Vita Sancti Carantoci (Life of Saint Carannog)

The Saint’s Name and the Uncertainties of the Time-Period

Carannog is most commonly known as a 6th-Century AD Welsh abbot, confessor, and saint.  In addition to Carannog/Carantog (in Welsh), his name is variously represented as Cairnech/Cairnach/C(h)ernach/Cernath/Carnath (Irish), Caredec/Karanteg (Breton), Carantocus/Carantacus (Latin), and anglicised as Carantock (among other English variations, such as Carantoc and Carentoc).  Cairnach, Carnath, Carantog, and Carantoc are versions of a different saint’s name as a 5th Century Welsh prince who laboured under Saint Patrick in the evangelisation of Ireland.  Some say that both are the same saint.  In the time-period under consideration, precision is a luxury, dates are fluid, and information is fragmentary at best.  They could indeed be the same person, or the saint we know as “Carantoc” or “Carannog” might be an amalgam of two (or more) persons.  According to Reverend William Jenkins Rees, Carannog is credited with founding the church of Llangran(n)og (in Ceredigion/Cardiganshire, Wales), and founding Saint Carantoc’s Church in Crantock (across the River Gannel from Newquay) in Cornwall.

Cornwall, Ireland, and Carannog’s Lineage: Composition and Translation of the Texts

Carannog is listed among the Cornish Saints as Cernach, who took the name Carantocus.  According to Rodney Castleden, in his book King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend, this Cernach was the son of Cereticus of Ceredigiaum (Ceretigan, Cardigan).  Cereticus was the son of Cunedda.  This lineage is an echo of §1 (section one) in both Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci and Vita Secunda Sancti Carantoci.  In Ireland, this particular saint is known (in Latin) as Carus Cernachus.  He led the Irish Christians against the opposition of the Druids.  Vita Sancti Carantoci (both Prima and Secunda) is one of five insular saints’ Lives and two Breton ones that mention Arthur in contexts that are independent of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.  Both Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci and Vita Secunda Sancti Carantoci were written in the Twelfth (12th) Century AD.  (All translated text used in this article are from Arthur W Wade-Evans’ 1944 translation; some passages are paraphrased, others quoted directly.)  Vita Prima starts with a preface: “Here begins the Life of saint Carannog, confessor, May 16th.”  Vita Secunda §1 begins thusly: “There was once upon a time a man, Ceredig by name.  He was a king. … [who] had many sons, one of whom was … Carannog …”; section one continues with Carannog’s ancestry for fifteen (15) more generations showing that he was descended from “… Beli and Anna, … whom they say was cousin to the Virgin Mary.”  This is corroborated by Vita Prima §1, “… so easy is it to trace his genealogy to Mary, the Mother of the Lord, for which reason none is accounted higher among the kings of the Britons.”

Outline of Content in Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci and Vita Secunda Sancti Carantoci

John Strong Perry Tatlock, in his “The Dates of the Arthurian Saints’ Legends” article, states that Carannog’s Prima is a short homily (a religious discourse intended for spiritual edification rather than doctrinal instruction; in other words, a sermon).  Prima §2 sets the historical stage for the context of Carannog’s Life, “In those times the Irish overcame Britannia, the names of whose leaders were Briscus, Thuibaius, Machleius, and Anpacus.  Thirty [30] years before the birth of Saint David, … Carannog [was] well received in Ireland, … [he] led the districts of the Irish, … although against the will of the … magi [Druids, as stated earlier].”  Saint David being born c AD 500, this would mean that Carannog travelled to Ireland c 470.

Whereas Vita Secunda covers Carannog’s lineage (§1 and §2), and his father’s territory (§3): “This is their boundary from the river which is called Dyfrdwyf [the Dee] as far as another river which is called Gvoun [Gwaun]. … they held … many regions on the western [side] of Britannia”, many details of the life of Carannog are contradictory or obscure.  Ceredigion (Cardiganshire, Ceredigiaum, Ceretigan, Cardigan in other documents) is given as his birthplace: Vita Prima §1, “… from Ceredigion parentage is high-born …”; and in §3, “… his own native district of Ceredigion, …”.  Some say he was the son of Corwn (Corun), and the grandson of King Ceredig of Ceredigion.  In Vita Secunda §1, he is “… son of Ceredig, son of Cunedda, son of Edern, …”.  Prima §1 states “… Carannog, son of Ceredig, …”.  Perhaps there are two Carannogs.

A Dove and a Church: Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, and a Change of Name

In one life-episode, the shavings Carannog produced for lighting a fire were carried away (by a dove) as soon as they were made: where the bird alighted, he built a church (Vita Secunda §4, “And when he was there and whenever he wished to labour, a dove came [and] took away all that he whittled daily from his bachall.  And he said, ‘Lord, whither does she take it?’  And he resolved in his mind ‘I will go to see whither she takes this’.  And he arose to follow whither she went through wood, through forest.  The dove arrived and descended upon a place, leaving the shavings.  On that spot today, there is a church.”  This story is sometimes connected to Crantock in Cornwall.  The parish church there is dedicated to Saint Carantock.  According to Carannog’s Vita in the Léon Breviary (originally printed in AD 1516, and reprinted by Sabine Baring-Gould, in Y Cymmrodor, Volume 15), which concentrates on Carannog’s early life set in Ireland (Prima §1, “Then he proceeded to the island of Ireland, …”.  In Prima §2, His name is changed to Cernach.  There were churches and monasteries established, in his name, in Leinster); all of these events supposedly occurred in Wales, not Ireland.  Which lends credence to the idea of, at least, two Carannogs.

