A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

The Festive Season is upon us & provides an excuse to peer into the quasi mythical origins of Father Christmas aka Santa Claus, based on the mostly real person of St Nicholas whose church yet exists at Myra on the southern coast of Anatolia. Safely accredited to him, long after his death, are stories of him lobbing bags of gold through the broken window of a pauper on 3 consecutive nights thus providing dowries for the marriage of his 3 daughters, disallowing the alternative of lives spent in prostitution & providing the sign of 3 golden balls advertising his patronage of pawnbrokers. Five centuries after his demise his fame was made known in western Europe in the C9th by the Balkan saint, Methodius who likely added miraculous events to St Nick's vita. Another half a millennium later the pawnbrokers' sign (5 of them) became the 15 Balls of the Cornish coat of arms¹.

Cornish Coat of ArmsBut St Nicholas had others to care for, retrospectively awarded by the same Methodius: he assuaged famine by the process of stealing 100 hogsheads² of corn from every grain ship landing cargoes in Lycia (miraculously unnoticed by the soporific tally clerks) & by appearing to the mariners freighting his stolen bones to Italy he quietened their fears of foundering in a storm, assisting as he did so his own post-mortal abduction, thus becoming the patron saint of sailors.
This latter qualification might more suitably be awarded to later historical mortals:
shortly before the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the C7th AD, a cargo of Cornish tin arrived in Alexandria. Financed by the Patriarch of Alexandria, John the Almsgiver³, twenty thousand bushels of corn⁴ were received by famished Cornubians via a ship plying a route travelled through millennia of conflict, war, disputes, piracy, foul weather & worse: trade was carrying on with whatever whoever would exchange. Maritime trade routes, still flourishing after the withering of the Western Roman Empire, connected the eastern Mediterranean with the nether regions of Cornwall via the Sea of Marmara, the Mediterranean, the Pillars of Hercules, Vigo, Biscayne Bay & the Channel &, occasionally, other hints of what was carried emerge. Just along the coast from Myra at the western tip of Anatolia, factories of the Eastern Roman Empire produced Phocaean red slip ware in the days when Rome had lost its grip on Britain. A sherd, dated to the C5th or C6th AD, from this source, has recently been excavated at Boden by Meg, Secretary of MAG.

Tin ingot


More than one of the tramp ships operating this route picked up amphorae containing wine in Vigo for delivery to the Meneage & Tintagel, sherds emerging from both digs. In the best of all possible Cornish traditions, once emptied, these were re-used to store mead.
Amphora scatters are aplenty, all along the Mediterranean; Roman lead ingots (now used in an Italian neutrino detector) have been recovered offshore Sardinia: but Cornish tin ingots⁵ were recovered from the Uluburun⁶ wreck off Kaş in SW Anatolia, hardly a stone's throw⁷ in Saintly terms from St Nick's Myra. The ship sank in 1315 BCE, as have many others since.

¹ Edward I, following his usual policy of exalting the merchant class, chose the trade-mark of the Ancient and Honourable Association of Pawnbrokers to be the coat of arms of the county of Cornwall whose pawnbrokers were the most enterprising and prosperous merchants in all of Greater Britain. When King John needed to raise money for a war in France, five of the principal uncles of Cornwall - Ben Levi of Truro, Ben Ezra of Penzance, Moses, of Megavissey, (the other two names are illegible, see Manuscript CXLIX, British Museum) - formed an association with the motto ‘One and All’ to indicate that no business could be arranged without a quorum of all five members.
Thanks to Sandy Pulfrey for pointing out this connection.
² 22.5 tons or 4% of cargo by my, almost certainly, inaccurate calculation
³ St John the Almsgiver, translated from the Greek by Dawes and Baynes, Three Byzantine Saints, 216—18, Mowbrays, London and Oxford, 1977 (first published 1948)
⁴ 36 bushels to the fluid ton of 2304lb or 570 tons by my, almost certainly, inaccurate calculation
⁵ Personal comment Paul Bonnington
⁶ Copper & tin ingots, a jar filled with glass beads, many filled with olives, but the majority containing a substance known as Pistacia (terebinth) resin, an ancient type of turpentine, glass ingots of cobalt blue, turquoise and lavender (the earliest intact glass ingots known), logs of blackwood from Africa, hippopotamus teeth, tortoise carapaces, ostrich eggshells, Cypriot pottery & oil lamps, amber, agate, carnelian, quartz, gold, faience, arrow heads, spears, swords, sickles, awls, chisels, axes, a ploughshare, whetstones, adzes, weights, almonds, pine nuts, figs, olives, grapes, safflower, cumin, sumac, coriander, pomegranates, charred wheat & barley, & murex operculae - presumably for use as an ingredient in making incense: equally presumably a byproduct of the Tyrian Purple dye industry
⁷ I leave the reader to compare this with the more local efforts of stone throwing between St Keverne & St Just

Published: Dec 2018
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