Towednack

This is another post prompted by a question from Sidney Wood, who asked about the name Landewednack.

The building in the picture is Towednack Church. It is dedicated to St Tewennocus. As you probably know if you have been paying attention, little or nothing is known about very many Cornish saints. However, we do know something about this one. The saint didn’t exist. The name is a misinterpretation of an honorific formula in Old Cornish: to + first syllable of name + oc.

I haven’t yet been able to find the significance of the suffix and there is a little doubt about the meaning of the prefix. Oliver Padel says it could be either a demonstrative or the Old Cornish word for “your”. So who was the saint? It was St. Winwallus aka Winwaloe aka Guénolé aka…I did a post with some info on this guy on April 19th, 2012.

So to answer Sidney’s question: Landewednack means “the sacred enclosure of the revered St. Winwallus”. The <d> in both Towednack and Landewednack is the result of the regular late Cornish process of pre-occlusion

Towednack is a small, isolated village. At least it is isolated now. I suspect it was once a thriving place when the tin mines all around were in operation. It has a couple of claims to fame. It is one of the places that claims to have seen the last sermon preached in Cornish. That was in 1678. Another incident involving the place was the discovery in 1931 of a hoard of very fine Bronze Age gold ornaments, probably imported from Ireland. Finally, there is the legend of the church tower. This was recounted by Rev. Władisław Somerville Lach-Szyrma in 1882. The tower was never finished because “The Evil One” destroyed during the night what had been built during the preceding day. It is an example of the principle “if you don’t succeed after trying a couple of times, go home and have a cup of tea.”

3 thoughts on “Towednack

  1. I know Oliver is being healthily non-commital but this the first part of Towednack is surely the 2sg possessive pronoun, the reason being that this is an extremely common element in the formation of hypocoristic saints’ names (‘pet names’, avoiding fancy jargon). As I’m sure you know, this is most commonly seen in early Gaelic, where we have a large number of names consisting of Mo/Do [My/Your] + basic or compressed form of saint’s name, optionally + a diminutive suffix, most commonly -ín, -án, or most relevant for the Cornish example, -óc (which was borrowed into Irish/Goidelic from Brittonic – it comes from an old Celtic suffix used in personal names, < -ako) – examples include "Mo Cholmóc" ('My little Colm') as a pet-name for St Columba. This pattern is not quite so common in Welsh/Cornish/Breton, but is healthily attested, though this is perhaps the only well-known Cornish example where it turns up in a place-name.

  2. Yes, Padel does mention the Irish mo/do thing. He also says that Landkey near Barnstaple in N. Devon derives from Landegea < Lan + To + Kea, "enclosure of your Kea". Here there is no diminutive suffix. Thank you very much for the info about óc.

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