Carannog and Patrick: Cornwall, Wales, the West Country, Ireland, and Brittany

A statue of Saint Carannog Although Carannog probably moved to Cornwall (West Wales – Gorllewin Cymru, at the time) before preaching in Ireland; around Dulane in Meath and Inis-Baithen in Leinster, himself becoming known as C(h)ernach/Cairnech (Cairnach, Cernath, Carnath) of Tuilen/Dulane; Cornwall, West Wales, or Gorllewin Cymru are never mentioned in either Vita Prima or Vita Secunda.  In §2 of Prima, it is said: “The acts of the blessed Cernach are read in Ireland throughout the whole country, …”.  According to John Capgrave (1393–1464), Carannog “was led by his guardian angel to journey to Ireland to assist Saint Patrick in the conversion of that island”.  This is supported by §1 in Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci, “Then he proceeded to the island of Ireland, Patrick going before him. … And Carannog proceeded towards the right side, but Patrick towards the left, and they said they should meet once a year.”  It is said by some that Carannog spent time in Brittany, being honoured there as the founding saint of the town of Carantec and the neighbouring parish of Tegarantec (Tref Carantoc).  Carannog’s presence in Brittany cannot be confirmed in either Vita Prima or Secunda.  A logical conclusion is that stories set in Brittany are replications of those that occurred in Britain (most likely those in Wales and the West Country).

Cadwy and Arthur: Carannog, a Dragon, a Monastery, and a Vicarage

In the most famous incident of Carannog’s Vita Prima (§4 and §5), the saint, having returned to Cardigan, Wales, crossed the Bristol Channel, looking for his portable altar.  Carannog arrived on the banks of the River Willett and came into conflict with both King Cadwy (Cado, Cato) and King Arthur (“… dwelling in Dindraithov [Dindraethu, Din Draithou, Dunster].”, Vita Prima §4).   Rodney Castleden tells us “Cato [Cadwy] was a local king or sub-king, most likely based at Dunster Castle (in Somerset).  Cato’s territory may have embraced the Brendon Hills and the Vale of Stogumber, and possibly Exmoor and the Quantocks as well.”  Cadwy (Cato), as a known historical personage, was born c AD 482 and died c 537.  The Arthur in question could have been the semi-legendary King Arthyr of Dumnonia: born c AD 475, and flourished c 490 until his death c 526.

Carannog was eventually obliged to defeat a ferocious dragon to retrieve his altar (“… the serpent came with a great noise like a calf running to its mother, and it bent its head before the servant of God like a slave obeying his lord with humble heart and with sidelong glance.  … [Carannog] placed his stole about .. [the dragon’s] neck and led it like a lamb … He did not allow it to be killed because he said that it had come at the word of God to destroy the sinners who were in Carrum, and to show the power of God through him. … [Carannog] went outside the gate of the citadel and … loosed [the dragon] … and bade it to depart and not to hurt anyone nor to return any more.” Prima §4) and, in return, Carannog was given land at nearby Carhampton (in Somerset) to found a monastery and vicarage (clergy house, rectory) near Dunster (“And the king asked of … [Carannog] that he should accept Carrum for ever by written deed. … [afterward] he built a church there.” §4).

An Altar, Cadwy, and Arthur: the Severn, Monastery of Chernach, and the Saint’s Death

The entirety of Prima §5 is as follows: “Afterwards a voice came to him from heaven to cast the altar into the [Severn] sea [river].  Then he sent Cadwy and Arthur to enquire concerning the altar, and it was told them that it had landed at the mouth of the Guellit.  And the king said, ‘Again give him twelve parts of the land where the altar was found.’  Afterwards Carannog came and built a church there, and the monastery was called Carrov.”  This is an echo of §3 in the same Vita Prima, “And afterwards he came to the Severn River (i.e., the [Severn] sea), that he might sail across, and he cast the altar into the sea, which also preceded him whither God wished him to go.”  Carannog died in the middle of the Sixth (6th) Century AD.  His place of death and burial is disputed between Inis Baithen and Dulane in Ireland (dying at the church of C(h)ernach/Cairnech in Tuilen/Dulane).  According to §6 of Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci, “… a voice came to him from heaven and said that he should go into exile, and leave his familia.  Here innumerable persons have been buried in that monastery and their names are not recorded.  And he went by himself to the island of Ireland, and was buried on May 16th in his own renowned monastery, even the best of all his monasteries, which is called the monastery of Chernach.”  Saint Carannog’s feast day is 16 May; and the feast of Saint Carantock is celebrated in South Wales, Somerset, Cornwall, and Brittany.  No specific year is given for either Carannog’s birth or death.

