Miracle plays were developed early in the Middle Ages and were designed to be performed at public festivals in open air theatres or rounds some of which are a distinctive feature of the Cornish landscape today. They were called Plenys-an-Gwarry or Playing Places. In Richard Carew's book the "Survey of Cornwall", first printed in 1602, he records that the "Guary Miracles" were presented in amphitheatres constructed in open fields. Our local example is that of Playing Place itself and the round is in the field to the east of Old Coach Road.
Perhaps the earliest and most important text written in the Cornish language is the "Ordinalia" which was written in the Middle Cornish period, circa 1,400 AD, This 9,000 line collection of three mystery plays includes the Origo Mundi, the Passio Christi and the Resurrexio Domini. The three plays were designed to be performed on successive days.
Two further important plays written in the Cornish language are now to be found in the National Library of Wales. The plays "Beunans Meriasek" and "Bewnans Ke" were very likely written in the very early 1,500s at Glasney College, Penryn which was then the foremost educational centre for Cornwall. At this time the tithes of Feock and Kea Parish's belonged to Glasney so the local ties would have been strong.
Beunans Meriasek was rediscoverd in 1860 and tells the story of St Meriasek the patron saint of Camborne. The son of a Breton Duke, Meriasek gave up his privileged life to become a hermit in Cornwall, later returning to Brittany and becoming bishop of Vannes. The tale is set both in Cornwall and Brittany and tells of his expulsion from Cornwall by the pagan Lord Teudar of Gudrun. Lord Teudar has been widely linked with the manor of Goodern near Baldhu in Kea.
Gilbert Doble, Canon of Truro Cathedral, rightly acknowledged the Parish of Kea's claim to be the most romantic in Cornwall, partly because of it's connection with the story of Tristan and Iseult and also the stories of it's patron St Ke [Kea]. The story of St Kea is contained in the miracle play "Bewnans Ke" which was rediscoved in the year 2,000 and now resides in the National Library of Wales. The text of the play is divided into two sections which are designed to be performed on consecutive days, both sections are unfortunately incomplete, missing their latter parts in each case.
The first section deals with St Kea's life in Cornwall and his conflict with the pagan King Teudar of Gudrun. The story is consistent with the “Life of St Ke” written later by the French author Albert Le Grand and, together, they provide a full account of his life from his birth to rich British parents, his renouncing wealth and taking an austere life as a hermit in Cornwall, to finally spend his remaining years in Brittany, becoming patron saint of St Quay Perros, St Quay Pontrieux and St Cleder.
The stories tell of Kea's guidance by godly visions to the Forest of Rosene [The Roseland] and onwards to the opposite shore where he set up his hermitage. One day a stag being hunted by Lord Teudar took sanctuary in Kea's cottage. The lord demanded Kea to give up the stag and Kea refused, at which Teudar took Kea's plough oxen in compensation. The next day, and thereafter, a band of stags offered themselves to Kea in place of the oxen and pulled his plough. Although Teudar was aware of what had transpired he was still obstinate and allowed his men to assault St Kea, breaking his teeth. Later, however, when he became ill, Kea made intersession on Lord Teudar's behalf and he finally repented. In restitution he provided land on which Kea founded the monastery of Landighe at Old Kea Churchtown. This remained one of only ten ancient religious houses in Cornwall prior to the Norman conquest, however, it did not survive to be recorded in the Doomsday book.
The stained glass window of the south aisle of Feock church, depicting St Kea with a stag at his feet.
The second section of the play deals with the stories of King Arthur and whilst St Kea does not feature in this text it is thought likely that the missing part contained a common story of St Kea's unsuccessful attempt to mediate between Arthur, his wife Guinevere and nephew Mordred.
Written by Phil Allen