Tonsures, Tin, Bronze and Bells
'Saint Michael, Tin and the Age of Bells'.
Research prepared for the Mont et Merveille conference
at Les Archives Départementales de la Manche at St Lô
on 27 November 2009.
by Christopher Long
In 2007 Christopher Long and the architectural historian David Nicolas-Méry collaborated in a study of the relationship between the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy and its mediaeval 'daughter' priory on St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. In this they were generously helped by Lord St Levan, James and Mary St Aubyn and The National Trust. Their research was initially confined to the monastic connections between the two foundations during the C12th, C13th and C14th.
At this time David Nicolas-Méry suspected that the Channel Islands might be important in understanding the relationship between the two foundations on opposite sides of the English Channel. Pursuing this thought in 2008, the author began to explore in detail as many as possible of the numerous properties in England and the Channel Islands which were formerly held by Mont Saint-Michel.
In comparing these with the few contemporary documents that have survived, an intriguing pattern emerged. It seemed that the Norman monks may have chosen their English possessions very carefully, concentrating on the important commercial opportunities they offered.
This article presents the hypothesis that the monks of Mont Saint-Michel were seriously involved in the Cornish tin trade. If so, the monks might also have controlled a significant proportion of the European market in bronze, bell-founding and, perhaps, pewter.
ccording to mediaeval sources, the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel owned a considerable number of estates, manors, churches (23) (24) and chapels in England (see Appendix), in addition to its two important priories at Otterton in south-east Devon and at St Michael's Mount in south-west Cornwall. The majority of these possessions were gifts made after 1066 by William the Conqueror or by Norman barons, though a number of them had been made to the Benedictine monks by Saxon kings and queens before 1066 and honoured thereafter by William the Conqueror (9).
St Michael's Mount, however, appeared to be an exceptional case. While the monks had numerous routine land disputes with successive Norman kings or barons in England (some of which they won and others they lost), they seem to have gone to extraordinary lengths in their attempts to prove that the rocky island of St Michael's Mount had been granted to them by Edward the Confessor (but during the reign of King Canute) long before the Norman Conquest (23). Indeed the charter they relied upon for proof of their entitlement is almost universally regarded as a forgery (1) probably produced at Mont Saint-Michel in the C11th in order to convince the Conqueror or his heirs that the monks held ancient rights to lands in Cornwall (1). This was important since such rights, if proved, would usually remain valid even though fealty was transferred from Saxon kings or thanes to the Norman crown.
More puzzling still was why the monks appear to have 'corrupted' a second charter (2). In the C12th, long after the Norman Conquest, they again sought to prove their inalienable rights to ancient gifts of land on or around St Michael's Mount. This time the charter concerned alleged gifts of land to Mont Saint-Michel by Robert de Mortain (31) (half brother of William the Conqueror who acquired 248 manors in Cornwall, probably after 1072).
It seems that the monks may have added text to a copy of a genuine charter in order to assert their rights to small and apparently obscure possessions which were being challenged by Robert's heirs (probably William de Mortain). The disputed lands were at Truthwall and Ludgvan which were rich in tin (remaining so until the C19th). It is quite possible that the monks had ancient rights to these lands dating even from the C9th or C10th (23). It may also be that the departure in 1072 of Robert's predecessor, Brian of Britanny, left confusion. Or it may be that Robert's 'gift' was merely a confirmation of the monks' exisiting rights (25). What seems clear is that Robert's heir thought them valuable enough to renege on his father's alleged gift by taking back half of the manor (see Domesday) and that the monks thought them valuable enough to justify forged additions to a copy of Robert's probably genuine original charter (2).
In 2008 the author thought it was strange that the only two surviving charters involving specific mediaeval links between Mont Saint-Michel and St Michael's Mount were both widely regarded as 'suspect'. Why were the monks of Mont Saint-Michel willing to risk forging or falsifying charters in order to prove ancient rights to ancient gifts and specifically in areas of Cornwall which were rich in tin?
While there is no proof that any cult occupied St Michael's Mount prior to the building of the priory by Bernard du Bec from 1135, most historians seem agreed that it is inconceivable that there were not hermits or monks on this dramatic rocky island by as early as the spread of the cult of St Michael in the C7th or C8thThe cult of St Michael spread into northern Europe from Italy and from Ireland and Wales. It is unclear in the the case of MSM and SMM which came first and which source was predominant.. The island monastery of St Michael on Skellig, 15 kilometres off the Irish coast, was founded circa 588 on an almost inaccessible rock 230 feet high. Its well-preserved monastic buildings consist of stone 'beehive' structures. It is hard to imagine that the far more accessible Cornish mount, at almost exactly the same height, was not used in a similar way at about the same time. So, the theory that the Benedictine monks of Mont Saint-Michel may have produced forged or falsified charters in the C11th and C12th in order to prove genuine ancient rights in Cornwall seems quite credible. Benedictine communities had existed throughout England for several centuries before the Norman Conquest, often on lands granted to them by Saxon kings or earls (or perhaps by Bretons in Cornwall). But Cornwall itself had scarcely been colonised by the Saxons (or the Romans before them) prior to the Norman Conquest.
So, it seems quite probable that a community of monks (perhaps Benedictines and perhaps with links of some sort to Mont Saint-Michel) might have been established there while also holding clear rights to neighbouring manors such as Truthwall and Ludgvan (21) (22). It is also quite possible that the proof of their rights was never formalised or that the documents had been lost. A similar argument could be made for many other Cornish religious communities established in places associated with early Celtic saints such as St Piran, St Petroc (Perreux), etc.
Cornwall was the most industrialised region of Britain in the Middle Ages. Its principal industry was the mining of tin which is necessary for the production of bronze and pewter. Cornwall had a virtual monopoly in tin production in western Europe, having attracted Roman and Levantine traders (15) (though Spain too produced tin). By the mediaeval period the Cornish tin trade was well established (29) and highly organised (3). Tin is known to have been exported from Cornwall (4) to Morlaix in Brittany, up the Rhine into central Europe, and up the Loire (and then perhaps down the Rhône to Marseilles) to supply markets throughout the Mediterranean. It may almost have been exported to the Mediterranean around the Breton and Iberian penisula coasts. In any case it seems a universal rule that any transport by sea or river was seen as preferable to travelling overland. This rule applied as much to people as to goods.
The extraction of tin in Cornwall involved two phases. A first smelting of the ore (5) at the mine produced an impure product which was then transported to a blowing-house where a second smelting produced pure tin ingots, ready for a bi-annual assay at one of the Stannery towns and then for sale at home or abroad (16). Tin in itself was not a useful metal but, when mixed with lead, it produces pewter and when mixed with copper it produces bronze. Both these alloys were extremely valuable throughout the known world in mediaeval times. By this time, Cornish tin was assayed and marked by appointed Stannery masters ("rich men" of the local area) who imposed a tax in the name of the king (3). However, both smelting processes required large quantities of charcoal and hence abundant quantities of timber from woods and forests. This helps to explain the almost total lack of trees on Dartmoor (famed for its tin mines), though Cornwall was producing ten times as much tin as Devon in the later mediaeval period and perhaps much earlier.
See an account by Diodorus Siculus of tin trading at an island or high-tide peninsula called Ictis (4).
Dr. H. O'Neil Hencken in Archaeology of Cornwall and Scilly (1932), suggests that by the Iron Age the island of St. Michael's Mount would have become a highly important port. St. Michael's Mount was also at one time probably the island of 'Ictis' from which Cornish tin was exported to the Greek trading communities in the Mediterranean. But note the caution by John MacCormack who believes 'Ictis' refers to the Channel Islands (13).
Less credibly, Canon Taylor in his History of St. Michael's Mount suggests that 'Ictis' (the Hore Rock in the Wood) was Mont Saint-Michel rather than St Michael's Mount. However he believes that Phoenicians or Carthaginians were unlikely to have traded in Cornwall and his suggestion that tin was shipped from Cornwall to Gaul by the Veneti, a powerful sea-faring people who inhabited Southern Brittany, is interesting. The Veneti had close linguistic and cultural contacts with Cornwall.
See also article on Ictis/Itier by David Nicolas-Méry (37).
The Lizard, around the Stannary town of Helston (6), was another region of Cornwall renowned for mining in mediaeval times but it produced interesting stone useful for architectural decoration. Not surprisingly we find that the monks of Mont Saint-Michel owned four areas of land there but these probably produced revenues from agriculture and do not appear to have been the subject of disputed ownership as was the case with their tin-rich land. And it may be purely coincidental that Helston's church nearby was dedicated to St Michael. The Lizard manors were:
These were presumably controlled by the prior of St Michael's Mount and there is no record of the abbey holding any churches or chapels on these estates. There had been agricultural exploitation from ancient times in some areas of the Lizard (notably St Keverne), though according by the time of a later mediaeval account, much of the region was famous for its wild forests until these were later 'cleared' (probably for charcoal).
St Michael's Mount also controlled another area famed for its tin, this time on its doorstep:
Again there is no evidence that the monks held churches or chapels on these two estates whose greatest value lay in tin though it is likely they held the church at Ludgvan. We know for certain of only three 'ecclestiastical' properties held by the prior of St Michael's in Cornwall St Michael's Mount itself, its nearby church of St Hilary and St Clement's Moresk near Truro the remaining estates being on tin-bearing land.
Sadly we may never know the full extent of the abbey's possessions in England, particularly in Devon and Cornwall. All the records of the abbey at Mont Saint-Michel were destroyed by the American bombardment of St Lô in 1944.
There is no evidence of the legendary forest that once surrounded St Michael's Mount in the Bay of Penzance in Cornwall (just as Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy was supposedly surrounded by a similar forest) (17). Nor is there any evidence that such a forest might have been consumed by tin smelting (4). However, a reliable C18th observer recorded seeing large numbers of semi-fossilised tree stumps in Penzance Bay during an exceptionally low tide and archaeologists have indeed discovered tin ingots and an ancient smelting furnace near Penzance and Marazion (the two towns closest to St Michael's Mount). The name Marazion itself may denote either a 'Thursday market' or a 'Jew's market' and if Levantine tin merchants were the principal traders, from antiquity to mid-mediaeval times, it is understandable that all such traders might be assumed to be 'Jews'. Until the C19th the tin-smelting industry in Cornwall is littered with references to 'Jew houses' (i.e. furnaces) 'Jew house tin' (i.e. ingots) and 'Jew market' (i.e. Marazion itself market-zion? the market on the mount?). However, 'Forum Jovis' may have been corrupted to Market Jew (10).
The story of the tin industry in mediaeval Cornwall is well studied, understood and documented. But it is worth noting that although the mines were often found inland, the only practicable harbours for larger vessels facing Europe on the relevant parts of the south coast of Cornwall would have been at Mousehole (near St Clement's Island, Penzance), at St Michael's Mount (opposite Marazion) and at St Clement's Moresk (on the then navigable Tresillian river near Truro). And as we have seen, the four mining areas on the Lizard also have easy access to local harbours or the Helford river itself.
According to Michel Mollat, the monks also owned or controlled the port of Trevalga, a gift from William the Conqueror, on the north coast of Cornwall near Tintagel. It may be that this 'gift' simply confirmed a pre-Conquest possession (25). The C6th Irish saint, Piran (patron saint of tin miners and of Cornwall itself) gave his name to St Piran's Old Church, Perranzabuloe, close to Travalga a parish which comprises the villages of Perranporth and Perrancoombe.
The churches (23) (24) at Perranuthno and Perranarworthal were also dedicated to Piran and his name was given to holy wells at Perranwell and Probus as well as the church of St Piran, Trethevy, at Tintagel itself. If the monks or their predecessors controlled the port of Trevalga at an early date, without owning any mines in the vicinity, this suggests they may have held special rights over tin trading and transportation. [Note: David Nicolas knows of St Piran's equivalents in Brittany. Presumably these are St. Peran, Loperan and Saint-Perran.]
