St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall

Benedictine Monks then Bridgentine Nuns

A Priory existed on the Mount long before the Castle was built to protect it. Legend states that local fishermen saw a vision of St. Michael on the western edge of the Mount and this spurred interest from Edward the Confessor who granted land to build a Chapel on the Mount in 1044 under the control of the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel in Brittany. Edward was the first, and by no means the last, to be fascinated by the similarity of the two sites – facing each other across the English Channel.

The first full-blown Priory was founded in 1135 by Bernard Le Bec.

The first time it became apparent that fortification would be needed was during one of Richard I’s many absences from his country. Prince John’s supporters seized the Mount and briefly held it against the King. Not many years later the originally Priory was destroyed in an earthquake and the bones of a “giant man” were discovered buried in the church during rebuilding work.

Henry V broke the link between the Monks of Mont Saint Michel and St Michaels Mount in 1424 and Henry VI granted the Mount to Bridgettine Nuns from Isleworth Priory.

The second of the Mounts four uprisings against a King occurred in 1473 when John de Vere, Earl of Oxford held the Mount during the Wars of the Roses against Edward IV. The siege went on for 23 weeks before he was forced to surrender.

The next rebellion came in the shape of Perkin Warbeck who gathered his forces here before trying to oust Henry VII from the throne.

By the time Henry VIII got around to Dissolving the Priory at St Michaels Mount it was only occupied by a tiny number of nuns and monks.

This led to the final rebellion in 1549 during the Pilgrimage of Grace when one Humphry Arundell, who was Governor of the Mount, refused to acknowledge the Book of Common Prayer and was captured and hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

For once, during the Civil War, the Mount was held for the King in 1646 and it is believed that Charles II stayed here on his way to the Scilly Isles and safety. After the Restoration the Aubyn family owned the Mount and occupied it as a summer residence, making a number of changes to the buildings around the church, but largely leaving it in its medieval condition, albeit with some extensive restoration.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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