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St Michaels Mount, Cornwall

Historical Description

Michael's Mount, St, a parish in Cornwall, in Mounts Bay, three-quarters of a mile S of Marazion, and 1 from Marazion Road station on the G.W.R. It is an island about 1 mile in circumference and 250 feet high, and is connected with the mainland by a natural causeway 400 yards long, flooded eight hours in every twelve by the tide. It probably formed part of an ancient forest, continuous with the mainland, and extending some distance into what is now called Mounts Bay, and it was called by the ancient British Carreg-Ludgh-en-Loos and by the ancient Cornish men Caraclowse-iu-Gowse-names which signify "the Hoar Rock in the Wood." A charter of Edward the Confessor speaks of it as " nigh the sea," and a statement of William of Worcester says that it was " originally enclosed within a very thick wood, distant from the ocean 6 miles, affording the finest shelter to wild beasts." The catastrophe which insulated it is thought to have been a sudden subsidence of land; may possibly have happened so late as the year 1099, when a remarkable inundation is recorded by the Saxon Chronicle to have occurred at the place; and appears to be verified by great abundance of vegetable remains, including leaves, nuts, branches, trunks, and roots of large trees, in a deposit of black mould over the bed of the bay to the limits of ebb tide. The contour of the island is somewhat pyramidal, the outlines are picturesque, and the ascents exhibit much romantic rock scenery. The surface is partly rabbit-warren, partly sparse pasturage, and partly naked crag, and it includes, at the N base of the ascent, the site of a fishing village with a pier. Some planted firs diversify the surface, and a number of rare plants are found. The rocks are chiefly greenstone and granite, resting on clay slate; they include quartz, wolfram, oxide of tin, topazes, apatite, schorl, tin pyrites, and other minerals; and they have been the subject of more geological controversy than any other equal mass of rocks in the world.

St Michael's Mount is the Ocrium of Ptolemy; it is believed to have been also the Ictis of Diodorus Siculus, to which the merchants of ancient Greece traded for tin; and it is thought to have had a temple to Apollo, erected on it by the Phosnicians. A poet says respecting it- " Mountain, the curious muse might love to gaze On the dim record of thy early days; Oft fancying that she heard, like the low blast, The sounds of mighty generations past. Here the Phoenician, as remote he sailed Along the unknown coast, exulting liaii'd; And when he saw thy rocky point aspire, Thought on his native shores of Aradus or Tyre. Thou only, aged mountain, dost remain! Stem monument amidst the deluged plain, And fruitless the big waves thy bulwarks beat; The big waves slow retire and murmur at thy feet."

Some heathen worship, in emulation or in substitution of Phoenician worship of Apollo, may possibly have been established here by the ancient Britons, and some sort of Christian worship very probably followed immediately or very soon after the introduction of Christianity. Monkish record narrates that St Keyna, a virgin of the British blood-royal, came hither on pilgrimage in the 5th century; an old legend says that an apparition of St Michael appeared on one of its crags to some hermits, giving rise to the name St Michael's Mount; and tradition points to a large rock on the W side, long called St Michael's Chair, as the spot where the apparition was seen. Milton in his " Lycidas" alludes as follows to the alleged vision;- " Or whether thou, to our moist vows deny'd, Sleep's! by the fable of Bellerus old, Where the great vision of the guaided mount, Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold, Look homeward, angel, now, and melt witli ruth, And, 0 ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth."

A Benedictine priory was founded on the mount by Edward the Confessor; passed at the Conquest to Robert, Earl of Mortaigne; was annexed by him to the abbey of St Maria de Pericula in Normandy; had afterwards connected with it a small nunnery; fell to the Crown at the confiscation of alien monasteries in the time of Henry V.; was given by Henry VI. to King's College, Cambridge, and transferred by Edward IV. to Sion Abbey; went at the dissolution to the Arundells; passed to the Millitons, the Harrises, the Cecils, and the Bassets; and was sold in 1657 to the St Aubins, in whose family it still remains. A garrison was placed in it by Henry de la Pomeroy in the time of Richard I. in the service of Prince John, and surrendered on the return of Richard from Palestine. The Earl of Oxford and some companions in the time of Edward IV., after the battle of Barnet, approached it in the disguise of pilgrims, took military possession of it, repelled several attacks by the sheriff of the county, and made such a display of heroism as induced the king to grant them a pardon. Lady Catherine Gordon, the wife of Perkin Warbeck, took refuge in it in the time of Henry VII., and was removed from it and delivered to the king by Lord Daubeny. The Cornish rebels in the time of Edward VI. seized it, were driven from it, seized it again, and were a second time expelled. A party of Royalists in the wars of Charles I. held it for the king, made a stout defence of it against the Parliamentarians under Col. Hammond, and eventually capitulated on permission to retire to the Scilly Islands. A visit was made to it in 1846 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and is commemorated by a metal tablet in the wall of the pier.

Some remains of the priory, together with military works and with modern alterations and erections, all aggregately in castellated form, are on the summit of the mount. The ascent is by a rocky path. The hall, the chapel, the dwelling-rooms, and the tower of the castle all possess interest. The tower is reached by a stab-case from the castle, commands a magnificent prospect, and has on its SW angle a small projecting stone lantern, now popularly bearing the name originally given to the rock of the alleged apparition of St Michael -St Michael's Chair. Sir Humphrey Davy celebrates St Michael's Mount as follows in his poem of Mount's Bay:-" Majestic Michael rises; he whose brow Is crowned with castles, and whose rocky sides Are clad with dusky ivy; he whose base, Beat by the storms of ages, stands unmoved Amidst the wreck of things-the change of time. That base, encircled by the azure waves, Was once with verdure clad: the towering oaks Here waved their branches green the sacred oaks, Whose awful shades among the Druids strayed, To cut the hallowed misletoe, and hold High converse with their gods."

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cornwall papers online:


Visitations Heraldic

We have a copy of The Visitations of Cornwall, by Lieut.-Col. J.L. Vivian online.