blesséd Petroc, ceaselessly yearning for
heaven’s glory, disciplining his soul
and his body that others might seek God,
departed to find his Lord full of days
and found him in eternal life. The flesh
he wore, worn out with fastings, vigils,
returned to the earth from which it was made,
awaiting the call at the end of time.
Abraham’s bosom received his spirit;
the bright song of the angels welcomed him home.
May his glorious merits intercede
for us as he sings with the Church triumphant;
may his life inspire us who live on earth,
who suffer here and pray with him to Christ,
who lives and reigns with the Father and Spirit,
world without end, world unchanging.