In July 2009, after this study was first published, an important horde of bronze objects was found hidden among rocks on St Michael's Mount by gardener and amateur archaeologist Darren Little. The Late Bronze Age horde, now on show at St Michael's Mount, includes socketed axe heads, sword and knife fragments, a gouge, bronze ingots and a buckle (the buckle being extremely rare if not unique). While there is no doubt whatever as to the significance of Cornwall throughout the Bronze Age, a find such as this may add to our understanding of the significance of St Michael's Mount itself in the processing of, and/or trade in, tin and its products such as bronze.
Just as Cornwall was renowned for its tin mines (from early in the European bronze age and 'antiquity' until the C19th), south west Devon was similarly known for its tin and lead mines. The best bronze for tools and other practical items contained not only copper and tin, but a significant lead content too. But if lead is simply added to tin (in a ratio of approximately 1:6 respectively) it produces pewter which in mediaeval Europe was the single most common alloy in everyday use e.g. for spoons, cups, tankards, jugs, plates and bowls. While lead was used in the 'leading' required for stained glass windows, vastly greater quantities were used to waterproof the roofs of mediaeval buildings. And although pewter could not be used for cooking on a fire, it was cheaper than either copper or bronze and was almost certainly the most common metal in everyday domestic use, along with iron, until the arrival of porcelain.
If the monks were involved in tin extraction in Cornwall and perhaps even held some degree of monopoly in the tin trade into Normandy and Brittany, it is tempting to think they may have tried to exploit the extraction and trade in Devon tin and lead as well. However, mining historian Dr Roger Burt of Exeter University strongly doubts that the harbours controlled by the monks at Sidmouth and Otterton (around which they also held a number of manors) were then involved in shipping lead. His view should not surprise us since the priory at Otterton did not appear to be prospering in the mid and late mediaeval eras.
The archaeologist Daniel Levalet [pursuing work by Loïc Langouët Le Centre Régional d'Archéologie d'Alet] has studied and promoted an important trade route (26) (27) linking the two coasts of the English Channel and via the Channel Islands during pre-Norman times.
Levalet describes a formidable and well-defended series of fortresses down the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula and on eastern points of the Channel Islands. The purpose of these coastal forts was, it is claimed, to assure safe passage through the narrow seaway between them. This seaway led towards the Benedictine monastery at Mont Saint-Michel, though more specifically to its mainland harbours such as those at St Père-sur-Mer, Genets and Avranches, etc.
Levalet believes that the principal purpose of these look-outs was to protect shipping from pirates notably Saxon pirates. He does not specify the cargoes that merited such elaborate protection, but commodities as valuable as tin from Cornwall and lead from Devon could provide an answer. And Dr Burt says that Germany and Scandinavia were important suppliers of the copper essential for the production of bronze.
Soon after, in the C10th, when the Normans (descendants of Viking settlers) had established themselves along most of the coastal regions of present-day Normandy and Picardy, their ducal rights to these territories were granted by French kings on condition that they protected the Seine and the northern coastline of France from the predations of subsequent Scandinavian raiders. It seems clear (see Millenaire ll) that the Benedictine monks at Mont Saint-Michel soon took over trade along the Cotentin coast into the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. John McCormack believes that Cistercian monks may have re-founded the navigational light at Les Écrehous on Guernsey in 1203 (13).
It is surely no coincidence that the abbey was granted valuable, strategic properties and harbours on Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey and Chaussey (e.g. by Dukes Richard l, Robert the Magnificent and William the Conqueror, as well as Philippe de Carteret, see Appendix) as well as many equivalent properties on the Cotentin mainland where they established a horse-shoe of mainly coastal priories. One might ask why the monks would have accepted this heavy and dangerous responsibility as seigneurs of the maritime trade routes unless they themselves had a vested interest in the business (14).
True, the abbey already held valuable rights to fisheries and salt production on the Cotentin coast and around the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, but these products were likely to have been destined for inland areas of France and Europe. It is unlikely that they were destined for Britain or northern Europe where salt and fish were already abundant (19), though Cornwall did indeed import salt in the later medieval period.
The most likely explanation for maintaining such an elaborate coastal protection system was to defend general trade (27) but specifically the import of valuable commodities such as tin, copper and lead, and the export, perhaps, of bronze. Interestingly, Dr Burt says that the ability to smelt copper for bronze production did not emerge in Cornwall until the C16th. Presumably bronze was imported into Cornwall and elsewhere in England until that time.
It seems quite possible that the tin trade between Cornwall and the Norman and Breton coast was at least partly perhaps substantially controlled by the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel from at least the C9th until as late as the 100 Years' War, 500 years later.
The St Michael priories along with the satellite communities of other monastic orders around the coasts and along the principal waterways of western Europe are simply too happily positioned not to been involved in the trade.
The following evidence (factual or circumstantial) is noteworthy:
The monks were officially seigneurs maritimes and held ports on all the lands linking Cornwall with Normandy and north-eastern Brittany.
They held St Michael's Mount and its markets, probably the market at Marazion (28) (10) and, usefully, valuable tin-mining land of their own in Cornwall (e.g. Truthwall and Ludgvan as well as the four estates on the Lizard, near the Stannary town of Helston).
They also owned the harbours at St Hilary (the navigable estuary closest to St Michael's Mount), St Clement's Moresk (the navigable estuary nearest to the Stannary town of Truro) and Trevalga (the harbour associated with Tintagel on the north Cornish coast).
Any vessel crossing the Channel from Mont Saint-Michel to the Cornish coast faced a straight-line passage of about 250 miles (400 kms) off some of the most treacherous coasts and some of the most unpredictable weather in European waters. At a speed of four or five miles per hour (7-8 kms per hour) this voyage would take at least two days (perhaps four days in unfavourable winds).
It's hard to believe that anyone owning a harbour in Mount's Bay would not have been implicated in the region's one big industry especially an industry that supplied a vital commodity to workshops throughout the known world.
As the geologist Steven E. Bushnell remarks:
"If you look at a map of Cornwall's principal tin lodes, you can see from their distribution that they are clustered in the granite-associated area extending from Saint Michael's Mount northeast to Redruth as well as northwest to Land's End. If you were an abbey or a baron with an interest in the tin trade, there is clearly no place else to be but at a fortifiable spot on or near Mount's Bay."
Map above courtesy of Wikipedia and the British Geological Survey.
It seems inconceivable that mediaeval seamen would not have broken their passage along the way if possible and especially in foul weather.
The only useful intermediate ports would have been in the Channel Islands. While St Peter Port in Guernsey (used by the Romans) would have served their purpose, the monks of Mont Saint-Michel would surely have preferred their own sheltered port at the Grand Havre beside their priory at St Michael's Vale in the north-east corner of Guernsey (35).
By doing so, a Channel crossing could be made without ever stepping off abbey property, thus improving security and ensuring that no port duties were payable to others.
This harbour (see map above right) is still visible, though now mostly dry since it was drained by the British in the early 1805-06 as a defence measure against Napoleonic invasion (13)).
The history of the priory of St Michael's Vale is unclear. While the well-preserved C12th parish church of St Michael's survives, it is unclear whether the monks had a separate and probably earlier priory church close by.
In the retaining wall immediately south of the church there is evidence of what was very probably part of the priory buildings. These appear to have lain around what was almost certainly a courtyard (still visible), while the remains of a large gateway leading from the harbour into the courtyard has also survived.
This gateway almost certainly had a room above it which in mediaeval Normandy and England almost always served as a court of justice. The author believes it quite likely that the foundations of an assembly of C11th or C12th priory buildings, perhaps with their own priory chapel, lie to the south of the present church around the surviving courtyard space.
Unfortunately, the only interesting account of the establishment of the St Michael's priory is that recounted in Jonathan Duncan's The History of Guernsey (London, 1841) which Guernsey historians today regard as highly suspect. Duncan claims to cite a survey dated 1309 by John Ditton and John Fressingfield and another charter dated 1358.
While the contents of these are fascinating and appear entirely credible, it is thought that Duncan was quoting the entirely unreliable (virtually fictional?) work of a C17th writer, Fouaschin. Nevertheless, Duncan's account is summarised in the following paragraph:
According to Jonathan Duncan: John Ditton and John Fressingfield, in their survey dated 1309, (35) say that the monks and canons of Mont Saint-Michel were banished by Richard l of Normandy on account of their dissolute behaviour and settled instead at Vale, on Guernsey, where they built a chapel and a house on what had once been a neolithic burial site overlooking the entrance to the harbour.
[The original priory chapel may have been a building separate from the C12th church we know today, or else it may lie beneath it, but there is still clear evidence of a mediaeval structure in a retaining wall on the south side of the parish church perhaps set around a courtyard but which was certainly served by the obvious remains of a surviving gatehouse CAL]
These canons or monks found several pious hermits already established on the island and were so much influenced by them that Guernsey became known as the 'Holy Island'. They apparently encouraged the local residents to fortify the harbour area against pirates while they themselves fortified a castle to the east of the harbour, immediately fronting the Isle of Herm, which was placed under the protection of the archangel Saint Michael (presumably in or near present-day St Sampson).
At first, it is said (35), the monks were sitting tenants but their tenure was authorised by Prince Robert (later Robert l of Normandy) after he and his storm-bound fleet took shelter with the monks at Vale. He gave them full proprietorship of the lands of Vale which the monks then let out on perpetual heritable tenures in return for tythes and taxes. In 1061, the 'abbot' of Vale also received a grant of land, conjointly with Sampson d'Anneville, from William l, for performing the office of ducal chaplain, whenever the duke visited Guernsey. Records now at the Tower of London, dated 25th January, 1358, show that the abbot's proportion of this grant consisted chiefly of property in Vale, St. Mary de Castro [Câtel], St. Saviour, and St. Peter-in-the-Wood and that the revenues of St Michael Vale amounted to £24 3s.
It is unclear whether Duncan's account can be relied upon at all. However, the fact that the monks had well-attested rights over the port, fisheries, mills, the parishes of St Peter, St Saviour and Castel, the Chapel of St George, the island of Lihou and the village of 'Gouale' all suggest an important fief. Additionally, the presence of what was almost certainly a room above what remains of the priory gate-house usually the site of a court of justice suggests that the monks held a well-established lordship of the manor of Vale.
L'histoire des évêques de Coutances says that the monks first settled in Vale around 962 and confusingly (perhaps wrongly) says that the gift of land, known as the Fief-Saint-Michel, was made by Robert ll who was not in fact the prince who took shelter at Vale. It also states that St Mary's church (Sainte-Vierge) of Lih es ou (Lihou) was consacrated on 4 Aout, 1114.
It may be pure coincidence, but it seems that the cult of St Michael (in Cornwall, the Channel Islands and Normandy) is paralleled by the cult of St Clement (36). This eastern Roman saint is associated with 'calm seas' (i.e. clement weather) and would have been important to all sailors but especially to seafarers crossing the notoriously treacherous Channel to France. There is a St Clement's Isle near the natural harbour at Mousehole (opposite St Michael's Mount in Penzance Bay) which is a landmark for seamen leaving or approaching this coastline. There is a St Clement's church at the monks' other Cornish harbour at Moresk (near Truro). A third St Clement's was the priory on Jersey which would have provided shelter to passing monks and seamen though it was not until 2012 that archaeologists were are last able to establish its location. A fourth is the St Clement's on a headland of the Isle of Wight, a landmark for monks travelling to or from Southampton which was the port they used when visiting their numerous estates in Hampshire (see Appendix). Interestingly in this context, the principal mediaeval church on the quay at Southampton is dedicated to St Michael. It would be interesting to know whether St Clement's Road, north of St Peter Port in Guernsey, is at all indicative of a former church or chapel dedicated to St Clement as one might almost expect to be the case (see below).
