Nestled on the edge of England’s inhospitable Atlantic coast, Cornwall’s Land’s End peninsula is imprinted with thousands of years of history. Megalithic monuments, Celtic shrines, and tin mines dot the landscape, recalling the day when pagan princesses, pirates, and smugglers roamed the land.
In 1998, a team of Russian scientists set out to discover the lost antediluvian civilization of Atlantis and settled on a stretch of sea 100 miles off the coast called the Celtic Shelf. No doubt their research would have included the legend of Lyonesse; a sunken kingdom with Arthurian connections believed to have been connected to Land’s End in the distant past. Mythology associates the Kings of Lyonesse with Arthurian characters, such as Tristan, and the English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson commemorated the legend in his Arthurian epic, Idylls of the King, and describes Lyonesse as the site of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred.
Tennyson’s work also featured Tintagel, the ancient cliff side ruins thought to be Arthur’s birthplace. Nearby, a seven-ring labyrinth is carved on a rocky outcrop. Its design dates back millennia, some believe to the time of Atlantis. The labyrinth was an essential part of Minoan mythology; and their ancient capital on Crete, devastated in antiquity by earthquake and flood, is believed by many to be the historical Atlantis.
Saint Michael’s Mount sits stoically on a jagged grey hill across the bay from Penzance, not far from where the mystical land is said to have flourished. Here, a Celtic monastery was established over an earlier church and presided over by Benedictine monks. Legend recounts how a giant named Cormoran terrorized the Mount before being tricked and slain by a farmer’s son. The giant’s heart was removed and incorporated into the cobbled stone pilgrim’s path, immortalizing the victory over evil and the beast with the “heart of stone”.
A ley line intersecting ancient edifices dedicated to Saint Michael runs north from this spot for several hundred miles. Another starts in Ireland, at the monastery of Skellig Michael, before passing through Saint Michael’s Mount and connecting with Mont Saint-Michel in France.
A special relationship exists between Saint Michael’s Mount and Mont Saint-Michel, and even the most callused visitor can sense the extraordinary energy emanating from each. The ancient centers of worship also share the same apparition mythology; Saint Michael appeared in a vision at Mont Saint-Michel in AD 715 and at Saint Michael’s Mount in AD 495. Another synergy is their flags. The Cornish flag is a white cross on a black background and the Breton a mirror image of that. Both are known by the same name, Kroaz Du, meaning Black Cross, which is said to have been used by the Crusaders and which symbolized the light of truth shining through the darkness of evil. Its shield depicts 15 gold coins (bezants) in the shape of a triangle and includes the Crusader motto “One and All.”
Further, the Cornish Coat of Arms is encircled by waves, echoing a memory of the flood myth of Lyonesse. Similarly, Breton has its own version of a sunken kingdom in the tale of the Cité d’Ys, which was submerged as a result of its wantonness. As in the story of Lyonesse, the Breton flood myth ends with a sole survivor, King Gradlon, who manages to escape on a horse.
A Jewish Heritage
The ancient village of Marazion connects Saint Michael’s Mount to the Land’s End Peninsula via a tidal walkway. This is where John Wesley preached and the first Quaker meeting house in Cornwall was established over 300 years ago.
The name “Marazion” is an amalgamation of two adjacent villages; Market Jew and Marazion. Both are Cornish, yet most historians stipulate that neither implies a connection with Jews or Zion. Still others translate Marazion as “Zion by the Sea,” which is not as farfetched as it first appears, for Marazion may well be the oldest town in England and possibly Western Europe, stemming from the belief that it is the Mictis of Timaeus and the Ictis of Diodorus Siculus, each author basing their conclusions on the lost texts of Pytheas, an ancient Greek geographer who visited Britain in the fourth century BC.
The stone carvings in the Marazion church cemetery suggest an ancient origin. Some date from the fourth century and one pays tribute to Constantine the Great. Another is inscribed with ‘NOTI NOTI’, which translates as the mark of Notus. Accompanying the inscription are rune-like symbols whose meaning has yet to be determined.
