Celtic Tradition in Cornwall

[Celtic (Iona) Cross] Celtic (Iona) Cross

Cornwall forms the south-west corner of England, where it is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to its west and north- west and the English Channel to the south. Devon adjoins at its eastern boundaries.

Its wind-swept moorlands and cliffs gave opportunities for early settlement. Roman occupation and Saxon colonization of the lands further east caused the onward emigration of Brythonic-speaking people into southwest England and from there to Brittany.

Remains of Celtic Christianity in Cornwall include crosses dating from the 6th century onward, inscribed sepulchral stones, general of the 7th and 8th centuries and oratories. These have their parallels in Ireland, as the prehistoric contacts with Ireland and Wales and Brittany were maintained in early Christian times.

In all these regions, dedications to local saints are a feature. The oratory buildings are very small and rude, always placed near a spring. The best example is St. Piran's near Perranzabuloe, which lay buried in sand dunes until 1835. St. Piran, a missionary sent by St. Patrick in the 5th or 6th century, became the patron saint of the tin miners.

Cornwall has many associations with the Arthurian legends. Tintagel in northern Cornwall is said to be place of the birth of King Arthur. Merlin's Cave is also among the many sites connected with the life and times of King Arthur.

The old Cornish language survives in a few words still in use in fishing and mining communities, as well as names of persons and places, e.g., names with prefix Tre ("dwelling"), Pol ("pool"), Pen ("summit or headland"). The last persons who spoke it died toward the end of the 18th century.

The language belonged to the Cymric or Brythonic division of Celtic, which also includes Welsh and Breton. Three miracle plays in Cornish are important relics in the language.

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