One of forty three tidal islands that are accessible on foot from Britain’s mainland, St Michael’s Mount stands in Mounts Bay, Cornwall. Originally known as "Karrek Loos yn koos" meaning 'hoar rock in woodland', St Michaels Mount was situated in a large woodland area. The woodlands were flooded in around 1700BC. When the tide is low evidence of the old forest is visible.
As early as the eighth or ninth century the site was a Monastery. Edward the Confessor, one of the last Anglo Saxon Kings of England, gave the island to the Norman Abbey of Mont Saint Michel. The island became a counterpart of the Mont Saint Michel Abbey in Normandy. Encouraged by an indulgence granted by Pope Gregory, in the eleventh century, the island was a destination for pilgrims. The Mount was captured in 1193 by Sir Henry de la Pomeroy on behalf on Prince John, the King of England from 1199 until his death in 1216. The monastic buildings were built during the twelfth century.
The original priory was destroyed by an earthquake before being rebuilt in the late fourteenth century. St Michael’s Mount remained a priory of that abbey until the dissolution of alien houses. This occurred due to the war with France led by Henry V, the second English monarch of the House of Lancaster. After Henry V's death in 1422 the island was given to the Abbess and convent of Syon. It was a Bridgettine Order, an order of the Augustinian Nuns, religious sisters and monks founded by Saint Bridget of Sweden in 1424.
The 13th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere, a principal Lancastrian commander during the War of the Roses, seized the Mount in 1473. He held the Mount for twenty three weeks against the troops of Edward IV loosing his stronghold in 1474. In 1497 St Michael’s Mount was occupied by Perkin Warbeck. This pretender to the throne claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV, one of the princes supposedly killed in the tower.
By 1549 the Governor of St Michael’s Mount was Sir Humphrey Arundell. He was known for leading the Prayer Book Rebellion, a revolt against the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, which presented the theology of the English Reformation.
Queen Elizabeth I gave St Michael’s Mount to the Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil. An English statesman, Cecil was known for directing the government during the transition from the Tudors to the Stuarts. Robert Cecil’s son sold the Mount to Sir Francis Bassett, a Sheriff and Vice Admiral of Cornwall. During the English civil war, Bassett’s brother Arthur, held the Mount against the parliament until July 1646.
In 1659 the Mount was sold to Colonel John St Aubyn, a colonel to the parliamentary army during the English Civil War. His relatives remain seated at the Mount. Consisting of a a few small fisherman’s cottage and the monastic dwellings by the 18th century, improvements were made to the harbour in 1727. These improvements resulted in St Michael’s Mount’s harbour flourishing.
A large earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 resulted in a Tsunami striking the Cornwall coast. There was great loss of lives and property.
By 1811 the houses on the Mount numbered fifty five with four streets. There was a Wesleyan Chapel, three public houses and three schools on the Mount. The pier was extended in 1821 and the population reached 221 people. With improvements being made in the harbour at nearby Penzance the population on the Mount declined. This resulted in many of the existing houses being demolished. During the Victorian era an underground funicular narrow gauge railway was constructed to take luggage to the island.
In the late 19th Century the remains of an anchorite, a hermit that retires to isolation for religious reasons, were found in the domestic chapel on the Mount.
A descendant of John St Aubyn, Francis Cecil St Aubyn, 3rd Baron St Levan, gave most of St Michael’s Mount to the National Trust in 1954. The St Aubyn family have a 999 year contract to inhabit the castle and a licence to manage the public viewing of historical rooms. The chapel at St Michael’s Mount still serves the Order of St John. Chapel Rock on the beach of the Mount is the site of a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
On the hillside of St Michael’s Mount several houses have been built. A spring provides water to the island. A set of eight terrace houses built in 1855, called Elizabeth Terrace also remain on the Mount. The cemetary on St Michael’s Mount is the final resting place for residents and drowned sailors. The Mount also has a stewards house, a barge house, two inns, changing rooms for bathers and a bowling green.
The harbour has been renovated and is marked by small brass inlay footsteps of Queen Victoria whose Royal barge disembarked from the Mount. King Edward VII’s footstep are commemorated on the bowling green and in 1967 the Royal Yacht Britannia visited the harbour. The Mount has been featured in many films including Dracula, Johnny English and the Bond movie Never Say Never Again.
Considering the long and at times tempestuous history of St Michael’s Mount it is little surprise that there has been recorded paranormal phenomena since as early as the 5th Century. It is claimed that in the 5th Century the archangel Michael appeared to local fishermen. A tale is also told about the island on which St Michael’s Mount sits being the home of a giant called Cormoran, who lived in a cave with the ill-gotten treasures he had taken from the locals he terrorised. A young farmer’s son called Jack killed the giant by trapping him in a pit. This story is tied to the legend of Jack the Giant Killer.
The Mount is said to be haunted by a tall man. He is thought to be the Anchorite whose body was unearthed during renovations of the chapel. During the renovations a stone doorway was discovered that led to a hermitage cell. The cell contained the remains of a man 7ft 8inches tall. Perhaps this is linked to the stories of a giant on the Mount.
A previous tenant of the Mount, Lord St Levan claimed that a four poster bed, decorated with carvings of Spanish shipwrecks that had happened around the coast, made people uneasy. A ghostly monk has been sighted on the Mount and a Lady in grey. The Lady in grey is believed to be a former nanny of the St Aubyn family in the 1750s. It is said that she got pregnant and when the father of her child rejected her she threw herself from the top of the castle.
In the waters beyond the Mount it is said that some people hear the peel of church bells and the words “I will, I will....” coming from the depths of the sea. The haunting is said to be the ghosts of Sarah Polgrain and her sailor lover Jack. Polgrain reportedly poisoned her husband and moved in with her lover Jack. The villagers were suspicious and Polgrain husband’s body was exhumed. When it was established she had murdered him she was sentenced to hang. From the scaffold she was reported to have asked Jack to marry her and he had replied “I will, I will...” Following her death Jack became tormented and confided to fellow sailors what he had said. At midnight, female footsteps were heard on the deck of the ship and a terrified Jack was seen jumping into the water never to be seen again.
What really impressed me about St Michaels Mount is the way that it rises majestically from the water like a place from a fairy tale.