Bells, as a means of ordering the monks' days and summoning the faithful to prayer, had become popular by the C10th and widespread by the early C11th. Bell-founding is known to have been a speciality of artisan monks from at least the time of Charlemagne until about the C12th (12) when it became increasingly a lay trade. Cistercian monks in particular were renowned for their expertise in metallurgy and smelting, while tin was an essential constituent in the bronze required for bell-making, where tin was alloyed with copper in a ratio of about 23 parts tin to 77 parts copper (7). If the Benedictine monks of Mont Saint-Michel had monopolised the French end of the Cornish tin trade, David Nicolas-Méry believes this might explain the presence of small Cistercian communities in the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel as well as the number of monastic communities along the banks of the Loire, a river known to have been one of the principal routes in the tin trade (14).
Bells had ever greater importance throughout the mediaeval era. As the influence of relatively intimate communities in remote monastic houses declined, they gave way to one of the great revolutions in European history: the building of hundreds of new urban cathedrals and thousands of parish churches in nearly every town and village. Similarly, the relatively small bells that had regulated monastic life gave way to larger and heavier bells capable of reaching the ears of wide-spread populations sometimes with peals of six or eight tuned bells (34). The requirement for bronze to meet the needs of so many new churches and cathedrals from the C12th onwards must have been prodigious. Indeed the iconic shape of a 'church' as we know it today (i.e. a tower accompanied by a nave/chancel) is a consequence of this revolution and of its bells. Without bells appealing to a widespread community there was no need for a tower though a tower might sometimes have served usefully as a defensive look-out, in which case its bells might have served as a warning signal.
While it is undoubtedly true that an alloy as valuable as bronze was constantly recycled, bells are unlikely to have been 'reused' easily. They were generally considered sacred, being blessed, or 'christened', as though they were living beings, and often bearing the names of their sponsoring 'god-parents' embossed on them. Thus a genuinely new use for large quantities of new bronze (hence new tin) must have steadily emerged from the late C11th or early C12th onwards.
Archaeological evidence from numerous abbeys in England and France shows that large bells for churches, abbeys and priories were usually cast in situ, often in the space below the bell-tower (34). However, the bronze required would have been prepared into ingots beforehand. Copper was an especially valuable metal and there is ample evidence to show that old copper of all sorts was recycled on an industrial scale (8). The town of Villedieu-les-Poêles, twelve miles from Avranches and the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, was specifically founded for this purpose by Henry l (Beauclerc) and continues to be a centre of copper-working and bell-founding to this day.
The fact that the Knights of St John (and later of Malta) were required to protect Villedieu-les-Poêles may be a measure of the importance and value of its principal industry. Situated on the main road and pilgrim route from Caen to Mont Saint-Michel, it may have been established there because of its fast flowing river and the abundance of timber from surrounding forests necessary for working bellows and fuelling furnaces. Tin might even have been brought up the river to Villedieu-les-Poêles in shallow barges to be converted into bronze ingots for the bell-founders. There may be some significance in the well-preserved ancient hill-top road which links (via Mont Robin) both Villedieu-les-Poêles and Hambye Abbey with Mont Saint-Michel's priory lands around Domjean. Interestingly this road forks to provide direct access to the Domjean priory itself (across the river Vire at Tessy-sur-Vire), or alternatively via the river crossing at Pont-Farcy to the priory's wooded and iron-rich lands around Beuvrigny which were almost certainly involved in smelting(see below).
David Nicolas-Méry has shown that the monks of Mont Saint-Michel seem to have placed a great value on the forests that formed a large part of their estates around and beyond the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. The author has shown that while the monks at Mont Saint-Michel abandoned their priory at Domjean as early as 1180 (the gift of Gonnor to Mont Saint-Michel in 1015 and situated about 45 kms away) they nevertheless retained its lands and its parishes nearby (e.g. at Fourneaux and Beuvrigny among several others and, presumably, the land around Pleines-Oeuvres).
Interestingly, this entire range of hills was clearly once covered in woodland and, more importantly, some places are rich in a deep red, iron-bearing stone. It seems that names such as Fourneaux (furnaces?) and Pleines-Oeuvres (open mine workings?) loudly proclaim their value to Mont Saint-Michel. Toponyms in the Domjean area include 'Le bois de l'abbé', 'Le Bosq de l'abbé' and 'Le Prioret').
It surprises us to discover that Cornwall was the most industrialised area of England in the C12th, but we may also have to accept that areas of central Manche and western Calvados were highly industrialised too.
Despite the sumptuous architecture of the Mont during the C12th and C13th, it is known that the financial fortunes of Mont Saint-Michel declined soon after the successful conquest of England in 1066 (14) and still more so during the Hundred Years' War (18). This decline in Mont Saint-Michel's fortunes in the C12th-C15th mirrored that of most other great religious houses and was due to a number of factors (including reduced patronage, increasing political repression and the phenomenal growth in importance of new urban cathedrals and parish churches). But Mont Saint-Michel must have been particularly vulnerable following the rupture with England. The transfer of revenues from England to Normandy became sporadic during the C14th and ceased altogether during the C15th. James St Aubyn has noted a great increase in revenue at St Michael's Mount coinciding with the rupture with France during the 100 Years' War. Presumably the international market for tin in Cornwall became accessible to everyone except the French who were at war with England. Clearly the modest revenues from English churches, manors and agricultural activity (see Domesday Book) did not contribute greatly to the wealth of Mont Saint-Michel in the C11th and C12th. And certainly the loss of these modest revenues in the C15th did not alone account for the abbey's reduced finances. But, losing its remaining control of a once very profitable international market in Cornish tin might indeed have contributed to the abbey's terminal decline.
1. That the monks of Mont Saint-Michel may have been deeply involved in the cross-Channel market in Cornish tin before the Norman Conquest. This was partly derived from their own mines (of the which the author has identified seven areas) but also from their quasi-monopoly of relevant harbours on the coast of Cornwall. Their activity may have originated at least as early as the C9th or C10th hence the monks' desperate need to prove their rights to tenure by forging or falsifying two important charters post-1066. If they did not develop this production and trade themselves, they simply inherited an ancient commerce known to have existed at least as early as Classical times.
2. That the monks as seigneurs maritimes clearly had the opportunity and perhaps the obligation to control the trade route down the Cotentin peninsula. Indeed, the lands they are known to have been granted on the peninsula and on the Channel Islands may have been specifically chosen to ensure they could do so more effectively (14).
3. That they may or may not have had ships of their own but probably controlled the export and import, including tax collecting, using their possessions in England, on the Channel Islands and in Normandy for safe and convenient free passage. In any event it seems more than a coinicidence that chapels or churches dedicated to St Clement ('clement weather') are so frequently associated with harbours or sea-routes known to have been used or controlled by the monks of Mont Saint-Michel in England and the Channel Islands.
4. That they may also have controlled the passage of tin and its products as far as the river Loire through the network of religious houses which served the French interior.
5. That Villedieu-les-Poêles may have been vital to nearby Mont Saint-Michel for the conversion of tin, copper and lead into bronze for bell-founding and pewter for domestic use (as well as for stained-glass glazing). The town's charter in the reign of Henry l specifically entitled it to re-cycle such metals, though this charter may simply confirm a right to practice an already long-established trade there. Circumstantial evidence suggests that parts of central Manche and western Calvados may have been far more industrialised than previously thought. Other monastic orders such as the Cistercians (renowned metalurgists) may have been keen buyers of the tin, copper, lead, bronze and pewter handled at Villedieu.
6. That the monks were continuing a well-established system of trade that had been operating for well over 1,000 years before the arrival of the Benedictines in England in the C8th. If so, the famous island tin market of Classical times, described by Diodorus at 'Ictis', may indeed be synonymous with St Michael's Mount as many have claimed. If not, that 'Ictis' may have been the Channel Islands (13) or (far less likely) Mont Saint-Michel itself, especially if Cornish tin had long been transported through the well-defended Channel Islands' route into the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel by seafaring tribes such as the Veneti of southern Brittany.
7. That the most prosperous period for the monks of Mont Saint-Michel involved in Cornish tin may have been during the two centuries that preceded the Norman Conquest and that their success may have tailed off soon after (22). Indeed Norman monks in England may have been among the greatest victims of the Conquest. The descendants of the original Norman barons are known to have been increasingly antagonistic to monasticism and alien houses in particular. As they asserted their authority in England (30) (31) (32) they must surely have sought to acquire the profits from the tin business against competition from 'outsiders' (18).
8. That there is remarkably little evidence that Cornwall and Devon used their own supplies of tin and copper to manufacture bronze artifacts prior to the C16th. This raises the possibility that raw materials were exported to the Continent for conversion into products that were then reimported into Britain. Certainly there is circumstantial evidence that this was the case a thousand years earlier (20).
9. That the Grand Havre, a large natural harbour which existed at Vale on Guernsey in mediaeval times, was controlled by the monks of St Michael Vale priory which held its port rights (35). This strategic 'haven' would have offered shelter to any vessel making the 250 mile crossing from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel to the Cornish coast (100 miles from M-S-M and 150 miles from SMM). Research by the author in 2009 reveals that the importance of the priory of St Michael Vale and its associated port may have been ignored for several centuries. It is likely that the monks at St Michael Vale were seigneurs of a strategically important port (and hinterland) which contributed to cross-Channel trade.
10. That if the above is substantially true, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that the supply of bronze for the manufacture of monastic bells in large parts of western Europe may have been to some extent monopolised by the monks of Mont Saint-Michel, at least pre-Conquest. It is also possible, but by no means proved, that the same applied to the supply of pewter for monastic and domestic use. In other words, if Cornwall and its tin were central to the what we call the european Bronze Age, the monks of Mont Saint-Michel may have been central to what we could call 'The Age of Bells' (circa 900-1200).
1. Re: Edward The Confessor's charter: P.L. Hull, archivist to Cornwall County Council, (in Millénaire l) says there is no evidence that Edward ever visited MSM, that he would not have called himself king while Canute was still on the throne and that he would have had no title to the lands concerned. Furthermore, at the date suggested by Mme Fauroux (who believes that Edward the Confessor must have visited MSM, that the charter is genuine and who dates it to 1027-1035 or more likely 1033-1034) how could the solemn curse on infringers of the charter be promulgated?
Similarly, M.D.J.A. Matthew (in Norman Monasteries) is not convinced by Mme Fauroux: "In the late eleventh century the monks appear to have been in serious trouble with the mighty Robert of Mortain and it is tempting possibility that this charter was concocted about the same time, to defend claims to lands which their canon predecessors on the Cornish Mount may even have enjoyed, but for which the monks could find no documentary proof. This would explain the violence of 'Edward's' language; the monks may also have preferred to compose a Norman charter and not to risk too much by inventing an English one."
2. Re: Robert de Mortain's charter: H.W.C. Davis and R.J. Whitwell (in Ragesta) consider the 'gift' by Robert de Mortain as spurious: "The fabrication of a charter attributed to Robert would, however, have been made only after his death, and probably after the death of Henry l, who might have remembered that he had witnessed no such document, even as a lad."
P.L. Hull, (in Millénaire l), is not convinced by the authenticity of the "inflated and spurious" copy in the MSM Cartulary of the so-called gift by Robert de Mortain. But while he sees inconsistencies in its supposed 'original' he remains open to its authenticity and certainly he sees no evidence for the claim that the original donors were the Breton counts who appear to have held much of Cornwall prior to the arrival of Robert de Mortain. However, he also finds serious problems with a supposed copy of the original, now preserved in Exeter. The arguments he presents are complicated, going as far as suggesting someone's adulterated copy of the supposed original became the source for someone else's adulterated and supposedly authentic copy of the original. But he is uncertain whether the forgery was begun in Normandy (well accustomed to forgery) or in England under Norman influence. However, even if Robert de Mortain did not found the priory at SMM, he sees no reason to doubt that Robert de Mortain, with his second wife Almodis, made this possible and made grants to "St Michael and the monks" (of the Norman abbey) including: "the manor of Ludgvan and the holding of Bloyou in the manor of Truthwall in Ludgvan and St Hilary and both the fairs of the Mount". This accords with the Domesday account. For detailed analysis of his arguments, see his intriguing article in Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel (1967).
3. The Stannary Charter 1198: Know that the sheriff of Devon and Cornwall has received by the hand of William de Wrotham, the command of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in these words:
Hubert, by the grace of God, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, Legate of the Apostolic See, to the sheriff of Devon and Cornwall, greeting. We order you, on behalf of the Lord King, that in place of Geoffrey Fitz-Peter you entrust to William de Wrotham all the stannaries of the Lord King in your bailiwick and all that belongs to those stannaries. And you shall see to it that he has tin miners with that freedom which they should have, and which they have been accustomed to have, and you will see that he has all those lawful men whom the same William will name for you. You shall see that they expedite this matter, that they bring aid and counsel for the keeping of the king's stamps, and all the products of those stannaries, and see to the disposal of the profit from the same. Forbid all men free admission to your bailiwick lest, without permission of the same William, they carry away any tin either by land or sea. You will also give him much help in expediting the present business of the Lord King, that it may prosper, and that your Lord King may not suffer loss through neglect on your part.
Witness, Stephen of Turnham, at Westminster, on the twentieth day of November.
And know also that the sheriff of Devon and Cornwall has received another command of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in these words:
Hubert, by the grace of God, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England and Legate of the Apostolic See, to the sheriff to Devon and Cornwall greeting. We command you that by the oath of twelve free and lawful men of your bailiwick, who know quite well the truth of the matter, that you make diligent inquiries as to what may be the weight of the first and second smeltings and that you cause these weights to be guarded in future as the bearer of these presents, William de Wrotham, will tell you.
Witness, Geoffrey de Bocland, at Salisbury, on the seventh day of January.
Know likewise that we have received letters from Geoffrey Fitz-Peter that we are to be with William de Wrotham in the place of Lord Geoffrey Fitz-Peter as a justice for executing the command of the Lord of Canterbury about the measuring of the weights of the first and second smeltings and the disposal of the profit from the tin of the Lord King, wherefore it is that the sheriff of Devon and I, William de Wrotham, ... greet Lord Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Geoffrey Fitz-Peter, and all the Barons of the Exchequer of the Lord King.
And we give notice that on the nineteenth day of January in the ninth year of the reign of King Richard, at Exeter in the county of Devon, we inquired upon the oath of . . . wise and prudent men, about the true weights of the tin of Devon, and we inquired about such quantity as was the just and ancient weight of the city of Exeter, by which in ancient times, now and always, it has been customary to weigh the second smelting of tin, and what it always ought to be, and we found that the just and ancient weight of the first smelting formerly, now and always, was eight times the weight of the second smelting, and it ought to be nine times the weight according to the weight of the city of Exeter for this reason, namely, that from any thousand weight weighed by the greater weight thirty denarii are given to the Lord King, according to ancient custom for the ferm of the stannaries of Devon and for the expense of conveyance to market towns, and because the tin at the second smelting was less, and according to their oath it was measured and determined by such measure in our presence in the stannaries and towns of Devon.
[Similar account of the weights of Cornwall. Statement that Wm. De Wrotham began to administer the Stannary in A.D. 1198, and that the administration of the Stannary under the following regulations is as good as can be expected.]
All miners and buyers of black tin, and first smelters of tin and merchants of tin of the first smelting have just and ancient customs and liberties established in Devon and Cornwall. Likewise just and ancient weights of the first and second smelting of tin, determined by the oath of the above-mentioned jurors, and marked with the stamp of the Lord King, shall be kept.
Also all men have the common right of buying tin by just, ancient, and free customs, as they are accustomed to have and ought to have, by the mark from any thousand weight of the second smelting. And in the towns and market towns wherein the chief warden of the stannaries shall have appointed a time for a second smelting, from each thousand weight of which the Lord King ought to have one mark, let the second smelting be weighed by the weight of the city of Exeter, and that weight shall be marked by the stamp of the Lord King. Likewise the established weight of the city of Exeter shall always be kept in the custody of two lawful men in the market towns, and in the custody of the clerk appointed by the Lord King.
And the stamp of the mark, with which the weight and all the tin of the second smelting ought to be stamped, shall always be guarded under the seal of the keeper of the weight of the second smelting and of the clerk appointed by the Lord King, except when they stamp with it. Again, the guards of the second smelting and the clerk shall diligently and mindfully record, as they love themselves, all the thousand and hundred weights and pounds which may be weighed and stamped throughout the year by the weight and stamp of the warden.
And in any town where a second smelting has been decreed let there be two lawful and rich men who shall receive from the merchants the mark of the Lord King, in the presence of the wardens and the clerk of the second smelting and of the stamp for weighing and marking, and both the clerk and the wardens shall not permit the tin to be carried away until the treasurer of the Lord King shall have received the mark of the Lord King and the customary tax on the tin.
And the treasurers of the mark of the Lord King may make statements and chirographs about the money of the Lord King against the wardens and the clerk of the weight and the stamp. And in the chirographs shall be enumerated the day of receiving, and the amount of money received, and the number of thousands and hundreds of pounds of tin received, and the names of the merchants who acquired the tin. Likewise the treasurers of the Lord King by statements and chirographs of this kind shall deliver the money of the Lord King to the chief warden of the stannaries.
Neither the chief warden nor any servant of his shall in any way presume to annoy the treasurers of the Lord King during their lifetime. Nor after the death of those treasurers shall they annoy the heirs until they have reasonably assured themselves about the receipt of the money of the Lord King according to the statements and chirographs made against the wardens of the second smelting and against the clerk of the Lord King.
The keepers of the stamp and the weights, and the clerk of the Lord King shall always safely guard, in common custody under their seals, the statements and chirographs made against the treasurers; and they shall keep them in a receptacle to which each shall have his own key....Likewise in any town, other than the city of Exeter or the town of Bodmin, where there has been a second smelting, a house shall be taken by rent for the Lord King's service. And the whole weighing and marking of the second smelting shall be done there, and let none presume to make a second smelting, weighing, and mark ing elsewhere, as he loves himself and his own...
No one may presume to have in the market towns any weights with which to weigh tin except they have been previously measured in the presence of the keepers of the weights, and judged by the weight of the Lord King, and marked by the stamp of the mark of the Lord King; The wardens and the clerk of the first smelting, as they love themselves and their own, shall diligently and mindfully make a record of the thousands and hundreds and pounds which have been weighed and marked by the weight and stamp of the warden throughout the whole year. And let no Christian man or woman, nor any Jew, presume to buy or sell any tin of the first smelting, nor to give or carry away, outside the stannaries or outside the places appointed for weighing and marking the first smelting, until it shall have been weighed and marked in the presence of the wardens and clerks of the weights and stamp of the ferm.
Let no Christian man or woman, nor any Jew, presume to have within or outside the stannaries any of the first smelting beyond a fortnight unless it be weighed and marked by the wardens and clerk of the weight and seal of the ferm. Let no Christian man or woman, nor any Jew, carry tin in any way, by land or sea, beyond Devon or Cornwall, except he first have permission of the chief warden of the stannaries. Let good and lawful men be appointed in the harbors of Devon and Cornwall to take the oath of all ship-hands and sailors arriving there, that they will not carry away, nor permit to be carried away in their ships, any tin except it be weighed and marked by the royal customs, and except they have the writ of the chief warden of the stannary. The stamp of the ferm shall always be guarded under the seal of the warden and of the clerk except while they are using it at the appointed places. In weighing the tin let the tongue of the scale balance justly between the weight and the tin, so that the scale is not drawn towards the tin, in accordance with the wish of the buyer, on any just scale.
The Stannary Charter 1201: The King to the Archbishops, etc., greeting... John, by the grace of God, King of England, etc., to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, judges, sheriffs, foresters, and to all our bailiffs and faithful people, greeting. Be it known that we have granted that all tin miners of Cornwall and Devon are free of pleas of the natives as long as they work for the profit of our ferm or for the marks for our new tax; for the stannaries are on our demesne. And they may dig for tin, and for turf for smelting it, at all times freely and peaceably without hindrance from any man, on the moors and in the fiefs of bishops, abbots, and earls, as they have been accustomed to do. And they may buy faggots to smelt the tin, without waste of forest, and they may divert streams for their work just as they have been accustomed to do by ancient usage. Nor shall they desist from their work by reason of any summons, except those of the chief warden of the stannaries or his bailiffs. We have granted also that the chief warden of the stannaries and his bailiffs have plenary power over the miners to do justice to them and to hold them to the law. And if it should happen that any of the miners ought to be seized and imprisoned for breach of the law they should be received in our prisons; and if any of them should become a fugitive or outlaw let his chattels be delivered to us by the hands of the warden of the stannaries because the miners are of our ferm and always in our demesne. Moreover, we have granted to the treasurer and the weighers, so that they might be more faithful and attentive to our service in guarding our areasure in market towns, that they shall be quit in all towns in which they stay of aids and tallages as long as they are in our service as treasurers and weighers; for they have and can have nothing else throughout the year for their services to us. Witnesses, etc.
4. Ictis: St Aubyn writes: "St Michael's Mount was widely known as a port and trading market from very early times. Prehistoric traders passing between the western parts of Britain and the Continent would not have wished to risk the rough and dangerous voyage around Land's End, and so sent their cargoes across the narrowest and most level part of Cornwall from the Hayle estuary to St. Michael's Mount. Ireland was rich in gold and copper, and the Irish traders would have found transport by sea much simpler than the journey along the tracks through the almost impassable forests and swamps of England and Wales. Dr. H. O'Neil Hencken in his book Archaeology of Cornwall and Scilly, published in 1932, suggested that by the Iron Age the island of St. Michael's Mount would have become a highly important port. St. Michael's Mount was also at one time probably the island of "Ictis" from which Cornish tin was exported to the Greek trading communities in the Mediterranean. Towards the end of the fourth century B.C., shortly after the death of Alexander the Great, Pytheas, a Greek geographer from Marseilles, had made a voyage of exploration round the coast of Britain looking for the source of amber in the Baltic. Unfortunately, the records of his voyage were lost but they were known to later classical writers such as Timaeus, Posidonius and Pliny. The evidence of these writings is vague and conflicting but represents all that was known about the tin trade in the ancient classical world. In particular, Diodorus, a Sicilian Greek historian, writing in the first quarter of the first century A. D., gives an account which is probably a description of the working of Cornish tin (by streaming from the rocks) about the time of the voyage of Pytheas, and how it was carried over to St. Michael's Mount. "The inhabitants of that part of Britain which is called Belerion" [that is to say Land's End]. Diodorus says, "are very fond of strangers and from their intercourse with foreign merchants are civilised in their manner of life. They prepare the tin, working very carefully the earth in which it is produced. The ground is rocky but it contains earthy veins, the produce of which is ground down, smelted and purified. They beat the metal into masses shaped like astralgi [knuckle-bones] and carry it off to a certain island off Britain called Ictis. During the ebb of the tide the intervening space is left dry and they carry over to the island the tin in abundance in their wagons." In a later passage in the same context Diodorus says, "Here then the merchants buy the tin from the natives and carry it over to Gaul, and after travelling overland for about thirty days, they finally bring their loads on horses to the mouth of the Rhone." Diodorus mentioned both Marseilles and Narbonne by name as places to which Cornish tin was sent on the Mediterranean coast. "St. Michael's Mount, the trading station of the ancients," Dr. Hencken wrote, "rises from Mount's Bay in full view of the early tin streamers' forts and villages." However, he pointed out that it must be admitted that not many signs of the rather advanced civilisation of the foreign merchants have come down to us. One of the main difficulties of identifying St. Michael's Mount with the island of Ictis was the legend that St. Michael's Mount was within historic memory five or six miles inland from the sea in the middle of a dense forest. When William of Worcester visited the Mount in 1478 he recorded that it was formerly called "the Hore-Rock in the wood". Also the old Cornish name for the Mount meant "the grey rock in the forest". However, Sir Gavin de Beer, F.R.S., a former Director of the Natural History Museum, wrote in his book Reflections of A Darwinian, published in 1962, that scientific methods of analysing the traces of old tree trunks still found in Mount's Bay had indicated that the forest was submerged by the sea at least 1, 500 years before Pytheas came there on his voyage of exploration in about 325 B.C. The most likely alternative to St. Michael's Mount as the island of Ictis was the Isle of Wight, the Roman name of which was Vectis, but Sir Gavin de Beer suggested that it had not been possible to cross to the Isle of Wight by foot from the mainland since the days of neolithic man. Also it is most unlikely that Cornish tin should have been carried so far to the port of embarkation. Canon Taylor in his History of St. Michael's Mount suggests that William of Worcester may have confused the English St. Michael's Mount with Mont St. Michel on the coast of Normandy and that the 'Hore-Rock in the wood', referred to the French and not to the English Mount. It is improbable that the merchants who bought the tin at St. Michaels Mount were Phoenicians or Carthaginians. Probably the tin was shipped to Gaul by the Veneti, a powerful sea-faring people who inhabited Southern Brittany. The Veneti had close linguistic and cultural contacts with Cornwall. Their ships were described by Julius Caesar who fought a naval battle with them in 56 B.C. They were built solidly of oak with high prows and leather brown sails. Julius Caesar was the last classical writer to mention Cornish tin, probably because the tin trade was ended by the defeat of the Veneti and the Romans had discovered the other sources of tin in Spain. In 1995 an archaeological watching brief of a sewer trench found Later Iron Age pottery, of the Ictis period, and its distribution drew attention to a group of six possible round house platforms - perhaps the site of Ictis itself - on the south-eastern slopes of the Mount. A Neolithic flint arrowhead (circa 3500 B.C.) was also found, adding some support to the suggestion that somewhere as dramatic as the Mount, whether rising from sea or forest, would have been from earliest times a central place of authority similar to Carn Brea, the Neolithic hill-top enclosure near Redruth."
5. Tin sulphides: According to geologists F. Moore & R.A. Howie of King's College, London, writing in Mineralogical Magazine (Sep 1984), tin sulphides described as coming from St Michael's Mount are 'kesterite' and a yellow sulphide from the same area (and from Cligga Head) is 'zincian stannite'.
7. Bell founding: The highly specialised skills used in bell-founding have not changed in at least 400 years. Two moulds are made representing the inner and outer surfaces of the bell and molten bronze, at about 1,200 degrees C, is poured between them in such a way as to avoid cracking the moulds or the bronze itself as it cools. The bell is then tuned by careful removal of bronze around the rim. Dedications and devices (often named for a sponsor or 'god-parent') were usually included. The remains of bell moulds found beneath bell-towers or on adjacent sites show that temporary founderies were established in situ, requiring a furnace, moulds, timber, charcoal, bellows and bronze ingots to be assembled for each bell. Very early bells, struck manually with a hammer, were made from four sheets of metal bent to shape, rivetted together and sometimes coated in liquid bronze to give resonance.
8. Recycling copper and bronze: "In 1318 (1319?) a new bell at Bridgwater, Somerset, was made from 180 lbs of pots, platters, basins, lavers, kettles, brass mortars and mill-pots; an old bell weighing 425 lbs; 40 lbs of 'brass', 896 lbs of copper and 320 lbs of tin, giving a ration of new tin to new copper of more than 1 : 3." (T.D. Dilks Bridgwater Borough Archives, i, 1200-1377 Somerset Record Society xlviii 1933). However, Theophilus recommended a ration of 1 : 4 which remains the norm.
9. Domesday: "At the time of the Domesday survey, the landed property of Cornwall was chiefly divided between the King, Robert Earl of Mortain, in Normandy, (by English writers called Moreton,) and of Cornwall, the King's half brother, and those who held under him; the Bishop of Exeter, the Prior and convent of Bodmin; the Abbot and convent of Tavistock; and a few other monasteries and colleges. Twenty manors were held by various persons under the Earl, who held them under the King's great manor of Wineton (Wynianton). This, and fourteen other manors, then in the crown, had belonged to Earl Harold. The Queen, Matilda, had four manors in her own hand, and a fifth was held under her, as described in the Exeter MS.: after her death, in 1083, these fell to the crown. The Bishop of Exeter held seven manors in his own hand; four others were held under him. The Prior and convent of Bodmin held six in their own hands; nine manors were held under them by the Earl of Cornwall, and three by other persons; seven manors, which had been taken away from that church, were then held under the Earl. The Abbot and convent of Tavistock held six manors; four others are stated to have been unjustly taken away from them by the Earl of Cornwall. The Prior and convent of St. Michael had one manor; another had been taken away from them by the Earl."
10. St Michael's markets: "The charter attributed to Robert, Count of Mortain granted lands and liberties to St Michael's Mount opposite Marazion and included a market on Thursdays. This appears to have been held from the first on the mainland. From it is probably derived the Marghasbigan (Parvum Forum) of the earlier and the Marghasyewe or Marketjew (Forum Jovis) of the later charters. It may be added that a Jewish origin has been ascribed to the place from the name Marketjew. It is certain that Richard, Earl of Cornwall provided that the three fairs, on the two feasts of St Michael and at Mid-Lent, and the three markets which had hitherto been held by the priors of St Michael's Mount on land not their own at Marghasbighan, should in future be held on their own land at Marchadyou. He transferred in fact the fairs and markets from the demesne lands of the Bloyous in Marazion to those of the prior. To remedy the loss incurred by this measure Ralph Bloyou in 1331 procured for himself and his heirs a market on Mondays and a fair on the vigil, feast and morrow of St Andrew at Marghasyon. In Leland's time the market was held at Marhasdeythyow (Forum Jovis), and both Norden (1582) and Carew (1602) tell us that Marcajewe signifies the Thursday's market, which, whether etymologically sound or not, shows that the prior's market had prevailed over its rival. In 1595 Queen Elizabeth granted to Marazion a charter of incorporation. This ratified the grant of St Andrew's fair, provided for another on the Feast of St Barnabas and established a market on Saturdays."
11. Constantine Retallack Farm, 1km north of Constantine is just uphill from a 16th century tin stamping mill that has been studied in detail by industrial archaeologists (Gerrard, 1985, 1989; Penhallick, 1986). The old farmhouse of massive granite blocks is said to include both rounded arches of Norman design (1066-1189) and pointed arches of early Gothic design (1189-1307).
12. Benedictine bells. One of the earliest works on experiments in casting bells and the problems of harmonics was written by the Benedictine monk Theophilus Presbyter in the latter part of the C11th. It demonstrates the concern at the time for the correct mixture of copper and tin for producing the best ring. It also shows a basic understanding of how to change a bell's pitch by varying its dimensions and wall thickness.
13. John MacCormack: Commenting on the above article, John MacCormack strongly favours the Channel Islands as 'Ictis', the place where the natives sold tin to merchants who carried it across to Gaul. He believes that the much lower sea-level around the English Channel in Roman times would have given these islands the appearance described by Diodorus Siculus writing in circa 30 BC. MacCormack, a renowned expert on Channel Islands' history, agrees that 'Grand Havre' at Vale, would have provided an ideal harbour on Guernsey, though less so in a westerly gale when St Peter Port would have been better sheltered. MacCormack also believes that the Cistercians may have been responsible for the navigational light on Les Écrehous which was re-founded by Val Richer in 1203. Finally, MacCormack reports historian Richard Hocart of the Historic Buildings Section of La Société Guernesiaise as suggesting that since both the Lihou and Vale Priories were effectively cut off from most of Guernsey at high tide, the chapel of St. George might have served Mont Saint-Michel and its officers as a place from which to oversee their possessions which were mostly in the Castel parish where the land around St. George forms a separate sub-fief.
14. Julien Deshayes: Archaeologist Julien Deshayes comments: "...De manière générale, je me demande si l'indéniable lien qui relie les possessions du Mont aux grands axes de circulation maritime établis entre la neustrie, le monde anglo-saxon et l'ensemble de la mer du Nord doivent être rattachée au commerce de l'étain ou élargi aux vastes courants d'échanges commerciaux qui, de manière générale, se développent dans ce secteur durant le haut Moyen âge (crapois, sel, cuires...). A ce titre, le Mont n'était d'ailleurs pas la seule abbaye en lisse : on sait par les sources écrites que Fleury-sur-Loire, Saint-Germain-des-Près ou Fontenelle ont largement bénéficié de ces courants commerciaux. Par opposition avec Dole de bretagne, qui a aussi laissé des informations à ce sujet, le Mont n'apparait-il pas finalement assez en retrait avant le Xe siècle? La constitution de son patrimoine n'est-il pas le reflet d'un phénomène d'émergence postérieur, à rattacher plutôt à l'avènement de l'autorité ducale en Normandie, et tout particulièrement à Guillaume Longue Epée puis à ses successeurs? ... pour le Cotentin, j'ai le sentiment que l'influence exercée par le Mont fut essentielle, mais qu'elle nous apparait largement atténuée, comme si elle constituait une strate antérieure au grand phénomène d'implantation monastique perceptible à partir du règne de Guillaume le Batard. Bref, comme si on lui avait taillé un short après le Val-ès-Dune. On se souvient que son implantation à Guernsey résulte d'une donation de Robert 1er, qu'ils ne récupèrent la 'baronnie' de Saint-Pair que vers 1025, etc... Cela rejoint peut-être aussi la question de la diffusion du culte de Germain le Scott, puisque, étrangement, le Mont Saint-Michel possède des biens aussi bien à Saint-Germain-sur-Ay qu'à Carteret et Flamanville, autant de sites majeurs du culte voué à ce saint..."
15. Phoenicians in Cornwall?: Despite a report of a stone bowl with a handle being reported as found in the harbour at St Michael's Mount, identified by the British Museum as of Phoenician origin (perhaps ca. 1500 BC), I am most grateful to mediaeval historian Dr Joanna Mattingly who assures me that there is no evidence of the presence of Phoenicians themselves in Cornwall ( and that the actual reference to their trade concerns Spain). In this view she is supported by Canon Taylor in his History of St. Michael's Mount.
16. Tin ingots: The shape of a tin ingot, said to weigh 158 lbs and dredged from St Mawes harbour in 1812, indicates that ingots were slung on either side of an animal for transportation, though the date of this ingot is not specified.
17. Sea levels: The coastlines around Cornwall and much of the English Channel are thought to have altered significantly even within the last 2,000 years. There is a report that William Camden, writing in 1586, identified a land mass lying between St Michael's Mount and the Scilly Isles, while the same report mentions a catastrophic tsunami which occurred in 709 AD which severely damaged the coasts of Cornwall and Brittany.
18. Woes of alien houses: In the early C14th, long before the 1414 Act of Suppression, the prior of Otterton wrote to his abbot at Mont Saint-Michel: "Woe is me! that I ever came to England, for troubles assail me on all sides". Pressure was mounting on the Benedictine monks in England at this time: "The monks wrote to defend their order and their houses against enemies and critics... They found critics among their rivals, the regular and secular canons and the mendicants. Criticism was particularly virulent in the late fourteenth century, when a new enemy emerged, the Lollards. Individually each monastery had enemies, actual or potential: the diocesan, royal and papal agents (especially tax collectors), and neighbouring landlords..." [Gransden (1982) cf. Coates (1999)]. Monasticism in general was suspect, but 'alien' communities in particular Edward lll stating that they did more harm to England than all the Jews and Saracens in the world.
20. Bronze Age trade: Two Bronze Age wrecks are reported to have been found in the English Channel (off the coasts of Dover and Devon), both dated to circa 1200 BC. Their cargoes appear to have been of bronze artifacts of types found on the continent of Europe. The wrecks suggest that there was maritime trade in bronze between Britain and Europe at that time.
