St Piran's Cross, Penhale Sands
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Perhaps the oldest Celtic cross in Cornwall
Amid the dunes of Penhale Sands, just a stone's throw from the early medieval St Piran's Old Church, stands one of the oldest stone crosses in Cornwall. The cross and the church stand within an ancient oval enclosure dating to the pre-Christian period.
St Piran's Cross stands just over 8 feet high (2.4m) and is the only three-holed cross in Cornwall. The wheel-head has holes through the top and sides of the cross-head, but where you would expect the bottom hole to be is only a depression in the stone. Was it simply left unfinished?
The cross stands just south of the Penhale Army Training Estate and within the huge sand dune system of Penhale Sands, the largest sand dune ecosystem in Cornwall. The dunes have been named a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The cross is carved from granite and stands 17m south of the church chancel. The head is 0.6m in diameter. There is a circular boss in the centre of each face. The head and rectangular shaft were carved from a single piece of stone. The shaft measures 0.5m x 0.4m at the base and tapers slightly towards a collar at the base of the head. A 19th-century source mentions a cross-base, but there is no evidence of this today. It is very likely buried beneath the sand.
The cross was mentioned as a boundary marker in a 10th-century charter, where it was called 'Cristen-mael'.
The cross may have been erected to mark the trail to the nearby Oratory of St Piran, established by the 6th-century Irish missionary Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall. Piran's Oratory was buried by sand and abandoned in favour of St Piran's Old Church. The Old Church, in turn, was abandoned and a new church built further inland at Perramzabuloe.
The cross is not the easiest historic site to find. The easiest way we found was to park on the minor road from Perranporth to Mount. There is a small layby opposite the lane to Rosehill.
From the layby there is a path leading into Penhale Sands. Head north-west towards the sea and you will eventually find the cross and Old Church to your right, with a path leading left towards the Oratory.
The cross is fascinating on its own, but combined with the Old Church and the nearby Oratory it forms one of the most fascinating historic sites in Britain. The atmosphere of Penhale Sands is simply stunning, and to see the cross rising up out of the featureless dunes is a sight you will not soon forget.
Do not mistake the nearby modern concrete cross overlooking St Piran's Oratory for this authentic Celtic cross!
About St Piran's Cross
Address: Penhale Sands, Perranporth, Cornwall, England
Attraction Type: Prehistoric Site - Cross
Location: Access by a footpath through Penhale Sands. The easiest path leads from a layby on the minor road between Perranporth and the hamlet of Mount. The closest post code for satnavs is TR4 9PN.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
St Piran's Old Church - 0 miles (Historic Church)
St Piran's Oratory - 0.2 miles (Historic Church)
Cubert, St Cubert's Church - 1.2 miles (Historic Church)
Perran Round - 1.3 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Perranzabuloe, St Piran's Church - 2.7 miles (Historic Church)
Pirates Quest - 4 miles (Museum)
Trenance Gardens - 4.3 miles (Garden)
Trerice - 4.5 miles (Historic House)
Nearest Accommodation to St Piran's Cross: