Monday, 26 May 2008

The City of Lions

Another Cornish legend repays the telling here, the more so in the context of what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans and Biloxi in 2005, both also oyster communities. The most compelling thing here is perhaps the more precise dating. It is said that there was a vast area to the west of Lands End, the fourth kingdom, known as Lyonesse. It had 140 churches and notable cities, but was overrun by a huge storm on November 11 1099 and disappeared, leaving only its mountains visible, which are today’s Scilly Isles. There are records dating the events to both 1014 and 1099 when “the exceeding seaflood…and so much to harm did…and ran up so far up as never before did…submerged many towns and mankind innumerable number”.

Only one man, Trevilian, managed to outrun the waves on a white horse and got to the safety of high ground at Perranuthnoe, opposite Newlyn. There are many tales of the church bells from the lost cities being heard in rough weather, great swathes of underwater forests. The Seven Stones Rocks to the west of Lands End are linked to a great city referred to as the City of Lions. Old fishermen called it the Town, and it is often retold that they have dragged up doors and windows in their nets in this area. In calm seas it is possible to see walls beneath the water and possible field boundaries show up at low tide along the sands of the Sampson Flats between the isles of Tresco and Sampson. Some of this has been handed down from notes by the 16th century antiquarian William Camden so the time line is not as exaggerated as in some ancient tales.

People have conjectured that the name Lyonesse might be connected to Lothian in Scotland - written in old French as Loonois - and or with Leonais in Brittany. Or you could go further and postulate a link with Lyons in France, which would have been a believable trading explanation and offers another interesting linguistic link to the Celts, the name deriving from Lugdunum a Celtic god, Lug of light or sun. Certainly Lyons is closer to Lake Neufchatel in Switzerland from where the Celtic expansion through Europe is thought to have stemmed and would in any case have been an important trading city north to south from its position on the Rhone. In both Celtic and Phoenecian explanations of early European history there appear to be plausible links to the oyster communities in the west and their access to the sea