Mediaeval Cornwall: Grateful thanks to Anne Preston-Jones & Peter Rose for the following notes (21-33) taken from their invaluable Mediaeval Cornwall (Cornwall Archaeology No. 25, 1986):
21. Earliest Cornish Christianity: It is suggested from Chi-Rho and inscribed stones that Christianity was introduced to Cornwall from the Mediterranean and Gaul, but more influentially from Wales (perhaps aided by Irish settlers in Wales). The earliest Christian settlements, small communities dedicated to a religious life, usually called'lanns' in Cornwall, probably date from the late C5th or C6th and that the greatest concentrations of them are around the estuaries on the south coast. They usually consisted of a chapel, housing and a cemetery. The arrival of 'eglos' churches may be slightly later and they are more often found inland on well-drained hill-sides (rather than valley bottoms), surrounded by a 'churchyard' and perhaps serving a secular community. Some such as Ludgvan are clearly manorial churches or chapels and date perhaps from the C8th or C9th. By the C10th or C11th every small group of hamlets may have had its own cemetery. Preston-Jones/Rose
22. Effects of the Norman invasion: "... But by 1086, most Celtic religious communities had disappeared from Cornwall, presumably as their estates were appropriated by the land-hungry English and Normans. Domesday Book actually bears witness to the demise of one community. Sanctus Goranus, mentioned as a land-owner in the Inquisitio Geldi of 1084, failed to be recorded in Domesday Book in 1086, and was never heard of again. Gradually, therefore, the communities would have been replaced by a parish priest supported by payments of tithe, burial fees and a small area of glebe. Such a process would inevitably have been linked with the firmer definition of parochial boundaries and the demise of small local cemeteries. There is some evidence to suggest that this may already have taken place, in a Cornish context, in some areas. The process was completed in the Norman period, but it is clear that the roots of the later medieval pattern of parishes and churches lie firmly in the pre-Norman period..." Preston-Jones/Rose
23. Monasticism after 1066: "A handful of Cornish religious houses survived the Norman Conquest, to be recorded in Domesday Book. "... A significant proportion have names in lann, indicating their early, post-Roman origin, while the generally large sizes of their modern churchyards indicate that those which survived until 1086 may have been some of the most important from the beginning... some... continued to exist as collegiate churches... [or] as houses of Augustinian canons and entirely new communities founded... Friaries were founded... on sites of probably pre-Norman communities not recorded in Domesday Book... and alien cells at St Michael's and Tregony... From the C14th it became common for welathy landowners who would previously have endowed a monastic community to found chantries..." Preston-Jones/Rose
24. Norman churches: Although most mediaeval parish churches in Cornwall were almost entirely rebuilt in the 19th century "... almost 50% of Cornish churches retain traces of 12th and 13th century architecture, despite subsequent phases of re-building. In contrast, the fact that scarcely any remains are known of pre-Norman churches may indicate how humble were the structures they replaced..." Preston-Jones/Rose
25. Confirmation of ancient rights?: "... Charters confirming borough status, and the associated privileges that protected the townsfolk from feudal restrictions, became common from the end of the 12th century..." Preston-Jones/Rose
26. Import and export: "... In addition to coastal trade, Cornwall exported tin, fish, slate and some cloth, and imported salt, linen and canvas from Brittany, white fish, mantles and wood from Ireland, wine from France, wine and fruit from Spain. Smuggling and piracy were the traditional supplements to trade..." Preston-Jones/Rose
27. Stannary towns and early trade centres: "... Helston, Truro, Liskeard and Lostwithiel were stannary coinage towns, and also at Lostwithiel was the Duchy's administrative centre, the 'Duchy Palace'..." and "... Gwithian, with its estuarine location, range of imported wares and evidence for industrial activity (see below) may perhaps be one such site. Tintagel may be another. If it can be regarded as a 'royal' seat where mediterranean wines were exchanged for local goods, most probably tin, then one of its roles may have been as a royally controlled emporium. Contact between Wales, Cornwall and Brittany is also apparent at an early date, and the frequent waterside location of early churchyard sites, the lanns, suggests that they are looking out to the sea rather than in to the land. Were these contacts largely cultural or also based on trade? Preston-Jones/Rose
28. C10th and C11th markets: "Five markets are recorded at the time of the Norman conquest, at Launceston, Liskeard, Bodmin, St Germans and Marazion. Bodmin, Helston and St Stephen by Launceston can also be regarded by implication as boroughs... All except Liskeard were at important ecclesiastical centres. It is likely that similar sites... acted as markets from a very early date... some of them in the later medieval period could indeed be a continuation of a function that had existed unofficially and unrecorded at the time of Domesday Book and later, though perhaps diminished by the pre-Conquest suppression of Celtic monasteries..." Preston-Jones/Rose
29. Early medieval tin industry: Preston-Jones & Rose appear to accept that the industry in the Dark Ages was 'healthy and thriving', noting the documented use of tin in northern Europe and Cornwall's trading links with Gaul, Iberia and the Mediterranean paralled by imported post-Roman pottery. They also cite dateable finds from AD 635 to 1045 and another circa AD 660-670. Preston-Jones/Rose
30. Norman Lords: "Most Cornish castles belong to the uncertain times of the late 11th and 12th centuries, built by the new Norman Lords as badges of rank, symbols of dominion, and strongholds against their enemies. From the 13th century the four major castles, Launceston, Trematon, Restormel and Tintagel were in the hands of the Earls and then the Dukes of Cornwall, but in the 13th and 14th centuries some of the leading Cornish families also provided their residences with some form of defence..." Preston-Jones/Rose
31. Robert de Mortain: "In 1086 Robert of Mortain held some 277 of the 350 or so Cornish manors, and had castles at Launceston and Trematon. Some of the castles can probably be associated with his major tenants, who between them held most of the manors: Richard FitzTurold Cardinham, Week St Mary and Penhallam; Reginald de Valletort Trematon; Turstin the Sheriff or his son Baldwin Restormel, Hamelin and perhaps Truro (in his manor of Trehaverne). Other castles can be attached to important families of the 12th century, the Pomeroys at Tregony, Richard de Lucy at Truro, the Botreaux at Botreaux Castle. Killchampton may be an adulterine castle of Robert of Gloucester or perhaps the Granvilles. The ringwork at Bossiney could be either a 12th century predecessor to Tintagel or a minor castle of Robert of Mortain, as he held the manor from St Petroc's in 1086. Upton was probably the 12th century residence of the Uptons..." Preston-Jones/Rose
32. Fortification: "In the late 13th and early 14th centuries local gentry were again (or still?) providing themselves with fortification... In Cornwall five Royal Licences to Crenellate were granted, all between 1330 and 1336, and all to prominent and active local families: William Basset at Tehidy (1330), Ranulph Blancluninster of Binhamy, Stratton (1335), John Lercedekne of Ruan Lanihome (1335), Ralph de Bloyou of Truthwall, Ludgvan (1335), John Dawney of Sheviock (1336). Sheviock, Truthwall and probably Tehidy have completely disappeared..." Preston-Jones/Rose
33. Constantine: "... In the west of the county the remarkable collection of late medieval processing works at Retallack, Constantine has been recorded and discussed by Gerrard (1985)..." Preston-Jones/Rose
34. St Pair-sur-Mer: The author is grateful to David Nicolas-Méry who showed him a bell-shaped hole near the top of the mediaeval tower of the church at St Pair-sur-Mer on the Cotentin coast (once a priory belonging to Mont Saint-Michel). Clearly at least one bell had been cast in the nave of the priory church from where it had been hoisted by a gantry to the roof above and then up against the church tower. Here an existing C12th opening had been altered to make the bell-shaped form which allowed the bell to pass from the nave into the belfry. Since this enlarged opening must have been made after the construction of the tower, it is more than probable that a smaller priory bell (serving the needs of a close community) was replaced by a larger bell at a time when the priory is known to have become a parish church and so needed to appeal (appeller/peel) to a far wider community.
35. St Michael Vale: Extract from Jonathan Duncan's The History of Guernsey (London, 1841) which is regarded by Guernsey historians today as highly unreliable:
"In the second year of the reign of Edward the Second, 1309, John Ditton and John Fressingfield drew up an extent of the revenues of the crown in Guernsey, and they recorded the following facts relating to the ecclesiastical affairs of the island (see note below). The monks and canons of Mount Saint Michael, in Normandy, were banished from the establishment by Richard the First, duke of Normandy, on account of their dissolute behaviour. On their arrival in Guernsey, they found already settled there, several hermits and other pious persons, by whose holy example they profited, and so great was their moral and reformation, that Guernsey, from that time, was called 'the Holy Island'. Several persons of distinction, both English and French, repaired thither from feelings of devotion, bestowing large presents, and contributing munificently to the building and maintenance of parochial churches.
These exiled monks established themselves in the Vale, and founded a chapel and house for their residence, which took the name of the Abbey of the Monks of Mount Saint Michael of the Vale. The island having frequently been pillaged by pirates, who, from time to time, made descents on the coast, the inhabitants, by advice of the monks, built fortifications near to the landing places for their security; the monks also fortified a castle to the eastward of the harbour, immediately fronting the isle of Herm, which was placed under the protection of the archangel Saint Michael.
The monks having taken possession of the lands in the Vale, declared themselves proprietors of it, obliging the inhabitants who cultivated it to pay them the tenth sheaf as tithe, and the eleventh as campart; they also imposed a certain tax on each house, called ponnage, which denoted the number of eggs that a couple of fowls would lay in a year, and the annual average was fixed at forty eggs.
We have mentioned at page 4, the existence of a tradition that Robert the First, sixth duke of Normandy, and father of William the Conqueror, landed at Lancresse, in Guernsey, and we now append the following passage from Du Moulin's History of Normandy a very rare and authentic work which we do in the author's own orthography : "Pendant que Robert avoit encor les armes en main, il pense a remettre ses cousins Alfred & Edward en possession de l'Angleterre, injustement occupée par Kanut: mais avant qu'y apporter de la violence, il tente par une ambassade si la douceur y pouvoit rien ; Kanut ne veut ouyr parler de restitution : parquoy suivy de sa noblesse et sa gendarmerie il s'embarque a Fescan ; sa flotte couloit assez heureusement, quand une tempeste s'elleva & la porta en l'isle de Grenezay ; ou les vents les arresterent quinze jours : voyant le temps totalement contraire pour voguer en Angleterre, il commanda de relascher, & a Rabel ou Tanel comte de Longueuille & Chambellan de Normandie, homme valeureux & grand Capitaine, de courir la coste de Bretagne & piller tout ce qu'il trouveroit, pendant que luy descendu au mont de S. Michel, feroit un gros de cavalerie pour contraindre Alain a luy rendre l'hommage qu'il estoit oblige."
The preceding passage fully confirms the truth of the tradition, and Monsieur Lecanu, in his recent History of the Bishops of Coutances, is mistaken in stating that it was Robert, who commenced his reign in 1087, and who, being shipwrecked in Guernsey, gave land and divers privileges to the monks in return for their hospitable reception, as this prince was Robert the Second, eighth duke of Normandy, and son of William the Conqueror. In undertaking this expedition, Robert the First sought to establish the right of his cousins to the throne of England, which was then usurped by Canute, but a tempest compelled him to seek shelter in Guernsey, and he returned home without effecting his purpose. Being well received by the monks, he gave them the lands of the Vale in full proprietorship, of which, till then, they held only an usurped possession. After this donation, the monks let out these lands on perpetual heritable tenures to the laity, on condition of receiving, as rent, a certain number of measures of wheat, now called chef-rentes. In 1061, the Abbot of St. Michael of the Vale also received a grant of land, conjointly with Sampson D'Anneville, from William, for performing the office of ducal chaplain, whenever the duke visited Guernsey.
By an abstract in the records preserved in the tower of London, dated in the thirty-second year of the reign of Edward the Third, 25th January, 1358, it appears that the abbot's proportion of this grant consisted chiefly of property in the Vale, St. Mary de Castro, St. Saviour, and St. Peter-in-the-Wood. The following are the particulars of that abstract.