Nearby, in Sennen Cove, a Star of David is carved in a roof beam of the 1876 Round House, used by fishermen to dry and mend their nets before trips. A Jewish presence can be found in the Red Book of the Exchequer, circa 1198, which refers to every “man or woman, Christian or Jew.” However, the earliest evidence involves one of England’s most mysterious myths—that of Jesus Christ on its shores.
The Cornish flag is called the banner of Saint Piran, the patron saint of tin miners, stemming from Cornwall’s renowned status as one of the major tin mining centers in the ancient world. The Phoenicians traded cloth for it, and merchants of all backgrounds sailed far and wide to barter their wares for the rare and valuable commodity. History tells us that Christ’s uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, was a wealthy Jewish tin trader who made regular trips to Britain. Legend suggests that on at least one occasion he was accompanied by his nephew, Christ.
The Bible tells us that Joseph allowed the crucified Christ to occupy his tomb, an act that fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction that the grave of the Messiah would be provided by a wealthy man. However, most of what we know about the man comes from legends of his travels with Christ in England. A children’s lullaby recounts that “Joseph was a tin merchant and the miners loved him well.” Eusebius, an ecclesiastical historian and father of Church history wrote: “The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the Isles called the Brittanic Isles.” Similarly, the tin mining village of Priddy had an equally simple expression: “As sure as our Lord was in Priddy.”
Joseph was regarded as a trade hero by metal workers across England; and the Rev. Lionel Smithett Lewis, author of 1953’s St. Joseph Of Arimathea At Glastonbury, placed his entry into Britain at Marazion. The ancient Glastonbury Chronicle records an interesting meeting between Joseph and the British King Arviragus, and the two are said to have built a church in Glastonbury. Another legend builds on the Glastonbury theme: “Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and disciple of Jesus, fled the Holy Land to escape the persecution of the followers of Christ. Journeying to Britain in hopes of spreading the faith there, he arrived in Glastonbury weary and discouraged, for his teaching had had little effect.”
Joseph’s association with Glastonbury, long believed to be the Arthurian Avalon, appears to have been the impetus for his association with the Holy Grail. As the thirteenth century approached, the poet Robert de Boron wrote the first account of his life, simply named Joseph d’Arimathe, which featured the Holy Grail as the chalice from the Last Supper. In the story, the cup was given to Joseph by Pontius Pilate, who is said to hail from Fortingall, a peculiar village in the precise center of Scotland with the oldest tree in Europe and a number of ancient stone circles and carved stones with cup marks. Boron tells us that Joseph used the cup to catch the blood of Christ as he was dying on the cross and that Joseph’s followers took the chalice, the Holy Grail, to Britain. The similarity of Christ and another West Country archetype, King Arthur, is fascinating as each is:
- Associated with a mystical legend of the Holy Grail
- Supported by 12 initiates (Apostles/Knights of the Round Table)
- Mentored by a wise man (John the Baptist/Merlin)
- Accompanied by a female initiate (Mary Magdalene/Guinevere)
- Born under auspicious circumstances and died with pagan associations and a prophecy to return from the dead.
Archetypes are eternal, and perhaps the most popular account of Christ in England belongs to William Blake, whose epic poem, Jerusalem, affirms the myth of Christ in England. The poem contains a reference to “dark Satanic mills,” the meaning of which has been the subject of considerable debate: “And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green?…And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills?”
Interpretations of “dark Satanic mills” range from megalithic sites, which Blake regarded as satanic, to the coming of the industrial revolution—which he found even more distasteful—to the evils of the Church of England and even what he perceived to be the misguided ways of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The megalithic association with “dark Satanic mills” is particularly interesting, for Land’s End possesses more than its share of tin mines—the precursor to the industrial revolution, as well as stone circles, standing stones, dolmen, and an unusual underground monument indigenous to the peninsula called Fogou’s.
Fogo means “Cave” in Cornish, and the enigmatic subterranean structures are thought to date from the late Iron Age—circa 500 BC. Their primary feature is a curved roof passage leading to an underground hollow where an adjoining chamber is reached through what is known as a narrow “creep” passage. Typically, the main passage is astronomically aligned, yet conventional theories suggest they were used for food storage and shelter from the winter snow and rain. However, Fogou’s are extremely damp and constructed with elaborate lintels too narrow for normal human activity, leading many to conclude that their function was more ritualistic than domestic.
