'Why must we fight to save this important site?'
"IT'S a travesty that it has been left for so long considering its historical importance," said chairman of the St Piran's Trust Perran Penrose.
With a name inspired by his father's love of the county, Perran has been the driving force behind a 12-year campaign to re-excavate the oratory.
"Why does it appear that we are fighting everyone when people should be interested and behind what we are trying to do?" he said.
The trust, he says, has been bombarded with regulations from Government quangos, such as Natural England, which it accuses of blocking its efforts, and even points a finger at local authorities and councillors, saying their lack of interest is a sign of the county's general apathy towards the scheme.
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At the trust's annual meeting Perranzabuloe parish councillors Ken Yeo and Linda Higgins faced the full force of the trust's frustrations, with trustees accusing them of showing no interest in the iconic site.
The parish council owns the oratory along with the Old Church of St Piran and Perran Round, a medieval playing place.
Mr Yeo stressed the council's financial pressures and fears that its precept would have to be raised to cover the Oratory's insurance and maintenance costs – a burden that might prove too great, he added.
Mrs Higgins said: "I can't say there has been overwhelming interest, just general nodding when we update members."
Angry at the council's inertia, trust member Margaret Flannery said: "That gives the impression that they don't give a you-know-what!"
A London artist and businessman, who has no connection to Cornwall other than a love of St Piran, has provided a lifeline offering the trust more than £500,000 to "get the job done".
Insurance broker David Barrie, who paints under the pseudonym Piran Strange, has already given the trust around £20,000.
"I suppose I'm a rebel at heart. Re-burying the oratory was awful – it has probably destroyed it," he said.
Frustrated at the trust's lack of progress, he is hoping his support will give it a much-needed shot in the arm and finally see the Perran sands shifted.
"I work in the city and there are a lot of people who have second homes in Cornwall and are very rich; many would be willing to help," he said.
"Why hasn't the National Trust shown an interest or the local council? It's a scandal. It's a very revered site and a magical place."
In recent months English Heritage (EH) declared the scheduled monument at risk as a result of the methods used to protect it in the 1980s.
In a response to the trust's plans to excavate the site EH's assistant inspector of ancient monuments, Nick Russell, stated: "Reburial (in 1980) was in response to water level, however, this was primarily because of concerns relating to vandalism and local fears over safety.
"The statement that the monument was on the Heritage at Risk register because of flooding is incorrect. The monument is believed to be at risk because the nature and methods of reburial are not fully understood and the current condition of the monument unknown."
Perran described it as a "very sad tale".
"There was no systematic recording at the time ... it was done by County Hall's archaeology unit and with the backing of Mebyon Kernow," he said.
"There were no photographs taken; they just brought in the bulldozers and filled it with sand."
The "at risk" status means the trust and EH finally have a reason to uncover the monument so it can be fully examined and preserved: but the trust faces a crucial meeting with Natural England on August 7 at Pydar House in Truro, when it has to convince them that it can do the work without damaging the area.
The oratory lies within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which has special protection under the European Union Habitats Directive.
"These bodies have just put up perpetual obstructions," claimed trust member Alistair Quinnell. "They're obsessed with the risks to the SSSI and SAC.
"There's a total lack of discretion."
Defending its stance, Natural England said that while it "fully appreciates" the significance that uncovering the oratory had for St Piran's Trust, there were major conservation concerns to overcome.
The meeting would look at the project in detail and hopefully find a way forward that would be good for both the oratory and unusual Cornish fauna and flora in the dunes, Natural England added.
As it moves closer to achieving its aim an even bigger challenge looms – winning over the hearts and minds of the Cornish people and potential visitors.
It needed to bring St Piran's story to life or it would lose the war, said trust member and former St Day teacher Margaret Flannery.
"We have been obsessed with the physical structure. Long- term, we need to focus on its symbolic relevance and its appeal to locals, tourists, and its part within the wider Celtic community.
"St Piran moved from being a Celtic priest to becoming a symbol for Cornwall and the Cornish brand. Its promotion could put the oratory on the map and make it a huge player in the county."
It's a view that is supported by the Bishop of Truro, The Right Reverend Tim Thornton, who would like to see the oratory unearthed.
He said: "I am not sure it would be appropriate or necessary to consecrate it but I would be keen to explore holding services there if it is able to be re-excavated and in some way restored if necessary.
"Clearly St Piran is an important part of the history for this county and the oratory would be a useful element in telling his story and would make a good place to commemorate and celebrate his life."
As well as dealing with the logistics of how to uncover and protect the monument, the trust is now having to grapple with how to market the site.
If successful the oratory, along with the Old Church and Perran Round, could prove lucrative.
The trust's consultant project manager Ian Saltern pointed to a growing heritage tourism sector worth in excess of £12.4 billion a year.
He said: "If promoted sensitively by a Cornish organisation, the sites of St Piran, and others across Cornwall connected to early Christianity or 'the Age of Saints', have enormous potential to generate significant economic benefits for Perranporth and Cornwall.
"We are telling an international story of world heritage significance, in which Cornwall sat at the centre of religious and cultural exchange. We should be putting that story at the heart of Cornwall's tourism offer."
Specialist architects are being asked for ideas on how best to protect the 6th-century building – depending on what is uncovered. A glass structure allowing people to walk through the monument is Perran's latest vision.
The trust is also looking at the impact of tourism and the merit of constructing a replica building near the dunes to showcase the life of St Piran and oratory.
Whatever happens, the trust has many more hurdles to overcome before it finally reaches its goal.
"It's time the oratory was handed over to specialists who can look after it and have an interest in it," said former councillor Eileen Carter, who along with Colin Retallick has been behind the annual pilgrimage to the site marking St Piran's Day on March 5.
"I am Cornish and proud," said Mrs Carter. "I want to see our heritage protected. It's shocking that it has been left in this state.
"If it was in London it would be looked after, but here it doesn't even make the agenda."