Constantine of Cornwall

Constantine (Costentyn; Welsh: Custennin) was an early 6th century king of Dumnonia in south-western Britain, sometimes identified with a saint of the same name.

King Constantine

All that is known for certain about Constantine comes from the writings of Gildas, who calls him "the tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia". Damnonia is assumed to be a reference to the south-west, rather than a similarly named kingdom which may have emerged in what is now Scotland. Gildas rebukes Constantine for having "put away" his wife in order to commit numerous adulteries. Furthermore, after swearing to make peace with his enemies, he disguised himself as an abbot, entered the church where two youths had sought sanctuary and murdered them on the steps of the altar. Sir Constantine, also called Constantine III of Britain, King Arthur's successor, may be based on this king. He first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century pseudo-history Historia Regum Britanniae, where he murders the sons of Mordred in a similar fashion.

Saint Constantine


A Saint Constantine (possibly more than one) is revered in Devon and Cornwall, and has become identified with the monarch. If this is correct, he must have mended his ways. He gives his name to the parish church of Milton Abbot in Devon and the villages of Constantine and Constantine Bay in Cornwall, also 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.

The conversion of a Constantine is recorded in the Annals of Ulster in 588 and a Constantine, King of Cornwall 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. The Life of Saint Kentigern says that the Northern Saint Constantine was the son of a King of Strathclyde, while David Nash Ford suggests he was the son of Riderch Hael.


The cult of Saint Constantine centred on the two places bearing his name, both of which may have originally supported monastic establishments . 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 name of the village of Constantine in Kerrier is recorded as Sanctus Constantinus in the Domesday Book. However, the monasteries seem to have declined into parish churches, after the Norman Conquest. The present Kerrier building is 15th century and bears no remnants of Constantinist iconography. The saint's day is generally celebrated on 9 March. An annual "Feast" is held in the village of Constantine, on the Sunday nearest to 9th March.

See also



  • Henderson, Charles (1937). A history of the parish of Constantine in Cornwall. Truro: Royal Institution of Cornwall.
  • Doble, G. H. (1965). The Saints of Cornwall. Dean & Chapter of Truro.
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth; Thorpe, Lewis. The History of the Kings of Britain. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044170-0.
  • Orme, Nicholas (2000). The Saints of Cornwall. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820765-4
  • Olson, Lynette (1989). Early monasteries in Cornwall (Studies in Celtic History series). Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-478-6.

External links

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