The Penwith Papers

Morvah - which St Bridget?


Today it is said that Morvah Church is dedicated to St. Bridget of Sweden. However, the first mention of St. Bridget in connection with the parish was in 1390, a year before St. Bridget of Sweden, who died in 1371, was canonised. I think that is open to question as there is at least one Irish saint, St Bridget of Kildare, who died in 525, who was named after Bridget a very important triple pagan Irish goddess to whom my attention was drawn by another member of the Group. Her role as mother goddess seems to never completely die with her reappearing as a catholic saint according to some people. Whether or not the goddess did become a Christianised saint is not clear particularly as her attributes seem to have been transferred to Bridget of Kildare. It certainly seems that even if she did not become a saint she was still an important figure in the Celtic church.

The earliest references to Bridget being referred to as “of Sweden” were in April 1928 by Cannon Jennings, vicar of Madron with Morvah, when writing in the Cornishman newspaper about the parish and by the Bishop of Truro in his address in August 1928 on the 100 year anniversary of the rebuilding of the Church. So far, prior to that year, ongoing research has found no references associating the Saint with either Sweden or Ireland.

In 1424 St Michaels Mount was given to the Abbey of Syon, founded in 1415, a monastery of the Bridgettine order. The order had been founded by Bridget of Sweden, later St Bridget, in 1344. and represents the only link between Bridget of Sweden and Penwith. Until 1424, there was no apparent reason why a small remote parish in west Cornwall should have heard of this saint especially a year before she was canonised. If we look at the rest of the dedications of churches along the north coast of West Penwith there is a fairly clear pattern of them being to Irish saints so it would seem likely that that would be the case at Morvah too.

It may be that no firm or reliable reference will ever be found to confirm which saint Morvah Church is actually dedicated to. It is interesting, though, to note that until the mid 1800s, when according to the vicar it had become an event attended 'by disorderly persons of every description', a very large fair was held at Morvah on the first Sunday in August, the feast of Lughnasa, now Lammas, a pagan Irish festival. It was said to be the biggest celebration outside Ireland. This Irish connection and the date of the canonisation of St. Bridget of Sweden seems to suggest that it was more likely that the Church Dedication was to an Irish Saint rather than the one from Sweden.

Carlene Harry

Note on the dedications of north coast churches in Penwith.

Uny Lelant is dedicated to St Uny, reputedly the brother of St Ia; St Ives is dedicated to St Ia; Zennor is dedicated to St Senara; St Just is dedicated to St Just; Sennen to St Sinninus. These are all Irish saints of the 6th century apart from St Senara, who is Breton. To the list we might add St Erth, reputed to be St Erc of Slane who was a travelling companion of St Bridget of Kildare (who died in 525). Erc was also the brother of St Ia and St Uny. Whether real or mythic, these dedications represent a tightly knit group of 6th century Irish saint/missionaries and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that a Morvah dedication to St Bridget of Kildare makes more sense than St Bridget of Sweden.

Ted Mole

The Penwith Papers:

Penwith Local History Group
The Penwith Papers:

Women of West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Women of West Cornwall"

Edited by
Pam Lomax

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