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A VIRGIN SAINT OF THE SCOTTISH CALENDAR, OF WHOSE LIFE LITTLE IS
THEY seem to fade, they seem to pass,
The flowers of GOD's Sweet Garden-ground,
As through the years their titles sound:
To earth their fragile petals fell:
"Twas dust to dust and earth to earth :
WINTER months at Penzance are not dreary or sullen as they are in Eastern or Northern England, there are no dull fogs or biting frosty winds, but morning after morning opens with skies of fairest promise, golden sunrise over a sparkling sea; a sea whose ever shifting tints, deep blue in the horizon, melt into tender combinations of pale green, pink and purple as it nears the shore. Often delusive though, is this promise of fine weather. Deceived by it, the visitor may be preparing for a long walking excursion, to find out one or other of the beauties or curiosities of the neighbourhood. But meanwhile, lo! the changeful sky has clothed itself with dark clouds, a strong breeze has ruffled the waters, and sweeps furiously over the shore, and torrents of rain descend from the murky sky; true, the clouds in their restless motion may allow a patch of blue to appear here or there amongt their rifts, or a ray of dazzling sunshine may for a moment light up the wild grandeur of the scene, but it is only for a moment, and the rain returns in fiercer gusts; all thoughts therefore, of pleasant out-door rambles must be given up for the day. But if we cannot explore, we can watch from the windows of the house where we are staying, (wave-washed as it is by the fast returning tide,) the waters as they toss around us, or even
scatter us with spray. What a scene of hurrying motion it is! of wild impetuous unrest! The billows seem to churn themselves into foaming rage, as the winds "set roaring war" between them and the threatening sky. Can it be that where these unquiet waters swell, there was once a peaceful wood, where stately groups of oak and lime, elm and beech were interspersed with silvery glades, where proud castle, or lowly homestead showed from amidst the trees; where fair villages, each blessed with its own church, nestled in cosy nooks; where many a shrine or wayside cross stirred the mind to devotion? Can it be? Tradition says it once was so, and would have us believe too, that there to our right, where now line after line of crested waves are chasing one another to the shore, there was an inland lake, surrounded by gentle, flowery slopes, and wooded banks: while to our left, we are told, that hoary rock was surmounted by its castle, that once rose in towering grandeur from amidst the forest, and around it lay the mystic land of Lyonesse with all its varied beauty.
It does seem hard of belief, just now, when the walls of our dwelling are fairly being rocked by the force of the giant waves; not only, however, will tradition have it so, but much of the evidence around us would seem to prove that tradition tells us right. Why else should S. Michael's Mount, which is now looming from amidst a whirl of angry waters whose spray forms a mist around it; why should it have been called in old Cornish, “Carreg Luz in Kuz," the Hoar Rock in the Wood? or why should that bleak headland which stretches itself out into the sea just opposite, be called in the same language, the wooded hillock? Again, that sea to our right whose waves now dash against the walls of a busy village, why should it be called Gwavas Lake? and the village itself (Newlyn) be situated so much like an Italian lake town? Here was once a lovely and "almost holy" lake, embosomed in a forest of beech trees; among these woods dwelt a venerable hermit, so famed for his piety, that the afflicted in mind or body resorted to his oratory, and found relief through his prayers;-thus tradition,and for present proof-it was only the other day when returning from Newlyn to Penzance, walking over the pure white sands which had just been bathed by the retreating tide, we came on the prostrate trunks of giant trees lying one on each other, as if some mighty inundation had suddenly uprooted these stately forest kings; if we may not believe tradition, how came they embedded there? Then the old Church of S. Pol, (modernised into S. Paul,) which is the parish church
of the greater part of Newlyn, is dedicated to this Saint of the lake, and the old parish books record the collecting of tithes from these perished lands.
They who would have us hold the story of Lyonesse as a myth, tell us as a reason that S. Michael's Mount is the ITIS of Diodorus Siculus, who lived not long before the birth of our LORD. Should he mean the Mount by this Ictis, which he mentions in reference to the visits of the Phoenicians to Cornwall for tin; should he mean this, then it must prove that it was among the waves then as now, and we must give up the truth of our legend.
But did he mean the Mount? Many learned people say so, but others as learned insist that what is now called the Black Rock, near Falmouth, is this Ictis. They would prove this by the names which the adjoining spots derive from this island, as Carike Roads its surrounding sea; Arwynick, an old estate on its nearest shore; Smithick (now Falmouth,) its nearest town, Budike, (modern Budock,) its nearest church, &c.
In spite of the disastrous catastrophe which it includes, one would not willingly give up all faith in the Legend of Lyonesse,1 this land of piety and courtly grace, where the "blameless knight" once bore sway. Old writers on Cornwall and those of more modern date pile proof on proof of there being some foundation at least for a belief in these vanished lands.
