Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  English Folklore  Index  Previous  Next 


 Although in common with many of the churches in the remote districts of Cornwall, "decay's effacing fingers" have been allowed to do their work in St Leven Church, yet there still remains some of the ornamental work which once adorned it. Much of the carving is irremediably gone; but still the inquirer will find that it once told the story of important events in the life of the good St Leven. Two fishes on the same hook form the device, which appears at one time to have prevailed in this church. These are to commemorate a remarkable incident in St Leven's life. One lovely evening about sunset, St Leven was on his rocks fishing. There was a heavy pull upon his line, and drawing it in, he found two breams on the same hook. The good saint, anxious to serve both alike, to avoid, indeed, even the appearance of partiality, took both the fishes off the hook, and cast them back into the sea. Again they came to the hook, and again were they returned to their native element. The line was no sooner cast a third time than the same two fishes hooked themselves once more. St Leven thought there must be some reason unknown to him for this strange occurrence, so he took both the fishes home with him. When the saint reached Bodellen, he found his sister, St Breage, [a] had come to visit him with two children. Then he thought he saw the hand of Providence at work in guiding the fish to his hook.

Even saints are blind when they attempt to fathom the ways of the Unseen. The fish were, of course, cooked for supper; and the saint having asked a blessing upon their savory meal, all sat down to partake of it. The children had walked far, and they were ravenously hungry. They ate their suppers with rapidity, and, not taking time to pick out the bones of the fish, they were both choked. The apparent blessing was thus transformed into a curse, and the bream has from that day forward ever gone by the name, amongst fishermen, of "choke children."

There are many disputes as to the fish concerned in this legend. Some of the fishermen of St Leven parish have insisted upon their being "chad"(the shad, clupeida alosa); while others, with the strong evidence afforded by the bony structure of the fish, will have it to have been the bream (cyprinus brama). My young readers, warned by the name, should be equally careful in eating either of these fish.

[a] St Breock or Briock, a bishop of a diocese in Armorics, is said to have been the patron saint of St Breage. But there is a Cornish distict, "Germow Mathern, Breoga Lavethas." Germoe was a king, Brasga a midwife, which rather favours the statement that St Breage 'was a sister of St Leven. Breage and Germoe are adjoining parishes, having the shores of the Mount's Bay for their southen boundaries. When the uncultivated inhabitants of this remote region regarded a wreck as a "God-send," and plundered without hesitation every body, living or dead, thrown upon the shore, these parishes acquired a melancholy notoriety. The sailors popular prayer being,

"God keep us from rocks and shelving sands,
And save us from Breage and Germoe men's lands."

Happily those days are almost forgotten. The ameliorating influences of the Christian faith, which was let in upon a most benighted people by John Wesley, like a sunbeams, dispelled those evil principles, and gave birth to pore and simple virtues.

Next: St Keyne