Summaries and Conclusions

Carannog breize Who was this Saint?  When and where was he born?  Where did he call home?  To what countries did he travel?  Where and when did he die?  Where was he buried?  Was there more than just one Carannog?  To find the possible answers, one must search Ireland, Wales, Somerset, Cornwall, and Brittany.  Known as Cairnech (Cairnach, C(h)ernach, Cernath, Carnath) of Tuilen (Dulane), this Carannog (Carantocus) is a 5th Century AD Welsh prince who laboured under Saint Patrick in the evangelisation of Ireland c AD 470.  This particular saint is also known (in Latin) as Carus Cernachus.  He led the Irish Christians against the opposition of the Druids.  He was supposedly buried on 16 May in the monastery of Chernach.  Yet, in Ireland, Cairnech’s feast day is celebrated on 28 March.

In Wales, as a 6th-Century AD Welsh abbot, confessor, and saint, Carannog (Carantog) is sometimes presented as, and confused (or conflated) with a 5th Century Welsh prince.  In any case, Carannog (Carantocus) founded a church at Llangrannog in Ceredigion.  His birthplace is given as Ceredigion.  Carannog is either high-born as the son of Corwn (Corun), who is the son of King Ceredig of Ceredigion; or, as Vita Sancti Carantoci (Prima et Secunda) states, he is Carannog, son of Ceredig, son of Cunedda, son of Edern.  So he is a grandson or a great-grandson of the mighty Cunedda Wledig.  Perhaps two Carannogs did indeed exist.  To escape being elected king, Carannog fled to Llangrannog.  In one life-episode, the shavings Carannog produced for lighting a fire were carried away (by a dove) as soon as they were made.  Where the bird alighted, Carannog built the church of Llangran(n)og.  In the most renowned incident of Carannog’s Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci, the saint, having returned to Wales, crossed the Bristol Channel, looking for his portable altar.  Carannog arrived on the banks of the River Willett.  There he encountered King Cadwy and King Arthur (Arthyr).

As Carantock, Carannog (Carantocus) came into conflict with Cadwy (c 482 to c 537) and Arthur (c 475 to c 526).  Carannog was eventually obliged to defeat a ferocious dragon to retrieve his lost portable altar and, in return, he was given land at nearby Carhampton (in Somerset) to found a monastery and vicarage near Dunster.  Afterward, Carannog started to sail across the Severn.  He heard a voice, that “came to him from heaven”, telling him to cast the altar into the Severn sea (river).  Then he sent King Cadwy and King Arthur (Arthyr) to enquire concerning the altar, and it was told to them that it had landed at the mouth of the Guellit.  Carannog was given twelve parts of the land where the altar was found.  Afterward, Carannog came and built a church and a monastery there that was called Carrov.

Carannog (Carantocus) is credited with founding Saint Carantoc’s Church at Crantock in Cornwall.  He is among the Cornish Saints as Cernach (Carantocus).  This Cernach was the son of Cereticus of Ceredigiaum.  Cereticus was the son of Cunedda.  Genealogically, this Cernach appears to be the same as at least one of the previous Carannogs.  The story of a dove flying off with “the shavings” that Carannog “produced for lighting a fire”, and Carannog consequently building a church where the dove “descended upon a place” is sometimes connected to Crantock in Cornwall.  Although Carannog could have probably moved to Cornwall before supposedly preaching for some time in Ireland, it is never mentioned as such in either Vita Prima Sancti Carantoci or Vita Secunda Sancti Carantoci.

In the Breton language, Carannog (Carantocus) is known as Caredec (Karanteg).  It is said that Carannog was honoured in Brittany as the founding saint of the town of Carantec and the neighbouring parish of Tegarantec.  Carannog’s presence in Brittany cannot be confirmed in either Vita Prima or Secunda.  A logical conclusion is that stories set in Brittany are replications of those that occurred in Britain (or there exists yet another “Carannog”).  Vita Sancti Carantoci (both Prima and Secunda) is one of seven saints’ Lives that mention Arthur in contexts that are independent of Historia Regum Britanniae.  In all considerations, the feast day of Saint Carantock (Carannog, Carantocus) is celebrated on 16 May in South Wales, Somerset, Cornwall, and Brittany.  His feast day in Ireland, celebrated for him as Cairnech, is 28 March.  Perhaps there are at least two Carannogs: one born in the mid 5th Century AD as the son of Ceredig (son of Cunedda Wledig), and another (born in the late 5th Century) who was the son of Corwn (son of Ceredig, the son of Cunedda Wledig).  The elder Carannog (Cairnech) would have been the one who travelled with Saint Patrick in Ireland, and could have been an uncle to the younger Carannog.  Even though the Carannog of Vita Sancti Carantoci is, at least, an amalgam of these two; it was most likely the younger one (son of Corwn) who came into conflict with Cadwy and Arthyr.

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