On rainy days it is interesting to turn to these old books on Cornwall, written as they were mostly by natives of their county. Proud of their birthplace they trace her history from the days of the Damnonii, the ancient British tribe, down to their own times. Few counties, indeed, are so rich in antiquities; monuments of her successive faiths abound in Cornwall, from the cromlechs of the Druids to the granite wayside cross of purer days.
Of the many relics of ancient Christian times, the "Rounds," or in old Cornish language, 'Plân an Guairs," are amongst the most interesting. The remains of three of these "plâns" are still visible, and that at S. Just is being restored. "Plân an Guair," is Cornish for "place for the play;" at these amphitheatres was
'The Itinerary of William of Worcester sanctions the tradition which states the Mount to have been separated from the mainland by some great convulsion, when one hundred and forty parish churches were swallowed up by the sea between this place and the Scilly Isles."
acted the old Cornish Guari-mirkl or Miracle Play,—this resembled very closely the Passion-Spiel of the Bavarian Tyrol, which is this year to be once more enacted. One of the old writers referred to thus describes the S. Just "Round:" "It was an exact circle of 126 feet diameter, the perpendicular height of the bank from the area which is now seven feet, but the height from the bottom of the ditch without, ten feet, formerly more. The seats consist of six steps fourteen inches and one fourth high, with one on the top of all, where the rampart is about seven feet wide." To this "Plân an Guair" must have flocked the inhabitants from all parts of Belerion, as the Land's End district was called; perhaps too from the fair and wooded land of Lyonesse, which we are told was the very home of simple faith and piety. There the Cornish peasants saw enacted, and heard spoken in their own quaint and forcible language, the Sacred Dramas, written for them by their clergy, to give them a "right notion of the Scriptures. How thrilling must have been the sacred story to these poor unlearned people! The Bible must have been a sealed book to them, for they could not have understood the English, even if it had been read to them. Norris1 tells us that these Passion Plays were the production of a body of educated men who composed the Brotherhood of the College of Glasney, near Penryn. This College was founded by Walter Bronscombe, Bishop of Exeter, in the thirteenth century. "These clergy, being natives of Cornwall, but Anglicised by education, followed the fashion which prevailed in England, of teaching by dramatic representation. In those days of simplicity the great history of the creation, fall, and restoration of man, would then be set before the audience, who would receive the narration with due reverence and simple faith."
It was thus that the ancient Cornish Drama was composed, and it is interesting to observe how pure, Catholic, and primitive were the doctrines taught in those very early Passion Plays. Cornwall, indeed, claims the greatest antiquity for the faith, the Cornu-British Church dating from Apostolic times. Claudia, the friend of S. Paul, was, we are told, of Roman-Cornish origin. In Norris's translation, the three books of the Drama, the Origo Mundi, the Passio Domini Nostri, the Resurrectio Domini Nostri, events follow one another much as they do in the Passion-Spiel. They are only in a very few cases mixed up with tradition, as in the legend of Seth in Paradise, the explanation 1 Norris's Cornish Drama, 2 vols., 1859.
of what was the oil of
mercy promised to Adam, the story of Maximilla, of Veronica, &c. The plays are made very quaint by the introduction of local names of places into the sacred narrative, the Tre, Pol, and Pen of Cornish nomenclature, coming in with rather startling effect. Thus in the Origo Mundi, Solomon promises as a reward to the builders of the Temple, several good old Cornish estates. Here is the promise in the original, as a specimen of the old language:
"Benneth au tas was why
Why fyth ven gwryn gobery
Warbach gans of gweel Bohellen
Au Ennes, had Arwynick
Tregimber had Kegilleck
Anthotho gurry thy why charter."
The verse is thus translated by Norris:
Blessings of the FATHER on you,
Your wages are prepared,
Together with all the fields of Bohellen,
And the wood of Penryn1 entirely,
The island and Arwynick,
Tregimber and Kegyllack,
Of them make you a deed or charter."
Another instance is in the Resurrectio Domini Christi, where the Apostle S. Thomas, indignant at S. Mary Magdalene's endeavouring to persuade him, as he imagines, against his senses, makes a kind of play on her name, and says,
"Stout though Castle Maudlin be,
I will break thy head."
This Castle Maudlin being a chantry chapel in Casawse woods (or the 'wood of Penryn❞2) which was supposed to have been built in connection with Glasney College.
But if the Passion Plays with their associations have drawn the
1 This verse has been quoted by a writer on Cornwall to prove the Black Rock, near Falmouth, to be the Ictis, which has been supposed to mean S. Michael's Mount.
The estate of Casawse or "Wood of Penryn," was for hundreds of years in the possession of the writer's family. The remains of the chantry chapel were very lately pointed out to the writer by an old inhabitant in the vicinity. The College