18 April 2011


Launceston is a small, pleasant, but not terribly remarkable town in Cornwall; well, just on the boundary of Cornwall. We lived nearby for six years. It was for long - anachronism coming up - the Capital of Cornwall, at a time when Capitals might not be in the middle of an area but on its edge, so that Crown officials could enter the territory upon their circuit. (Thus the President of the Council of Wales had his base at Ludlow in Shropshire.) For Catholics, however, the main glory of Launceston (by the way, it is pronounced Lahns'n) is that it is the place of the martyrdom of S Cuthbert Mayne, Protomartyr of the seminaries (whose skull is venerated not far away in Lanhearne).

But stay. A marvellous book has just plopped onto my doorstep full of the most marvellous, atmospheric, pictures of Launceston and district. People stand above the terrifying torrent of floodwaters in Launceston's Cataract Gorge; flowers stand in the City Park with their heads held high; the autumn leaves lie upon the ground in Brickfield's Reserve. The area is clearly very lush; rather as in Co Kerry, tree ferns and myrtles appear to germinate naturally (I believe that, in the old world, tree ferns made their way here from the Antipodes by accident, as ballast in ships, which was noticed to be sprouting!). Strangely, a Georgian house, with a Gothick church nearby, dominate the ridge above a vineyard in Coal Valley. Interesting, that; since I had not known that there were vineyards in Cornwall. There are quite a lot of fields there called Vineyard Field, but experts in Celtic philology suspect that this is an Anglophone misunderstanding of minnack (vinnack with lenition), or 'stoney', in the old Cornish language.

Thanks, Joshua, it is really lovely book, and I had no conception, despite the vivid description brought back from Tasmania by one of my daughters, that your native land was quite so beautiful. We did know that Tasmania had a Launceston - the result of generations of Cornish tin miners taking their unneeded skills to that and many other distant places.

A classicist cartographer seems to have wandered around Tasmania: Pelion Plains; Mount Geryon; Lake Oenone; Meander Valley (with awesome falls); Mount (yes!) Olympus; Styx Valley. The last of these, readers will not be surprised to learn, does not look in the least sulphurous!


Rob said...

Don't forget old Hobart town!

Joshua said...

I look forward to you singing High Mass, even, perhaps, in one of the Pugin churches scattered across Van Diemen's Land; the first Bishop of Hobart was a friend of his, and brought models and plans out with him; the cathedral has a collection of Pugin vestments; a friend found a Pugin monstrance in a sacristy drawer in a country chapel: so we are well-prepared for any visit.

Until then, you can glance at the pictures (which I'm glad you enjoy); the Gorge is currently in flood again, as it happens (I live only minutes away), and the views have been quite as spectacular.

In recent years, alas, we had a case of furta sacra here in Launceston (pronounced Lonsest'n hereabouts, whatever of the Cornish; the placename is a shibboleth, as visitors say Lawnsest'n): a relic of St Cuthbert Mayne, enshrined beneath the new forward altar, was stolen by persons unknown.

The dolerite cliffs everywhere here, by the way, are remnants of the great volcanic eruptions that took place when Australia and Antarctica began to break apart aeons ago. Then, Tasmania was still joined to Antarctica, and the tectonic plates were cleaving asunder through what is now Bass Strait; but, by interposition of some Providential Hand, those fissures to the north mysteriously ceased to widen, and instead the rift developed south of this island: else Tasmania would have stayed far chillier still, moored just off, not Victoria, but Victoria Land.

Acolytus said...

Dear Fr.,

Are we certain of the pronunciation 'Lahns'n' ?

Remember that the lovely Angharad Rees as the heavenly Demelza pronounced it 'Larnston' in Poldark when Ross was on trial.