Most believe that Fogou’s were religious centers built by chieftains for shamanic rituals and initiations and those who entered them often experienced otherworldly images. Some Fogou’s are even used as re-birthing ritual centers, such as the Boliegh Fogou. Earth energy researcher Paul Devereux has found that radiation levels in Cornwall are abnormally high and twice as powerful in underground chambers. Might this offer an explanation for the hallucinogenic experiences that occur in these structures?
The Fogou’s of Land’s End are unique in Britain, yet they bear a striking resemblance to the French Souterrains (meaning under ground) of Brittany. Celts from Brittany are known to have sailed to Land’s End and landed at Lamorna Cove—not far from the Boleigh Fogou and the plethora of megalithic sites that surround it.
In Land’s End, dozens of enigmatic megalithic monuments haunt the landscape, as they do in France; and in the middle of a desolate field more frequented by fog than sun sits Land’s End’s most celebrated megalithic site, Mên an Tol, the crick stone, so named for its ability to help cure backaches. Mên an Tol is one of several holed stones on the peninsula, and both folklore and archaeology suggest a ritualistic function.
Mên an Tol sits along the Tinners Way, a 12-mile pathway that connects ancient sites across the West Penwith moors. In a famous 1977 case, a local couple lodged a complaint with authorities after being attacked by circling balls of light while out hiking. The Tinners Way passes by Zennor, an ancient village renowned for mermaids, the legend of which is preserved in a 600-year-old carving on the side of a bench in the local church. The legend recalls the day when a mermaid lured a local man out to sea, never to be heard from again. A nearby field is called The Green Man, and a little further along the coast the village of Morvagh recalls the name Morverch, meaning mermaids or sea grave.
In and around Land’s End, many churches also commemorate their pagan past with peculiar carvings. At Saint Levans, bench-end carvings depict serpents, griffins and other-worldly creatures, while a huge rock outside recalls the tale of how Saint Levan split the boulder in two while uttering an apoplectic prophecy: “When with panniers astride, A pack horse can ride, Through Saint Levan’s Stone, The World will be done.” Like many pagan shrines in Land’s End, Saint Levan’s stone is also associated with fertility rites.
Nearby, Saint Buryan Church boasts two Celtic crosses and an abundance of chalice symbolism. Similarly, a Celtic cross adorns the churchyard at Saint Just-in-Penwith, a fourteenth century church that sits over a far earlier site. Inside, an ancient mural depicts a figure surrounded by unusual objects, such as scales, an anvil and hammer, a horn, a mermaid, a rake, a ladder, and a boat bearing a fish; many of which are symbols of the French death cult, La Sanch. Curiously, a human skull was discovered in a niche behind the painting, but its identity has never been determined.
Cornwall boasts an impressive assortment of local saints. Of the many shrines that commemorate them, few are as evocative as the holy wells of Land’s End, such as Madron. The ancient ruined chapel continues to draw visitors, mostly the physically disabled who are hoping to reproduce the fortune of John Trelill, a seventeenth century man who was handicapped for 16 years yet cured of his affliction after bathing in the well’s holy waters.
Most holy wells in Land’s End are dilapidated at best while others have disappeared altogether. Sadly, the erosion of the land’s former glory is also evident in the Cornish language, which died when Land’s End resident Dorothy Pentreath passed away in 1777. Nevertheless, Cornwall’s old customs are preserved in surprising ways. In Helston, just up the coast, an annual ceremony marks the passing of winter. In Padstow, an annual May Day celebration called “Obby Oss” celebrates the Celtic festival of Beltane and commences at midnight and lasts the entire next day.
The spirit of Land’s End lives on, quite literally, both in customs and monuments that serve as lasting testament to a land that provided us with the archetypes for Atlantis and Christ in England, as well as tales of apparitions, mermaids, pirates, pixies, and pagans. Its illustrious and ancient heritage has prompted me to suggest that a more fitting name may be Land’s Beginning.