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Lyonesse

  • O. G. S. Crawford
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Once upon a time (so tradition says) a region of extreme fertility lay between the Scilly Islands and Cornwall. This land was called Lyonesse; and where now roll the waters of the Atlantic there once stood prosperous towns and no less than a hundred and forty churches. The rocks called the Seven Stones, seven miles west of Land's End, are said to mark the site of a large city. This country was overwhelmed by the sea, and the sole survivor, one Trevilian, escaped destruction only by mounting a swift horse and fleeing to the mainland.

Such, stripped to the bone, is the famous legend of Lyonesse. Had it any real basis in fact, or is it merely an invention of the “dreamy Celt”? There are good reasons for believing that the substance of the legend is true, that within prehistoric times there did actually exist land which is now covered by the sea, and that it has been gradually overwhelmed. In one respect only does the modern critic disagree with tradition. He believes that Lyonesse was the Scilly Islands themselves, not a completely vanished region between them and Cornwall; and that what is now an archipelago of islands was a single large island, surrounded perhaps by a few rocky islets.

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References
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page 5 note 1 The Rev. Mr Wm. Borlase, M.A., F.R.S. ; Of the Great Alterations which the Islands of Scilly have undergone since the time of the Ancients. Philosophical Trans., Vol. xlviii. 1753. (Abridgements. Vol. x, 1809). The passage quoted in the text is quoted also by Hunt in Popular Romances, p. 193.

page 6 note 1 Samson Flats falls on sheet 87 NW. of the 6-inch O.S.

page 7 note 1 Since writing this, Mr. Alexander Gibson reports that he has been told of similar submerged walls between the west coast of Samson and White Island, and off the west shore of Tresco.

page 8 note 1 Third ed., London, 1881, pp. 56, 60.

page 8 note 2 Barrow, George, F.G.S. The Geology of the Isles of Scilly. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of England and Wales (on sheets 357 and 360), H.M.S.O., 1906.

page 10 note 1 Reid, Clement, F.R.S. Submerged Forests. Cambridge Manuals of Science and Literature. 1913.

page 10 note 2 A good illustration of the Circle was published in The Sphere, 21 August 1926.

page 12 note 1 His actual description is worth quoting :-“A tempestuous channel separates the island of Silura from the coast occupied by the British tribe of the Dumnonii. Its inhabitants even to-day have primitive customs ; they do not recognise money ; they give and exchange goods ; they obtain the necessaries of life by barter instead of by purchase ; they worship gods ; and men and women alike claim to foretell the future.” Polyhistor., chap. xxiv.

page 13 note 1 Shropshire Folklore, edited by Charlotte Sophia Burne, from the Collections of Jackson, Georgina F. London, 1883, p. 77.

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Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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