An inquest was held before Edmund De Chesney, guardian of the islands, at which twelve men, duly sworn, declared on oath that the priory of the Vale is situate in the Vale parish, and that four churches belong especially to the prior, namely, the church of St. Michael of the Vale, the church of St. Mary of the Castle, the church of St. Saviour, and the church of St. Peter-in-the-Wood : and it is further stated that these twelve jurymen were all parishioners of the four parishes in which these churches were situated. All the rents and emoluments belonging to the prior are enumerated in the following order:
Parish Of St. Michael Of The Vale
All the tithe, one half of the burial fees, and one quarter of the champart, their united value, one year with another, being estimated in livres tournois, at... 60 liv
The corn rent, measure of the island, was valued at 48 quarters, each quarter being worth, one year with another, ten sols tournois
Commuted money rent
Thirty capons, valued at fifteen deniers each
Nineteen hundred eggs, valued at twenty deniers per hundred
A windmill, valued at ...
The privilege of hunting rabbits, valued at
The produce of fish, valued at
Total of the revenues of the church of St. Michael of the Vale, in sterling money, is equal to £24 3s.
Note: the text which Jonathan Duncan disputes): "Des religieux du Mont Saint-Michel fondèrent à Guernsey, vers l'an 962, une abbaye, sous l'invocation de Saint-Michel-Archange. Robert, duc de Normandie, qui commença à régner en 1087, ayant fait naufrage auprès de cette île, fut très bien reçu de l'abbé, auquel il donna, par reconnaissance, des terres et divers privilèges. Les religieux établirent si bien la foi parmi les habitants, que l'île ne tarda pas de s'appeler l'Ile-Sainte. Les biens qui ont appartenu à l'abbaye sont désignés maintenant par le nom du Fief-Saint-Michel. II paraît que le même duc y fonda, avant son départ pour la Terre-Sainte, le prieuré de Lihou, dont l'église fut dédiée en l'honneur de la Sainte-Vierge, le 4 Aout, 1114." Histoire des évêques de Coutances.
36. St Clement: According to Dr Barbara Crawford (Strathmarine Centre, St Andrews. Fife), the cult of St Clement became popular in Denmark and Norway in the C11th at about the time of the conquest of England by Cnut the Great. Clement had been the third Pope after Peter and was living around 100 AD. His martyrdom was a consequence of his being drowned in the Black Sea near Chersonesus (perhaps with a mill-stone around his neck). His tomb was apparently discovered by St Cyril and St Methodius and his relics were taken to Rome in the 860s. The manner of his death and martyrdom appealed to sea-faring peoples in northern Europe who believed he could protect those in danger of drowning. As a papal martyr his authority may also have appealed to the recently Christianised Danes in Denmark and England. Best remembered in London in the name of St Clement Danes church in Trafalgar Square, many other churches or chapels in Anglo-Saxon towns were dedicated to him (probably in the C11th) though those in Cornwall and along the south coast of England as well as in the Channel Islands are of particular interest to anyone studying trade and relations between England and Normandy in the early/mid mediaeval period. Like the author of this page, Dr Crawford has noted that St Clement particularly makes his appearance close to the sea in harbours, navigable estuaries and areas associated with mariners and fishermen. Interestingly, this particular St Clement appears to have been a North Sea and English Channel phenomenon who did not notably translate to Normandy and France.
37. Mysterious Mount Itier: Press article by David Nicolas-Méry for La Manche Libre (April 2009) translated by CAL "In the south of the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel rises Mount Itier which continues to puzzle many historians. Once the property of the monks of Mont Saint-Michel, this hill takes us back to the origins of our region. Now in the commune of Huisnes-sur-Mer, it was first mentioned in the famous Revelatio which tells of the foundation of Mont Saint-Michel by Saint Aubert, saying that the Itier lands were given by the Bishop of Avranches to the newly founded monastery dedicated to the Archangel. It is also recounts that a certain Bain, living on Mount Itier with his twelve sons, helped Aubert to build his first primitive church. Bain, this 'father' living on Mount Itier with his twelve 'sons' might in fact refer to the abbot of a monastery consiting of twelve brother monks. And close to Huisnes there was indeed the merovingian monastery of Asteriac which possessed a hermitage on 'Mont Tombe' as Mont Saint-Michel was then known. While Asteriac is usually associated with the village of Beauvoir, we should really regard Beauvoir as incorporating the entire coastal area of the Bay from the river Sélune to the Couesnon. And it was on this area that the huge estate of Mont Saint-Michel's vastly profitable Priory of Ardevon was superimposed in the Middle Ages. Even the name 'Itier' (Itius in Latin) is reminiscent of the Island of Ictis described by the Greek geographer Diodorus of Sicily, a contemporary of Julius Caesar. Diodorus says that numerous foreign merchants went to the Island of Ictis to by tin which they then transported to Gaul. Several historians identify the English St Michael's Mount in Cornwall as the Island of Ictis. Establishing a link between our Mount Itier and this English island of Ictis, which later became a priory of Mont Saint-Michel, would be interesting. Indeed, Mount Itier might have gained its name from its being the terminus of a maritime trade route between Cornwall, famed for its tin mines, and the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. In 1961 a mass military cemetery, containing the remains of 11,956 German servicemen killed on French soil, was established on Mount Itier. A 47 metre wide crater was dug into the centre of the hill, thus denying archaeologists access to evidence that would surely shed light on the obscure origins of this height."
38. The Prior and the Rector of St Michael Vale: The author is grateful to John McCulloch who provided information from a document dated 1299 recording charges brought against a number of men (others unknown) said to have made an "assault" on the Priory, climbed over its walls, attempted to burn down its gate and committed other "enormities" including the theft of timber from fish-drying racks. The names of those alleged to be involved include: Thomas Destefeld, William Moulton, Ranulphe de la Chapelle, Richard le Gros (charged with stealing timber from the 'éperquerie'), Guillaume Sarre and his sons and the household of Guillaume de la Lande (all charged with breaking down Vale Bridge) and Simon de Maesuer (charged with taking the 'champart' and tythe of the Vale). Most significantly, however, a certain Jourdain, the rector of Vale church is among those charged. He is accused of breaking open a chest belonging to Jean de Paris and stealing its contents. This suggests that in 1299 Vale had both a prior and a rector.
Brismar The Priest, according to Exeter Domesday, held the manor of 'Treuthal' (Truthwall in Sithney). Was this Brismar the Prior of St Michael's Mount? And what significance is there, if any, in another manor 'Trewelle' also held by a Brismar and a 'Treuthal' clearly held by 'The Church of St Michael'. Note however that a Brismar or Brismer (and variants) who was probably not "the priest", was a major land-holder with numerous manors in Cornwall.
Information from: 'Property division at the time of the Domesday Survey', Magna Britannia: volume 3: Cornwall (1814), pp. L-LXIV'.
Cholsey, Berkshire St Mary's church, gift of William l, exchanged for Budleigh in 1123. Described at the last great Saxon abbey. In AD 986, Queen Aelfrith founded a Royal nunnery in the village, in repentance for murdering her step-son, St. Edward, King & Martyr. Its remains may be indicated by 10th century long & short quoins in the lower stages of the present church walls. Nearby was the largest tythe barn ever built. In 1123 Henry l gave monks £12 of land in Budleigh in exchange for Cholsey and another church.
Wargrave, Berkshire, Cambridgeshire (Ely) ** St Mary's church, exchanged by Henry l for Budleigh in 1123. Belonged to Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor before 1066. 5,000 acre manor worth £27/6/8 in 1086.
Great Wilbraham parish church of St Nicholas. In c. 970 a monk Wulfhun gave the church with 40 acres to Ramsey Abbey (Hunts.), then given to Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, by exchange before 984. Probably attached to the Richmond fee by 1066 and by 1155 the church owed to MSM a £2 pension still due in the mid 13th century.
St Hilary church. Dedicated to St Hilary of Poitiers, mostly destroyed by fire in 1853 but C13th tower and spire survive. See Dupont.
St Clement, Moresk, Cornwall, Truro church mentioned in 1207 and later, given by King Edward IV, as part of the possessions of the monastery of SMM, the tythes later passing to the monastery of Syon.
St Michael's Mount priory. Possibly existed as a priory before the Conquest. Date of its gift to MSM in doubt owing to the dubious nature of charters attributed by MSM monks to Edward The Confessor and Robert de Mortain. Surviving priory built by Bernard du Bec from 1135 (consacrated 1144) for 13 monks but rarely housing more than 4 or 5 by C14th. Parish church today dependant of St Hilary (note: near Mousehole is St Clement's Isle - a small rocky islet which apparently had a St Clement's chapel; also: Piers St Aubyn designed Marazion parish church All Saints, consecrated 1861, the third church on the site, the first recorded in 1309).
Truthwall, Cornwall land and market in tin mining area lose to St Michael's Mount, perhaps acquired from Robert de Mortain (if not before) [note: Domesday mentions St Michael's Church].
Ludgvan, Cornwall land in tin mining area, near St Michael's Mount, perhaps acquired from Robert de Mortain (if not before)
Trevalga, Cornwall Michel Mollat says MSM was granted rights by William the Conqueror over the port of this village on the north Cornish coast near Tintagel. There is no evidence that its C12th church (St Petroc) belonged to MSM.
Constantine, Cornwall land in tin mining area, Lizard.
St Martin-in-Meneage, Cornwall land in tin mining area, Lizard.
Ruan Minor, Cornwall land in tin mining area, Lizard.
St Keverne, Cornwall land in tin mining area, Lizard.
Otterton, Devon priory of St Michael, gift of William l, existed before 1087, probably the largest asset of MSM in England, incorporating the parish church and substantial estates nearby and around Sidmouth. Formerly held by Countess Ghida. Navigable from the sea in mediaeval times. Its foundation for four monks by King John is recorded in 1332 when it was temporarily alienated for £120 but may have been reoccupied by a monk. Supressed in 1414 and granted to Syon Abbey. Dupont details its possessions. Michel Mollat says MSM was granted rights to its port and fisheries. The late C11th tower at the east end of the present Victorian church of St Michael's may be a remnant of the mediaeval priory. It is thought that a chancel stood to the east of the tower and that the monks used a passage from the second storey which linked to an arch in the wall of their cell. Several flat tombstones found before 1775 were thought to have lain in the chancel. On the death of a serf the prior took his best beast in his secular capacity and the second-best in his spiritual capacity.
Budleigh, Devon acquired from Henry l, worth £3, south of Otterton.
Yarcombe, Devon church of St John the Baptist. Formerly held by Harold, worth £3. Gift of William l. By 1264 the church and a mill were administered by Otterton.
Dennington, Devon with Stout Hill, Yarcombe, woodland, pasture and land, gift of William l, formerly held by Harold, worth £2 [and church of St Nicholas?] Dupont calls this Donnington or Dotton.
Withycombe, Devon parcels of land, west of Budleigh and Otterton.
Woodbury, Devon church of St Swithin plus land worth 20s. Gift of William l, dominated by huge late Iron Age fort, founded in late 7th century when the Saxons colonised East Devon. A royal manor and important enough to have a parish gild in C11th century, north west of Otterton.
Harpford, Devon church of St Nicholas. Held by 1206 when mentioned in a charter. Manor formerly held by canons of Coutances. "...the Church (St. Gregory,) is a venerable fabric, with a tower and three bells, and was appropriated in 1205 to the Abbey of St Michael de Monte, and afterwards to Sion monastery...", 5km NW of Sidmouth.
Venn Ottery, Devon chapel dependent of Harpford church, very close to Harpford. Its status is cited in 1267 (and also a little earlier).
Sidmouth, Devon church. Held in 1086 by canons of Rouen, granted in 1212 by Bishop Marshall to MSM, of which the Priory of Otterton was a cell. It held revenues in the church, town, mills, woods, market, fishing and everything pertaining to it. Church rebuilt in 1859/60, only the tower and arcade on each side of the nave are original. [See Dupont]. The Otterton market recorded in 1086 may have been held at Sidmouth and in 1281 the Sidmouth market was recorded as if it were at Otterton. The chapel of St Peter recorded in 1322 was demolished in 1805 but part of a wall remains visible at the Esplanade.
Stoodleigh, Devon church, near West Buckland, not mentioned after 1179, probably exchanged for Harpford.
