Constantine of Cornwall and Govan

From OrthodoxWiki
Revision as of 02:21, September 6, 2011 by Angellight 888 (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

Saint Constantine of Cornwall, also Constantine of Dumnonia, Constantine III of Britain, Saint Custennin, Custennin ap Cado, Custennin ap Cadwr,[1] or Costentyn (ca. 520-576 AD) is a 6th century Cornish saint that is identified with a minor British king Constantine. After a life of vice, he came to repentance in Wales and Ireland, and from there he went as a missionary to Scotland, where he was put to death by pirates. Two places in Cornwall are named after him.[2]

The only contemporary information about him comes from Gildas, who calls him king of Damnonia (probably Dumnonia) and castigates him for his various sins, including the murder of two "royal youths" inside a church.[note 1] Much later, Geoffrey of Monmouth included the figure in his pseudohistorical chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, adding fictional details to Gildas' account and making Constantine the successor to King Arthur as King of Britain. Under the influence of Geoffrey, derivative figures appeared in a number of later works.

His feast day is observed on March 9,[2][3][4] in the tradition of Cornwall and Wales, and in the Scottish and Irish traditions on March 11.[5][6][7] It is possible that the British king (†576) is not the same person as the Scottish martyr (†576,[8] or †590[6]), while also noting that there is another Scottish saint from a slightly later period, Constantine of Strathclyde (†640) whose feast day is also on March 11, but who is said to have reposed in peace (i.e. is not the martyr).[9] The traditions of St. Constantine of Cornwall and St. Constantine of Strathclyde are therefore, much confused. Canon G.H. Doble in his Cornish Saints says that “the name has given rise altogether to one of the most fearful series of muddles in the whole history of hagiography.”[10]

Gildas' Account

Gildas mentions Constantine in chapters 28 and 29 of his 6th-century work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae.[11][12] He is one of five Brythonic kings whom the author rebukes and compares to Biblical beasts. Constantine is called the "tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia", a reference to books of Daniel and the Revelation, and apparently also a slur directed at his mother. This Damnonia is generally associated with the kingdom of Dumnonia, a Brythonic kingdom in Southwestern Britain.[13] However, it is possible that Gildas was instead referring to the territory of the Damnonii in what was later known as the Hen Ogledd or "Old North".

Gildas says that despite swearing an oath against deceit and tyranny, Constantine disguised himself in an abbot's robes and attacked two "royal youths" praying before a church altar, killing them and their companions. Gildas is clear that Constantine's sins were manifold even before this, as he had committed "many adulteries" after casting off his lawfully wedded wife. Gildas encourages Constantine, whom he knows to still be alive at the time, to repent his sins lest he be damned.[11][12]


The historical Constantine of Dumnonia may have influenced later traditions, known in Southwestern Britain as well as in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, about a Saint Constantine who is usually said to have been a king who gave up his crown to become a monk. In the book, "The De Excidio of Gildas: Its Authenticity and Date" by Thomas O’Sullivan, it has been suggested that "probably two or three Constantines have been confused", and quotes the judgment of Canon G. H. Doble that:

“…there is not the smallest evidence that Constantine of Gildas is the St. Constantine whom we find honoured in the five parishes of Devon and Cornwall, as some persons, forgetful of the fact that Constantine was a very common name at the time, have rashly assumed.”[14]

South-west Britain
A Saint Constantine is revered in Devon and Cornwall, and has become identified with the monarch Constantine of Dumnonia (Constantine III of Britain).

His name is given to the parish church of Milton Abbot in Devon, and the villages of Constantine, Cornwall and Constantine Bay, as well as to extinct chapels in Illogan and Dunterton.

The saint at Constantine Bay was almost certainly the 'wealthy man' of this name mentioned in the Life of Saint Petroc. He was converted to Christianity by that holy man at nearby Little Petherick after the deer Constantine was hunting took shelter with him.

A Constantine "King of the Cornishmen" also appears in the Life of Saint David as having given up his crown in order to enter this saint's monastery at St David's.

Scotland and Ireland
The conversion of a Constantine[note 2] is recorded in the Annals of Ulster in 588 and a Constantine appears in the Breviary of Aberdeen as entering a monastery in Ireland incognito before joining Saint Mungo (alias Kentigern) and becoming a missionary to the Picts. He was martyred in Scotland about 576, and John of Fordun tells how he was buried at Govan (where his shrine can still be seen today). Although revered on the same day as the Cornishman, the date has probably been transferred from one to the other.

