The history of the early Christian saints and missionaries to the British Isles makes for absorbing reading, and today’s visitor to the UK and Northern Ireland can plan an equally fascinating itinerary following in their footsteps. It’s a great excuse to see as much of the Emerald Isle and the golden sand beaches of Cornwall as possible, not to mention the sampling of Guinness and Cornish cream teas along the way!
The Irish Saint
Starting with one of the best known of these missionaries, Saint Patrick not only has his own day that is celebrated in Ireland and by Irish emigrants around the world, but any number of place names in Ireland and the south-west of England that derive from his name. A good starting point is the Saints Trail in the little fishing town of Padstow in Cornwall – once known as Petrocstow – where Patrick supposedly landed in a coracle having crossed the Irish Sea. Padstow is not only the gastronomic centre of the south-west but its ancient church also has some interesting carvings and a link with the Irish saint, as well as the legendary little mermaid carved into a pew end. Patrick certainly got around and there are tales of his having visited some of the first Roman settlements in Britain such as Colchester in Essex – a town well worth visiting in its own right.
Those Who Live in Glass Houses…
The early saints were certainly an argumentative lot, and there are endless tales in Cornwall and Ireland of rock-throwing contests between rival saints. The dramatic moorland and coastal landscape surrounding the small town of St Just near Lands End in Cornwall is strewn with large boulders supposedly thrown by St Columb (another of the early missionaries who crossed the Irish Sea) at St Just. Throwing stones near the famed geodesic domes of the popular Eden Project near St Austell would not be an approved pastime these days!
Eden Project by A bloke called Jerm
Following in the Footsteps of Saints
St Patricks Trail in Northern Ireland leads the visitor through stunning scenery and a feast of extraordinary sights and absorbing history. North Down Museum is a key site for any tourist exploring the early religious heritage of the British Isles, and 6th century Bangor Abbey, founded by Saint Comhall, is a must to explore. St Patrick is buried in magnificent Down Cathedral, and close by the cathedral is Saul Church, where Patrick began his campaign to convert the pagan tribes of the island.