St Michael's Mount

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain

St. Michael's Mount at high tide in 1900.
St. Michael's Mount at high tide in 1900.

St Michael's Mount ( Cornish name: Carrack Looz en Cooz) is a lofty pyramidal tidal island, exhibiting a curious combination of slate and granite, rising 400 yards (366 m) from the shore of Mount's Bay, situated in Penwith in west Cornwall, England, United Kingdom in the extreme south western peninsula of the island of Britain. It is united with Marazion by a natural causeway cast up by the sea, and passable only at low tide.

Its Cornish language name — literally, "the grey rock in the wood" — may represent a folk memory of a time before Mount's Bay was flooded. Certainly, the Cornish name would be an accurate description of the Mount set in woodland. Remains of trees have been seen at neap tides following storms on the beach at Perranuthnoe. The Cornish legend of Lyonesse, an ancient kingdom said to have extended from Penwith toward the Scilly Isles, also talks of land being inundated by the sea.

Historically St Michael's Mount was a Cornish counterpart of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France.

St Michael's Mount is known colloquially by locals as simply the Mount.

The island today

The chapel is extra-diocesan and the castle is the residence of Lord St. Levan. Many relics, chiefly armour and antique furniture, are preserved in the castle. The chapel of St. Michael, a 15th-century building, has an embattled tower, in one angle of which is a small turret, which served for the guidance of ships. Chapel Rock, on the beach, marks the site of a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where pilgrims paused to worship before ascending the Mount. A few houses are built on the hillside facing Marazion, and a spring supplies them with water. The harbour, widened in 1823 to allow vessels of 500 tons to enter, has a pier dating from the 15th century, and subsequently enlarged and restored.

St. Michael's Mount is still owned by the St. Aubyn family, but visitor access is controlled by the National Trust.


St. Michael's Mount
St. Michael's Mount

The Mount may be the Mictis of Timaeus, mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia (IV:XVI.104), and the Ictis of Diodorus Siculus. Both men had access to the now lost texts of the ancient Greek Geographer Pytheas who visited the Island in the 4th Century BC. If this is true, it is one of the earliest identified locations in the whole of western Europe and particularly on the island of Britain. Maybe there is an even earlier account of the Mount as there is a theory that St Michaels Mount served as inspiration for the mythical Scylla and Charybdis, dating from the late Bronze Age.

It may have been held by a religious body in the time of Edward the Confessor and given by Robert, Count of Mortain to the Norman abbey of Mont Saint Michel. It was a priory of that abbey until the dissolution of the alien houses by Henry V, when it was given to the abbess and Convent of Syon at Isleworth, Middlesex. It was a resort of pilgrims, whose devotions were encouraged by an indulgence granted by Pope Gregory in the 11th century.

Henry Pomeroy captured The Mount on behalf of Prince John, in the reign of Richard I. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, seized it and held it during a siege of twenty-three weeks against 6,000 of Edward IV's troops in 1473. Perkin Warbeck occupied the Mount in 1497. Humphry Arundell, governor of St Michael's Mount, led the rebellion of 1549. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth it was given to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, by whose son it was sold to Sir Francis Basset. During the Civil War, Sir Arthur Basset, brother of Sir Francis, held the Mount against the parliament until July 1646. In the late nineteenth century the skeleton of a royalist soldier was discovered when a secret chamber was found in the castle. The soldier had apparently starved to death: a jug of stagnant water was found next to his remains. The Mount was sold in 1659 to Colonel John St Aubyn. Colonel St Aubyn's descendant Lord St Levan now lives there.

Local government

St Michael's Mount forms its own civil parish for local government purposes. Currently this takes the form of a Parish meeting as opposed to a Parish council (that is, a yearly meeting of electors that does not elect councillors). The current Chairman of the St Michael's Mount parish meeting is Mr James St Aubyn.


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