ST MICHAEL'S MOUNT--THE WHITE ROCK IN THE WOOD.
"An old legend of St Michael speaketh of a tounelet in this part (between Pensandes and Mousehole), now defaced, and lying under the water." .Leland's Itinerary.
ALREADY it has been told how St Michael's Mount was built by the giants. So much for its Titanic origin. The tradition that the Mount was formerly called in old Cornish, Careg-luz en kuz, [a] and that it rose from the midst of an extensive forest, is very prevalent. "A forest is supposed to have extended along the coast to St Michael's Mount, which was described as a 'hoare rock in a wood,' and stood five or six miles from the sea. The bay was said to have been a plain of five or six miles in extent, formed into parishes, each having its church, and laid out in meadows, corn-fields, and woods." [b] A similar tradition attaches itself to Mont St Michel, in Normandy.
By and by, when the Saxon rule was extended into Cornwall, this remarkable hill is seized upon, in common with many other such hills, as the residence of some anchorite. This holy recluse is visited by St Michael, who had an especial fondness for hill churches, and the hermit is directed to build a church on the summit, and dedicate it to St Michael.
"In evile howre thou hentst in hond,
Thus holy hills to blame;
For sacred unto saints they stand,
And of them have their name.
St Michael's Mount, who does not know,
That wards the western coast."
Milton, in his delicately beautiful poem of "Lycidas," makes especial illusion to thiis monkish legend:--
"Where'er thy bones are hurl'd,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou, perhaps, under the whelming tide,
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world,
Or, whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old, [c]
Where the great vision of the guarded mount,
Look towards Namancos, and Bayona's hold;
Look homeward, angel, now, and melt with ruth,
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth."
-- MILTON's Lycidas.
Warner, in his "Tour through Cornwall," with much assumption of learning, attempts to explain these lines. He tells us that the Land's End was called Bellerium, "so named from Bellerus, a Cornish giant. No such giant ever existed in Cornish fable, as far as can be ascertained. It is far more probable that Milton used the poet's license, and, from the name of the Land's End, Bellerium, created 'the fable of Bellerus old.'" What follows in Warner is worth extracting:--
"We learn from ' Caston's Golden Legende,' under the history of the Angel Michael, that, 'Th' apparacyon of this angell is many-fold. The fyrst is when he appeared in Mount of Gargan, &c.,' (edit. 1493, fol. cclxxxii. a). William of Worcester, who wrote his travels over England about 1490, says, in describing St Michael's Mount, there was an 'Apparicio Sancti Michaelis in monte Tumba antea vocato Le Hore Rok in the Wodd' (Itinerar., edit. Cantab., 1778, p. 102). The Hoar Rock in Ike Wood is this Mount or Rock of St Michael, anciently covered with thick wood, as we learn from Drayton and Carew. There is still a tradition, that a vision of St Michael seated on this crag, or St Michael's Chair, appeared to. some hermits; and that this circumstance occasioned the foundation of the monastery dedicated to St Michael. And hence this place was long renowned for its sanctity, and the object of frequent pilgrimages. Carew quotes some old rhymes much to our purpose, p. 154, ut supra
'Who knows not Mighel's Mount and Chaire,
The pilgrim's holy vaunt?'
Nor should it be forgot that this monastery was a cell to another on a St Michael's Mount in Normandy, where was also a vision of St Michael. But to apply what has been said to Milton. This great vision is the famous apparition of St Michael, whom he, with much sublimity of imagination, supposes to be still throned on this lofty crag of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, looking towards the Spanish coast. The guarded mount on which this great vision appeared is simply the fortified mount, implying the fortress above mentioned. And let us observe, that Mount is the peculiar appropriated appellation of this promontory. So in Daniel's Panegyricke on the King, st. 19, 'From Dover to the Mount.' "--P. 180.
"In the very corner is Michael's Mount, which gives name to the bay (the Mount's Bay) anciently called DINSOL, as in the book of Llandaff, called by the inhabitants Careg.Cowse, or the Gray Rock--in Saxon, Mychelyroz, or Michael's Place." [d]
From Hals, Tonkin, and Gilbert, we learn yet further that "St Michael's Mount is so called, because our fathers, the Britons, believed that the appearance of the archangel St Michael in the year of our Lord 495 was in this place; though in other countries they believe differently."
"Edward the Confessor, finding the place already celebrated for its holiness, founded an abbey of Benedictine monks, A.D. 1044, and also a chapel, which still stand, part of which is now converted into a dwelling-house. Upon the tower of the chapel is the celebrated Kader Migell, -- i.e., Michael's Chair,--a seat artificially cut in the stone, very dangerous in the access, therefore holy for the adventure.
" 'Who knows not Mighel's Mount and Chaire,
The pilgrim's holy vaunt;
Both land and island twice a day, -
Both fort and port of haunt?'"
It is supposed by many persons to have been placed there for the pilgrims to complete their devotions at the Mount, by sitting in this chair, and showing themselves to the country around as pilgrims. St Kenna, doubtless the same as St Keyna, once visited this Mount,--although the time of her visitation is not precisely known,--and she imparted the very same virtue to the chair as she bestowed on St Keyna's Well. It is whichever, man or wife, sits in this chair first shall rule through life, and as it requires great resolution and steadiness of head to obtain the seat, one may be inclined to anticipate the supposed effect with greater certainty from its achievement, than from drinking water from St Keyna's Well.
It is not pleasant to destroy the romance of ages, but honesty compels me to pronounce this so-called chair to be nothing more than the remains of a stone lantern, built at the south-western angle of the tower. The good monks, without doubt, placing a light therein, it could be seen by the fishermen far off at sea; and probably they received some tribute of either fish or money for the support of this useful guide to the shore.
It is evident, from the following passage in Carew's Survey, that the "chair" formerly was not within the building at all, but on some rocks without the walls -
"A little without the castle there is a bad seat in a craggy place called St Michael's Chaire, somewhat dangerous for accesse, and therefore holy for the adventure." [e]
[a] Or Careg Cowes in Clowse.
[b] T. T. Blight.
[c] The name Bolerium has been especially given to the Land's End, but there is a cove near the Lizard now called Polurrian or Polerium.
[d] Gough's Camden's Britannia, vol. i. p. 4
[e] Carew, p. 154