“It is strange how few people make more than a casual cult of enjoying Nature. And yet the earth is actually and literally the mother of us all. One needs no strange spiritual faith to worship the earth.”
John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance, published 1933
It is perhaps a truism that disparate faiths sit uneasily together in West Penwith, Cornwall. Evidence of its strong Christian tradition, both Celtic and later, can be seen everywhere in its wild landscapes and its settlements. The latter contains its Methodist heritage, reflecting the impassioned ministry of John and Charles Wesley who undertook journeys of 7 days duration from London to Cornwall on horseback to preach both in natural ampitheatres and selected chapels.
Sit with me here at Porthgwarra
let’s listen to the bell in the buoy
and notice the way whatever we hadn’t noticed
is coming to rest in a greeny-blue interval
between the strike of one sour sea-note and the next.
“Sancreed is a land of stone circles and cave-dwellings, crosses and cromlechs, barrows and menhirs, Holy wells and ancient oratories. In no other part of the country are there so many relics of what is popularly called the prehistoric age. Myth and romance, legend and folklore gather about its grey stones. Where so much is hidden in the mists of antiquity, recourse must, on occasion, be had to conjecture in piecing together the story of the past.” (Anon)
Midsummer, also known as St John’s Day, is recognised on June 24th by the Christian Church June as the feast day of the early Christian martyr St John the Baptist, and the observance of St John’s Day begins the evening before, known as St John’s Eve.
Traditional Midsummer bonfires are still lit on some high hills in Cornwall. This tradition was revived by the Old Cornwall Society in the early 20th century.
The ancient festival was first described by Dr William Borlase in 1754 in his book Antiquities of Cornwall.
“In Cornwall, the festival Fires, called Bonfires, are kindled on the Eve of St. John the Baptist and St. Peter’s Day; and Midsummer is thence, in the Cornish tongue, called ‘Goluan,’ which signifies both light and rejoicing. At these Fires the Cornish attend with lighted torches, tarr’d and pitch’d at the end, and make their perambulations round their Fires, and go from village to village carrying their torches before them; and this is certainly the remains of the Druid superstition, for ‘faces praeferre,’ to carry lighted torches, was reckoned a kind of Gentilism, and as such particularly prohibited by the Gallick Councils: they were in the eye of the law ‘accensores facularum,’ and thought to sacrifice to the devil, and to deserve capital punishment.” (more…)