Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 29, 2007
St. Ia Church sits on original chapel site
Chieftain Dinan built an oratory for St. Ia's original mission
St. Ia – February 3
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
An Austrian oak sculpture of St. Ia sits in the nave of her St. Ives church.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
St. Ives, England
Saintly Ia wouldn't recognize her Cornish abode on St. Ives Bay where 1,500 years later the once lonely cliffs and beaches of the northern coastline display in abundance the accoutrements of one of the Southwest's most popular resort towns.
Seaside resort town
Almost at the tip of the long finger of England that forms Cornwall and as Land's End points out into the open Atlantic, her hillside town welcomes thousands of seasonal visitors to enjoy broad beaches, art museums, shops and fine eating.
Today, the parish church of the Sacred Heart and St. Ia occupies the site of the saint's original chapel and proclaims the long Catholic presence here in St. Ives.
Namesake of the town was the daughter of a Munster leader who, in about 460 AD, travelled from Ireland to the Hayle River estuary on St. Ives Bay as a missionary in a group led by St. Gwinear.
There they met opposition and some were slain. Ia escaped and was befriended by local chieftain Dinan who, to help her in her busy mission, built an oratory for her on the site of the present St. Ives parish church. She is said to have made many converts to Christianity and became patron of the town that grew up around her church.
A variety of names have been applied to the church and town since 1327, from Sancte Ye through Saynt Ya and Ies and Eyes before officially becoming St. Ives for the town and St. Ia for the parish. The Cornish name for the town is Porth Ia.
As with many Celtic saints, her repute travelled across the English Channel with Welsh, Irish and Cornish confreres so that she is recognised and revered in Brittany, in the town of Plouy‚ (Ia's parish), near Morlaix for example.
Sacred Heart and St. Ia parish church is crowded in the old mariners part of town, halfway down the gentle Tregenna Hill between the railroad station and the downtown waterfront. It is a relatively small, simple stone building with a single low, spired bell tower on the right side of the fa‡ade, which faces west onto the street.
Prominently displayed in the narrow nave are statues of the parish patrons, the Sacred Heart and St. Ia. The latter is an almost life-size wooden replica of the saint, standing, holding a small crucifix. It was carved by Faust Lang from a driftwood timber of Austrian oak that washed up in St. Ives Bay and seemed a natural, if not predestined medium, for a portrayal of the town's saint. It was a most welcome gift to the parish church.
Present church built in 1909
Sacred Heart and St. Ia church, relatively old for this part of England, was built in 1909. It is a part of the Plymouth Diocese which was established in 1850, 30 years after the Catholic Emancipation. Mass is celebrated here on Sundays and holy days and clergy from the parish also serve a Catholic school in Penzance, a St. Ives hospital and the towns of Hayle and Germoe.
The town of St. Ives, about 25 km from Land's End, is almost surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and has several beaches separated by small headlands. Now a popular artists' colony, the hillside town is noted for its narrow, crooked cobblestone streets, relics of the days when fishing was the primary business here.
Many visitors, particularly on holiday weekends, prefer to park their cars a few kilometres south of St. Ives and take the train to the resort community. The railroad is a short spur off the main line between Penzance and Plymouth.