Forsham, Devon land held from Baldwin the Sheriff, worth 30s (check... no references...)
Hederland, Devon chapel of ease dependent of St Michael's church, Otterton, mentioned in 1206 charter, mention of chapels 1257 and of 'land'.
Basing, Hampshire church, tithes and land worth £4 5s. Dupont says church plus chapels or maybe three churches. Not noted by Millénaire St Mary's Church Old Basing?]
Basingstoke, Hampshire church and dependent chapels, gift of William l [note important C14th St Michael's Church in Basingstoke]
Selborne, Hampshire church and possible chapels. In Robert de Torigny's gift of Basing church he says he also held Selborne church and the fruits of both were given to MSM. Impressive C12th St Mary's Church is still in existance.
Martock, Somerset All Saints Church and dependent chapels, the church the second largest in Somerset. Mentioned in 1175 by Bishop of Winchester as given (re-given?) to MSM.
South Heighton, Sussex (Salisbury) church [not noted by Millénaire] appears to have been lost/abandoned: "Land at The Hall, Heighton Road, South Heighton, East Sussex. Archaeological Evaluation Report Score, D Oxford : Oxford Archaeological Unit, 2000, 16pp, figs, tabs, refs Work undertaken by: Oxford Archaeological Unit. An archaeological evaluation was undertaken in respect of a planning application for two residential dwellings. The evaluation revealed the remains of a substantial flint and mortar wall foundation, which was interpreted as the west end of St Martin's Church, a building identified from historical maps. The line of the north wall return was also noted and appeared to have been constructed on a chalk platform cut into the natural slope of the hill. A feature interpreted as the foundation pit for a buttress and deposits inside the church area forming a make-up for what would have been the church floor were also recorded as well as robber trench and demolition deposits. A number of post holes to the north of the church were seen and probably related to a building contemporaneous with the church. A stone baptismal font still in existence at the site was also photographed but no evidence for associated burials was found in the evaluation trenches. MD, PM, MO, UD."
Wooton Rivers, Wiltshire (Salisbury) two churches and some land, gift of William l, See Wooton Rivers. [Dupont records only one un-named church.] "A church belonging to the abbey of Mont St. Michel (Manche) stood at Wootton Rivers in 1086; it was one of two churches on the estate called Wootton, the second of which may have stood at Easton. In the Middle Ages the rectory was poor: it was valued at £5 in 1291, was exempt from taxation because of its poverty in the late 15th century, and was valued at £8 in 1535. In the early 13th century Wootton Rivers church was served by a rector, and the abbey was entitled to a pension from its revenues. In 1212 the abbey of Mont St. Michel and Walter de Rivers, lord of Wootton Rivers manor, agreed that each should present alternate rectors. There is no evidence that the abbey ever presented, and the advowson descended with the lordship of the manor. Besides the village, the parish contains East Wick Farm, which possibly stands on the site of what was a small village in the Middle Ages. The suffix in the parish's name is the surname of lords of the principal manor and was in use in the 14th century. In 1300 the land between the eastern arms at the north and south ends of the parish, which either was or might soon have become part of the parish, was probably woodland and was defined as a southern tail of Savernake forest. It remained part of the forest in 1330, when the land east and west of it was disafforested, and as Brimslade it remained extra-parochial until the 19th century. Wootton Rivers parish measured 1,200 a. (486 ha.)... Sharp bends in the boundary with Milton Lilbourne may be partly the result of a compromise between the rector of Wootton Rivers and the appropriator of Milton Lilbourne church who disputed tithes c. 1215 and c. 1327... There were 51 poll-tax payers at Wootton Rivers in 1377; they presumably included the inhabitants of East Wick... The church, the rectory house, and the demesne farmstead of Wootton Rivers manor stand as a group at the south end of the village. The church stands on rising ground and, when it was built in the 14th century, replaced a church which may have stood on a lower site."
Wath, Yorkshire (Durham or York), Ripon St Mary's church. [See Dupont who cites confusions over three places called Wath in Yorkshire and whether the church depended from York or Durham.] Perhaps the gift of Breton Count Brien or Alan, dedicated to St Mary, see Wath: "Before the Conquest a 'manor' and 6 carucates in Wath were held by Archil and Roschil, but in 1086 they were part of the demesne of Count Alan, and the overlordship remained with his successors. The whole of Wath and the church were granted before 1156 to the abbey of Mont St. Michel. In spite of this it seems clear that Alan, the fourth Lord of Richmond, who died in 1146, granted it to Brian, Lord of Bedale, whose successors retained a mesne lordship here, and that Brian or his son enfeoffed of it one of the ancestors of the Marmions, probably Gernegan son of Hugh, against whom the monks of Mont St. Michel brought a plea concerning land in Wath in 1176–77. Brian's elder brother, Conan Earl of Richmond, had confirmed his predecessor's grant to the abbey, but the dispute was carried on for more than sixty years. In 1239 the matter was carried to the Papal Court. It was then stated on behalf of the abbot and convent that the grant of the manor by the late Earl of Richmond had been confirmed by successive Kings of England, and that they had always had two monks on the manor, but that Sir Robert Marmion, kt., claimed it in right of his wife Avis daughter of Gernegan. The predecessor of the then abbot had been summoned before the king's court, and Robert Marmion 'offered to prove by duel that the manor was his, which challenge, although he had other defence, the late abbot indiscreetly accepted. The combatants fought in a place appointed by the king, the knight bringing a multitude of armed men, and the knight's champion was more than once brought to the ground, on which the knight's party interfered to rescue him, and threatened death to the abbot and his champion, so that the abbot, fearing that death would ensue, came to the spot and renounced his right, which renunciation the knight would not admit save by way of peace and payment of a sum of money.' The abbot and convent prayed that the renunciation, made without the consent of the convent, might be annulled, and the pope summoned the parties before him. The Marmions were apparently the successful claimants. From at least 1243, when Avis Marmion obtained a grant of free warren in her demesne lands here, the manor followed the descent of West Tanfield until the latter part of the 19th century, when it was purchased from the trustees of the third Marquess of Ailesbury by the family of Newsome of Dewsbury, who are now in possession."
Wyberton, Lincolnshire church and 12 acres, perhaps from the Breton Count Brien or Alan, church of St Leger/Leodgar...
St Michael Vale, Guernsey (Coutances) priory of St Michael Vale may have had a priory church separate from the parish church of St Michael mentioned by Adrian lV and Alexander lll which records its rights to three other churches, its mills, fishing, port, etc. It appears the priory held the churches of Castel, St Pierre-du-Bois, St Saviour and Vale as well as the village of Goualle. Christianity arrived here at least by ca. AD 600, perhaps introduced by St Magloire to whom a chapel was dedicated which later belonged to MSM now vanished. Benedictine monks of MSM came to Guernsey ca. 968 establishing a Priory of Mont St Michel in the north of the Guernsey which then formed a separate island at high tide. The last remaining evidence is a piece of buttressed wall and part of a gateway south of the church, perhaps the site of the priory buildings and a separate priory church. There appears to have been a room over the gateway, indicate perhaps a court of justice. [See Dupont]. The author, Christopher Long, remains convinced that archaeological research in these precincts would prove rewarding.
Castel, Guernsey (Coutances) parish church of Ste Marie de Castel (Guernésiais: Lé CastÉ French: Sainte-Marie-du-Câtel). Largest parish in Guernsey, renowned for medieval frescos and pre-Christian neolithic menhir in the churchyard, thought to be carved to represent a female fertility symbol. Mentioned in papal documents in 1158. Mentioned as dependant of MSM by 1280.
St Saviour, Guernsey (Coutances) parish church, islands part of the Duchy of Normandy in AD 933, St Saviour's Church mentioned in a charter ca. 1030 by which Duke Robert of Normandy assigned the church, and three others in Guernsey, to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St Michel in Normandy, the gift confirmed by his son Duke William (the Conqueror) in 1048, and by Pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspeare, the only English Pope) in 1155, the present church containing C12th elements.
St Peter, Guernsey St Pierre du Bois parish church. Given to MSM in ca. 1280, the present church was built around 1375 and added to in the 15th century. [See Dupont]
Lihou, Guernsey (Coutances) the priory of St. Mary, probably ruined in C18th, was situated on island of Notre Dame de Lihou accessible at low tide. Believed to have been established by Benedictine monks in the 12th century. The unpopularity of the monks with the local people may have be due to the monks' insistence on rights of wreck. Approaching sailors said to have dipped their masts to it. Until 1415 it was under the control of MSM, thereafter under Eton College until the Reformation when it was closed and fell into disrepair. Remains of priory walls and a chapel visible. The house on Lihou was used for target practice by heavy artillery during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. Now an educational resource.
St George, Guernsey (Coutances) chapel, one of two chapels (St Anne's at King's Mills) in St Saviour's [JM says Câtel] parish on Route Deslisles, demolished in the 18th century, near the estate bearing his name can be found the feudal courthouse of the Fief Le Compte and the holy well of St George thought to have healing properties. See Dupont re Comte/Earl of Chester.
Jethou, Island of the Bailliwick of Guernsey (Coutances) church. Archaeological traces of what may have been the chapel or church, mentioned in a papal bull in 1156, were discovered in 2007. Michel Mollat says this island of hermits was granted to the monks around 1100 by Rastaud, one of Duke Robert's sea captains, who nevertheless retained its revenues for his lifetime.
Sark, Island of the Bailliwick of Guernsey (Coutances) chapel of St Magloire. Richard de Vernon confirms, ca. 1190, his father's earlier gift of the chapel to MSM in 1160 but this is not, says Dupont, the parish church of St Magloire mentioned in C12th charters. Michel Mollat says that Duke Robert accorded rights to the monks on Alderney and Sark in return for taking back half of Guernsey.
St Clement, Jersey (Coutances) priory. Scarcely ever more than two monks. Traces of foundations have been found in the south-west of the parish, near the cemetery. There is a Priory Farm in the parish today. See Dupont for details of building of an oratory in 1172. In 2012 archaeologists on Jersey announced that a dig had revealed masonry whose form, position and alignment convinced them that they had struck part of former priory.
St Ouen, Jersey (Coutances) parish church (originally cruciform in shape). Given to MSM with its land and a house at the same time as St Mary at Lecq by Philippe de Carteret (see charter 1167, or maybe as early as 1156... see Dupont). In 1285 his son Renaud dropped proceedings to reclaim it. The gift was probably associated with a member of his family becoming a monk at MSM. The chapel of St George at Vinchelez de Bas was given to MSM by Alain de Vinchelez at the same time. At that time he owned Vinchelez 'de Bas' and 'de Haut', then one manor. The chapel disappeared long ago (though described in 1606) but its cemetery is beside the entrance to the Manoir de Bas. The Clos St George is still well-known. [Dom de Camps says MSM lost the church to "the puritan heretics"!]
Lecq, Jersey (Coutances) priory and chapel of St Mary in parish of St Ouen of which it may have held the curacy. Given to MSM in 1167 by Philippe de Carteret.
[Not all the estates noted by André Dupont in Essai d'un Catalogue Critique des Églises et Chapelles dont le Patronage Appartenait à l'Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel (1979) appear in the Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel (1966). But his findings do generally accord with much more detailed English records to which he has, however, made no reference.]
The above article presents an hypothesis only.
The author has greatly appreciated the generous advice and help of: Norman historians and archaeologists David Nicolas-Méry, Daniel Levalet and Julien Deshayes; historian of Saint Michael's Mount Lord St Levan; English mediaevalist Dr Joanna Mattingly; historian of mining, Professor Emeritus at the University of Exeter, Dr Roger Burt; Cornwall historians Peter Rose and Anne Preston-Jones; the Channel Islands' historian John MacCormack and the geologist Steven E. Bushnell.
The purpose of this article is to record our current state of ignorance! It simply demonstrates some of the avenues we are currently exploring. The author accepts without apology that far more research is needed before he can assert with confidence that the ideas proposed here are firmly supported by evidence. Informed and constructive comments are warmly welcomed.
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