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The Life of St Samson of Dol (excerpt)

The Life of St Samson is the oldest of the Cornish saints' lives. It describes St Samson arriving in Cornwall from Ireland, converting the pagan Cornish to Christianity and creating a holy well. Translated by Thomas Taylor from a 7th century manuscript.



XLVIII. Now it came to pass, on a certain day, as he was on a journey through a certain district which they call Tricurius (=Trigg) he heard, on his left hand to be exact, men worshipping a certain idol (='phanum') after the custom of the Bacchantes, by means of a play in honour of an image. Thereupon he beckoned to his brothers that they should stand still and be silent while he himself, quietly descending from his chariot to the ground and standing upon his feet and observing those who worshipped the idol, saw in front of them, resting on the summit of a certain hill, an abominable image.

On this hill I myself have been and have adored and with my hand have traced the sign of the cross which St. Samson with his own hand carved by means of an iron instrument on a standing stone. When St. Samson saw it (the image), selecting two only of the brothers to be with him, he hastened quickly towards them, their chief, Guedianus, standing at their head, and gently admonished them that they ought not to forsake the one God who created all things and worship an idol. And when they pleaded as excuse that it was not wrong to celebrate the mysteries of their progenitors in a play, some being furious, some mocking, but some of saner mind strongly urging him to go away, the power of God was made clearly manifest for a certain boy, driving horses at full speed, fell from a swift horse to the ground, and twisting his head as he fell headlong, remained just as he was flung, little else than a lifeless corpse.

XLIX. Then St. Samson, speaking to the tribesmen as they wept around the body, said, " You see that your image is not able to give aid to the dead man. But if you will promise that you will utterly destroy this idol and no longer adore it, I, with bring the dead man to life." And they consenting, he commanded them to withdraw a little further off, and, after praying earnestly over the lifeless man for two hours, he delivered him, who had been dead, alive and sound before them all. Seeing this, they all with one accord, along with the afore-mentioned chief, prostrated themselves at St. Samson's feet and utterly destroyed the idol.

L. Then the far-sighted chief made them all come and ratify their allegiance by baptism at the hands of St. Samson, and, as he came with them, he praised God and said, "Behold, an angel of God sent from heaven has come to rescue us from our error; but even now we have great anxiety of mind." St. Samson said, " What is that?" The chief replied, "We have a certain fair land held in occupation by a poisonous and very vicious serpent; in fact, this serpent lives in a cave impossible of approach, and it is destroying nearly two villages and allows no man to dwell there." When he heard this St. Samson boldly said, "In the name of the Lord let us go, nothing doubting" and with one they went away with St. Samson; moreover, that young man who had been lately restored to life, having promised to become a clerk, followed him.

And so, with St. Samson, the boy recently chosen preceded the army and furnished it with a leader all the way; and when the day broke, on the second day they saw with their eyes that awful cave where the serpent was. Then the boy inquired, "Look! Elect of God, do you see the cave across the river where the serpent is?" But he trusting in the Lord and commanding the army and his monks likewise to stay where they were, alone-nay, God was with him-crossed the river to the other side, his boy following him, and together they came to the entrance of the awful cave. St. Samson, moreover, as he looked upon the boy who followed him with a gentle smile, spoke as follows "Boy, be of good cheer and play the man," and the boy said, "Whom shall I fear excellency? God is with thee." And then, ordering him to stand a little way off, he boldly entered the cave. The serpent, however, as soon as it saw him, trembled exceedingly and was disposed to turn itself and bite its tail with passion; but he, quickly seizing the linen girdle that was around him, without more ado, slipped it on its neck, and dragging the beast near to him, flung it from a certain height and charged it in the name of Jesus Christ not to live any longer. Now, when the boy saw these things, he rushed in wild haste to the army and to the chief, and related to them all the things in order which he had seen. But they had no sooner heard than they all, without delay, quietly came to him and wished him to receive apostolic honour. He, however, was not willing to accept anything great from them, but, in honour of the power which had been displayed, he commanded his own men to found a monastery near the cave; yet he himself indeed, in the meanwhile, led a heavenly life in the cave, ever giving himself to fasting and to prayer.

LI. But I think silence ought not to be preserved concerning that miracle which in this same cave God showed on his account. For on a certain day when, by reason of thirst, after excessive faintness arising from fasting and thirst, he prayed to the Lord that He would deign to give him some of the water of comfort, forthwith the Lord of heaven, at his prayer, satisfied his desire and he became aware of a brisk shower of water, as from a cloud, falling from the stony lintel of the cave and, near the cave, flowing over a certain rock at great speed. Then in truth, when he saw this, he greatly rejoiced because of it, and perceived thereby that, through the Spirit, God had given help in answer to his prayer And up to this day that stream has never ceased to flow either by day or by night.