Cornish Saints and Sinners: Lyonesse and the Trevelyans


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The Legend of Lyonesse & the Trevelyans, Cornwall
by J. Henry Harris

L Y O N E S S E
A N D  T H E

T R E V E L Y A N S
The Drowned Kingdom of the Scillys

When you sail far enough off Cornwall you reach the Scilly Isles, which is a sort of knuckle-end to the peninsula which was once land. There isn't very much to be found in books about the land under the sea. Of course it is there, or water wouldn't be on top.

Cornwall under the sea is the land of romance where, some say, King Arthur was born. There is no getting away from this land under the sea, for the old fairies rise from it still and spread enchantment. Every little boy and girl born in the Cornish peninsula is breathed over by the fairies and, in the after-life, wherever they may be, they turn their faces in sleep towards the west, and dream. From under the sea there rises, mourn and eve, the sound of bells, telling their own tale with infinite charm. The stranger who comes into the county must hear these sounds and thrill, and see in sunshine and shadow, on hill and in combe, on moor and fen, the fluttering of imperceptible wings; for if he hears and sees them not, he will depart the stranger he came, though he may live a lifetime in the land. In Cornwall everything is alive - the mine, the moor, the sea, the deep pools, the brooks, the groves, the sands, the caves. Everything has its moan and harmony and inspiration. The land under the sea, which is called Lyonesse by the poets, was a fairy zone, and some say it sank in the night, and some say other things harder to believe.

Cornwall under the sea has been there a long time. Some people, who like to be accurate above all things, say it disappeared in the year 1089, and contained 140 parish churches, and God knows how many chapels and baptistries, and holy wells , and places. The only survivor was a Trevelyan, of Basil near Launceston, who was on the back of a swimming horse. As it is not improbable that the inhabitants of Lyonesse traded with somebody elsewhere and owed them money, it is wonderful that the bad debts should have been wiped out without a murmur; and that no entry related to the place has been found in any court books, or in the accounts and deeds of abbeys and priories with interests in the 140 parish churches, and chapels, and holy wells, and baptistries. The Trevelyans seem to have been a larkish family. When one of them was arrested for debt, he fetched a beehive and presented it to the bailiffs, who ran away from honey and honeycomb as fast as they could.

The chimes which rise from the 140 parish churches under the sea are very beautiful to those who hear them.

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Edited from "Cornish Saints & Sinners" (1906)





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