According to Bishop Richard Challoner's life of "Saint Constantine, Prince and Priest", in his Britannia Sancta (1745):

Martyred at Cantyre, in Scotland, on March 11th, 590.
"The Scottish Breviaries commemorate on March 11th the Feast of Saint Constantine, Martyr. He is said to have been a prince who, after the death of his princess, retired from the world, and, having resigned his kingdom to his son, became a monk in the Monastery of Saint David's. Going afterwards to Ireland, he entered a religious house at St. Carthag at Rathene, where, unknown to any, he served for four years at a mill, until his name was discovered. He was then fully instructed, ordained priest, and sent as a missionary to the Picts in Scotland. Having for many years laboured with Saint Columba for their conversion, he established a religious community of men at Govan, and converted the inhabitants of Cantyre to Christianity. At length the happiness he so long desired came to him in his advanced age; he was slain by infidels actuated by hatred of the Christian religion."[6]

In addition, the Life of Saint Kentigern names another Constantine (March 11, †ca.640) as the son and successor Riderch Hael, king of Alt Clut, later known as Strathclyde.[15]


South-west Britain
The two major centers for the cult of Saint Constantine (of Dumnonia) were the church in Constantine Parish and the Chapel of Saint Constantine in St Merryn Parish (now Constantine Bay), both in Cornwall,[16] and both of which may have originally supported monastic establishments.[note 3]

The ruined chapel at Constantine Bay also has a nearby holy well (uncovered in 1911). Taking the waters there was said to bring rain during dry weather. The chapel's splendid font is now in the parish church at St Merryn.

The saint's day is generally celebrated on March 9, and an annual "Feast" is held in the village of Constantine, on the Sunday nearest to March 9.


  1. "According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, these were, in fact, the treacherous sons of the evil usurper, Mordred, who were killed in Winchester & London." (David Nash Ford's Early British Kingdoms (EBK). St. Constantine of Cornwall, King of Dumnonia (c.AD 520-576). Nash Ford Publishing, 2001.)
  2. "Conversion," be it noted is a term which may apply either to the acceptance of the Christian faith or to the adoption of monastic life.
  3. However, Dr. Lynette Olson (1989) has challenged Charles Henderson's assertion (Henderson 1937) that there was a monastic establishment at Constantine, Kerrier, Cornwall.


  1. Anthony Richard Birley. The People of Roman Britain. University of California Press, 1980. p.210.
    Citing: P.C. Bartrum. Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts. Cardiff: University of Wales, 1966. p.179.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Latin Saints of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome. Constantine March 9.
  3. Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Κωνσταντίνος ὁ Μάρτυρας ὁ τῆς Κορνουάλλης. 9 Μαρτίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  4. David Nash Ford's Early British Kingdoms (EBK). St. Constantine of Cornwall, King of Dumnonia (c.AD 520-576). Nash Ford Publishing, 2001.
  5. Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). March 11 - St. Constantine, Martyr. The Lives of the Saints. Volume III: March. 1866. (
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 William Canon Fleming (Rector of St. Mary’s, Moorsfields, London). A Complete History of the British Martyrs – From the Roman Occupation to Elizabeth’s Reign. Proprietors of the Catholic Repository. Little Britain, London, 1902. (pp. 19,141,145)..
  7. Katherine I. Rabenstein. March 11 - Constantine of Scotland M (AC). St. Patrick Catholic Church, Washington, D.C. - Saint of the Day.
  8. Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Κωνσταντίνος ὁ Μάρτυρας βασιλέας τῶν Σκώτων. 9 Μαΐου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  9. Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Κωνσταντίνος ὁ βασιλεὺς. 11 Μαρτίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  10. Constantine, Cornwall. (The Constantine website, serving the community of Constantine in Cornwall).
  11. 11.0 11.1 De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, ch. 28–29.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Giles, John Allen, ed. (1841). The Works of Gildas and Nennius. London: James Bohn — English translation.
  13. Lloyd, John Edward. A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest. Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912.
  14. Thomas D. O'Sullivan. The De Excidio of Gildas: Its Authenticity and Date. BRILL, 1978. p.95. ISBN 9789004057937
  15. Clarkson, Tim (Winter 1999). "Rhydderch Hael". The Heroic Age 1 (2). Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  16. Orme, Nicholas. The Saints of Cornwall. Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0198207654


Hagiographies (March 9th)

Hagiographies (March 11th)

Hagiography (May 9th)

(Saint Constantine the Martyr, King of the Scots, May 9).


(Lists: "Custennin ap Cado (probably Saint Custennin) (c.530–c.560)")


  • Henderson, Charles (d. 1933), and G. H. Doble (editor) (1937). A history of the parish of Constantine in Cornwall. Truro: Royal Institution of Cornwall. (pp.42–43 + footnote).
  • Gilbert Hunter Doble. The Saints of Cornwall. Volumes 1-4. Printed for the Dean and Chapter of Truro by Parrett & Neves, 1960. ISBN 9781861430472
  • Nicholas Orme. The Saints of Cornwall. Oxford University Press US, 2000. ISBN 9780198207658
  • Constantine, Cornwall. (The Constantine website, serving the community of Constantine in Cornwall).
  • Anthony Richard Birley. The People of Roman Britain. University of California Press, 1980.