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.”
The brazier depicted here was lit on Chapel Carn Brea, the hill closest to Lands End, on June 24th 2017 and from the top affords views around the West Penwith peninsula. The ceremony of lighting this fire, and similar ones across Cornwall, was co-ordinated by The Federation of Old Cornish Societies. The ceremony includes singing hymns in Cornish, prayers and throwing summer flowers onto the fire. The Society is a charitable organisation whose stated goals are :
- To collect, record and publish information regarding Cornish prehistory, history, topography, place-names, folk-lore, traditions, dialect, music, industries and similar subjects.
- To protect the natural beauty of Cornwall.
- To encourage the study and use of the Cornish Language.
- To preserve Cornish Antiquities and relics of the past.