Mary tops league of all saints

19th January 2001 at 00:00
It may be many years since Mary was supplanted as the favourite girls' name by the likes of Chloe and Emily. But she remains by far the most popular saint in the name of schools.

No fewer than 375 primaries in the UK bear the name St Mary's, far outstripping the number dedicated to her husband, St Joseph (195).

Research by John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, shows that St John and St Peter vie for third place, with 151 and 150 primaries respectively, followed by "All Saints" with 95. St James scores 76 but poor St Luke trails in with only 42 primaries to his name.

The patron saint of teachers, St John Baptist de la Salle - who revolutionised education for ordinary people 300 years ago - has given his name to only a handful of schools, all secondary. (They shorten it, understandably, to De La Salle.) He inspires De La Salle school, a voluntary-aided comprehensive in Basildon, Essex (formerly St Anselm's) and schools in Liverpool and St Helen's.

In fact this saint hasn't brought much luck: the Roman Catholic grammar in Sheffield, De La Salle College, where the bullying boys gave Nick Tate (now head of Winchester) such a hard time in his first teaching job, has closed. And the De La Salle sixth-form college in Salford shut after a disastrou inspection two years ago.

De la Salle deserves better. Born in Reims, France, in 1651 of a noble family (and tonsured at the age of 11), he set up schools where he insisted children be taught to read first in their own language rather than Latin. He developed the idea of teaching children in classes, rather than individually, added modern languages, arts and science to a curriculum dominated by reading and writing, and pioneered teacher-training.

Devoting himself to his educational work, he gave up his canonry, sold all his goods and gave the proceeds to famine relief in Champagne (where the monk Dom Perignon was working on a method of thirst relief).

Most of the saints in school names are men, but there are some intriguing exceptions. Among the host of obscure saints commemorated in the names of primaries in Cornwall (including St Winnow, a miraculous grinder of corn), there are St Buryan, St Teath, St Mabyn, St Buryan, St Minver and St Issey, women all.

Many of these were so modest they didn't even leave a legend. St Minver, a sixth-century virgin, probably from south Wales, lived as a nun near Padstow and gave her name to a church, a well and a primary school.

"She was also quite a drunk on the quiet," says Nick Lane, head of St Minver school.


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