June 4 – Mary and Martha; Petroc of Cornwall

Mary and Martha (I cent.) are well-known characters from the Gospels. We first meet them when Jesus is staying at their house, and Martha is working away in the kitchen while Mary is sitting at the feet of Christ, listening to his teachings. Martha comes out and complains that she’s doing all the work, and demands that Jesus order her sister to help her. Our Lord tells her, “You are worried about many things, but only one is needed” (Luke 10:41). Delightfully, the Ryrie Study Bible explains this verse by saying that if you’re having friends over, you needn’t fix them multiple dishes, but a single casserole. I kid you not.

Later M&M show up as the sisters of Lazarus, famous for being dead and then not being dead. Once again Martha is the practical one, running to meet our Lord as he enters their hometown, and later informing Him of the tendency of dead bodies to stink. Orthodox tradition also names Martha and Mary among the Myrrh-bearing women who, at the break of dawn, came to the tomb of the Life-giver, where they saw an angel sitting upon a stone (and so on).

After our Lord’s ascension, Tradition tells us they (along with their brother) were cast out of Jerusalem in the persecutions following the death of (St.) Stephen. They wound up on Cyprus (not a bad place to wind up, if travel brochures speak truly), where Lazarus became the first bishop of Kittim (aka Lanarca). The Golden Legend, on the other hand, places them in a boat without rudder, oars, sail, or SatNav, in which they drift to Marseilles and preach the gospel to the natives. Martha in particular is referred to as “facound,” which (one must admit) is a plaudit few people dare to lay claim to in these decadent times[1].

In the west Mary (this one) is sometimes confounded with Mary Magdalene, for reasons that remain unconvincing. Martha is the patron saint of butlers, cooks, dieticians, domestic servants, homemakers, hotel-keepers, housemaids, housewives, innkeepers, laundry workers, maids, manservants, servants, servers, and single laywomen. My usual site for patronage totally fails me for Mary, presumably because of the iffy association with the Magdalene. Perhaps she’s the patron of people whose siblings do all the work. Makes sense, right?

Petroc of Cornwall (d. ca. 594), the son of a prince of Wales, left to study theology in Ireland (a common temptation in those days), then removed to Cornwall, understandably enough. He founded a monastery at Lanwethinoc, by which we mean Petrocston, by which we mean Padstow, and had an “active apostolate,” by which we mean, um, whatever exactly that means. Namedroppers aver that he was a teacher to (St.) Kevin back in Ireland, and converted Constantine of Cornwall by saving a deer he was hunting.

After actively apostolating 30 years in Cornwall, he pilgrimaged to Rome and Jerusalem, and ended up hermitting on an island in the Indian Ocean (a warning to us all about placing too much trust in one’s map app). He returned to Cornwall with a tamed pet wolf he met in India. He defeated a mighty serpent, and retired to the woods to live as a hermit.

After his unremarkable death, his relics were kept at St. Petroc’s Church, Bodmin, until (in 1177) they were stolen by a Breton, winding up at the Abbey of St. Meen in Brittany. They were restored to Bodmin by Henry II, then tossed into the Bay of Hailemouth (near Padstow) during the English Reformation (somebody should be ashamed), although his beautiful ivory casket was most kindly returned to the church at Bodmin. He is the patron saint of fourteen different places in Cornwall, Wales, and Devonshire (including Cornwall itself), as well as Saint-Méen in France.


[1] Even people who know what it means.