We believe this is even more beautiful than Mont St Michel, it's more famous cousin. There is evidence of people living in the area during the Neolithic period (from circa 4000 to 2500 BCE years). The key discovery was of a leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, which was found in a shallow pit on the lower eastern slope, now part of the modern gardens. Other pieces of flint have been found, and at least two could be Mesolithic (circa 8000 to 3500 BCE).
During the Mesolithic, Britain was still attached to mainland Europe via Doggerland, and archaeologist and prehistorian Caroline Malone noted that during the Late Mesolithic, the British Isles were something of a "technological backwater" in European terms, still living as a hunter-gatherer society whilst most of southern Europe had already taken up agriculture and sedentary living. At this time the Mount would have been an area of dry ground surrounded by a marshy forest.
None of the flints, so far recovered, can be positively dated to the Bronze Age (c. 2500 to 800 BC), although any summit cairns would have most likely been destroyed when building the castle. Radiocarbon dating established the submerging of the hazel wood at about 1700 BC. A hoard of copper weapons, once thought to have been found on the mount, are now thought to have been found on nearby Marazion Marsh. Defensive stony banks on the north-eastern slopes are likely to date to the early 1st millennium BC, and are considered to be a cliff castle.
Its Cornish language name—literally, "the grey rock in a wood"—may represent a folk memory of a time before Mount's Bay was flooded, indicating a description of the mount set in woodland. Remains of trees have been seen at low tides following storms on the beach at Perranuthnoe.
*** – History – ***
The chronicler John of Worcester relates under the year 1099 that St Michael's Mount was located five or six miles (10 km) from the sea, enclosed in a thick wood, but that on the third day of November the sea overflowed the land, destroying many towns and drowning many people as well as innumerable oxen and sheep; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records under the date 11 November 1099, "The sea-flood sprung up to such a height, and did so much harm, as no man remembered that it ever did before".
The Cornish legend of Lyonesse, an ancient kingdom said to have extended from Penwith toward the Isles of Scilly, also talks of land being inundated by the sea. One of the earliest references to the mount (originally named "Dynsol" or "Dinsul"), was in the mid 11th century when it was "Sanctus Michael beside the sea".
It may have been the site of a monastery in the 8th to early 11th centuries when Edward the Confessor gave it to the Norman abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. It was a priory of that abbey until the dissolution of the alien houses (Alien Priories were small dependencies of foreign religious houses, especially English possessions of French religious 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. The monastic buildings were built during the 12th century and in 1275 an earthquake destroyed the original priory church, which was rebuilt in the late 14th century. It is still in use today. The priory was seized by the Crown, when Henry V went to war in France and it became part of the endowment for the Brigittine Abbey of Syon at Twickenham in 1424. Thus ended the connection with Mont St Michel.
The Mount has seen a lot of action. Henry Pomeroy captured the Mount, on behalf of Prince John, in the reign of King Richard I. Various sources state that the earthquake of 1275 destroyed the original Priory Church, although this may be a misunderstanding of the term "St Michael's on the Mount" which referred to the church of St Michael atop Glastonbury Tor.
Syon Abbey, a monastery of the Bridgettine Order, acquired the Mount in 1424. Some 20 years later the Mount was granted by Henry VI to King's College, Cambridge on its foundation. However, when Edward IV took the throne during the Wars of the Roses the Mount was returned to the Syon Abbey in 1462. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, seized 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. Humphrey Arundell, governor of St Michael's Mount, led the rebellion of 1549. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it was given to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, by whose son it was sold to Sir Francis Bassett. During the Civil War, Sir Arthur Bassett, brother of Sir Francis, held the Mount against the parliament until July 1646.
In 1755 the Lisbon earthquake caused a tsunami to strike the Cornish coast over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away. The sea rose six feet in ten minutes at St Michael's Mount, ebbed at the same rate, and continued to rise and fall for five hours. The 19th-century French writer Arnold Boscowitz claimed that "great loss of life and property occurred upon the coasts of Cornwall."
In the late 19th century the skeleton of an anchorite was discovered when a chamber was found beneath the castle's chapel. When the anchorite died of illness or natural causes, the chamber had been sealed off to become his tomb. The Mount was sold in 1659 to Colonel John St Aubyn. His descendant, Lord St Levan, continues to be the "tenant" of the Mount but has ceased to be resident there, his nephew, James St Aubyn, taking up residency and management of the Mount in 2004.
Little is known about the village before the beginning of 18th century, save that there were a few fishermen's cottages and monastic cottages. After improvements to the harbour in 1727, St Michael's Mount became a flourishing seaport, and by 1811 there were fifty-three houses and four streets. The pier was extended in 1821 and the population peaked in the same year, when the island had 221 people. There were three schools, a Wesleyan chapel, and three public houses, mostly used by visiting sailors.
The village went into decline following major improvements to nearby Penzance harbour and the extension of the railway to Penzance in 1852, and many of the houses and buildings were demolished. A short underground, funicular narrow gauge railway was built in Victorian times. It was used to bring luggage up to the house. It occasionally operates, but only for demonstration reasons. It is Britain's last operating Scotch gauge railway. The Mount was fortified during the Second World War during the invasion crisis of 1940–41. Three pillboxes can be seen to this day.
Sixty-five years after the Second World War, it was suggested based on interviews with contemporaries that the former Nazi foreign minister and one time ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had wanted to live on the Mount after the planned German conquest. Archived documents revealed that during his time in Britain in the 1930s, in which he had initially proposed an alliance with Nazi Germany, Ribbentrop frequently visited Cornwall.
During the 6th century, before a castle was built, according to legend, the island St. Michael's Mount sits upon was once home to an 18-foot giant named Cormoran, who lived in a cave with his ill-gotten treasures obtained by terrorizing local towns and villages. That is, until a young farmer's son named Jack took on this gigantic menace, who had an appetite for cattle and children, and killed him by trapping him in a concealed pit, bringing down his axe upon his head. When he returned home, the elders in the village gave him a hero's welcome, and henceforth, called him "Jack the Giant Killer".
*** – Visiting – ***
The clash of the portcullis and the hatching of plans in the study, the tolling of bells in the ancient priory and the hustle and bustle of the servants’ quarters. With shades of the past in every room and new discoveries waiting around every corner, dig deep into the Mount’s history, experience a different kind of family home or simply let your imagination run wild.
A family home for centuries, the castle holds mementos, memories and moments of magic at every turn. From monks seeking solace in the priory, to HM the Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visiting in 2013, every resident and every visitor can share in the story.
Did you know that the island’s children take a boat to school? That the Mount once had its own dairy with cows grazing outside? Or that St Michael is the patron saint of fishermen and high places? Take a tour as a family and watch your little ones light up as they learn about the living, breathing island. Their expert guides are full of stories, legends and facts all ready to share – and they like nothing better than questions from curious minds.
*** – Facilities – ***
Location : St Michael's Mount, Marazion, Cornwall, TR17 0HS
Transport: Penzance (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 2, 17B, 18C and 515 stop at Marazion from Penzance. Ferry from Penzance Harbour at High Tide.
Opening Times : See above for booking.
Tickets Garden Only: Adults £8.50; Child £4.00
Tel: 01736 710507