St Cuby

Cuby was a truly Cornish Saint. He learned to read at seven – that might seem late to you but in those days only those with a religious calling and noblemen learned to read. Cuby was both noble and religious, so although he preferred making things and playing he just had to learn to read.  He travelled on a pilgrimage all the way to Jerusalem when he was twenty. He learned to love his religious calling, especially  meeting people, doing new things and convincing the most stubbornly unconverted to take up Christianity. Cuby was no hermit saint. Hermit saints lived and prayed alone, but Cuby was a sociable saint. Cuby’s father was Solomon, chieftain and Christian king of Cornwall and when Solomon died Cuby was called home to take his throne. The life of power and rule held little meaning for Cuby, while the life of travel and communication drew him. Knowing he was following the only path for him, Cuby renounced all claim to his throne and continued on his travels.

He got into lots of trouble on the way – although he meant well people didn’t always appreciate his miraculous powers and his high handed ways. He lived in Aran for a while and caused a calf, and the tree to which it was tied, to be miraculously delivered to himself. The local people didn’t like this magic and they drummed him out of the island. He needed a means of escape- he couldn’t swim- so he built a quick frame out of bent wood and nailed some planks over. His pursuers jeered, “If you are really the saint you will shove her off without skins.” – usually they would stretch skins over a wooden frame to make their canoes. Cuby dared, and the seams were staunch, and he sailed away back to Cornwall. St Piran sailed to Cornwall on a millstone, St Ia came here in a stone boat: but in spite of himself St Cuby was the first wooden boat builder.

At one time, he sailed up the tidal river at Looe and found a clearing on the hill nearby.  Here he cleared the trees about a fresh spring, the perfect place for a holy well. For a spring to be turned into a holy place, the saint founding it must stay on the spot and pray for forty days. Cuby, being a doer and a traveller, found this part of being a religious man very frustrating. His feet itched for the river and the bustle of communication. It was very quiet in the woodland on Kippscoombe hill and Cuby longed for a challenge or a job to do. He built a chapel out of rough stones found lying about. One of these stones, too large and awkward to fit in any wall was right for carving. Sitting daily by the spring, he carved it with his favourite creatures seen on his travels. When Cuby had finished carving he was very pleased with his creation; the little spring flowed into the pretty granite basin, with dolphins carved about the edge and a griffin on the bottom section. He had made a woodland font. Cuby did not wish the basin to ever be removed from this holy well at Duloe and so he put a curse upon it. Any one who had the arrogance to take Cuby’s basin from its holy sight would suffer a terrible come uppance. Only a man of the greatest strength and conviction would successfully remove it.

For many generations the well’s neighbours respected the curse and left the font alone. Then one year, an overconfident farmer tested the curse. He thought the tale about the cursed basin to be folly and knowing himself to be the strongest and bravest Cornish lad for miles about, the farmer hitched up four of his finest oxen to a cart and set off for Duloe and St Cuby’s well. The muscles beneath the gleaming hide on the beasts’ bodies rippled with health and strength and the farmer felt himself fill with pride and conviction at the ease of the task ahead. He drummed his fingers on his lips as he thought where best he could place the pretty basin - in his farmyard it would make a good new drinking trough for the cattle, or better still it would make fine new front step for the farmhouse. As they neared the spot the farmer looked out across the wooded valley: it really was beautiful there, it surely wouldn’t miss one pretty stone. On reaching the well the farmer tied strong ropes around the granite basin, and hitched them to his team. As he turned to his oxen, his finest ox fell down dead on the ground. The curse had struck and the farmer had lost his greatest beast. Not feeling much more courage left in him, the farmer conceded he must turn back and leave the basin for another.

The farmer could not have been the one Cuby spoke of.  Perhaps Cuby envisaged strength of a different kind - a true religious conviction like his own, and the strength to challenge kings and chieftains to take up his beliefs for their people.

retold by Anna Chorlton

  • Looe Valley