Lyonesse is the name of a legendary lost land, supposedly a magical place west of Land's End in Cornwall, believed by some to be where the mortally wounded King Arthur was taken after his last battle (see Avalon).
Some thought of Lyonesse as Liones, the kingdom of Tristan's father, King Meliodas, but this may originally have been Lothian (Leoneis), later confused with a region of Brittany (Leonais).
In the Arthurian legends, Lyonesse is also the name of the noble lady besieged by the Red Knight of the Red Lands; she obtained Sir Gareth from Arthur's court to rescue her.
Other legends tell that, when Arthur had fallen in his last battle, Mordred pursued the remnant of his army into the land of Lyonesse. The ghost of Merlin appeared, the land sank and Mordred's forces were destroyed. Arthur's men, however, reached what are now the Isles of Scilly and survived.
Did such a land exist? Reference is made to it in Camden's Survey of Cornwall (1602). In Roman times the Scillies seem to have been a single island partially overrun by the sea. It is said that local fishermen have pulled up stones from the buildings of Lyonesse in their nets, and that to this day the bells of long submerged churches can be heard on still nights.
In the 1930s Stanley Baron, a journalist working for the London News Chronicle, claimed to have heard bells when staying at Sennen Cove, immediately to the north of Land's End. Edith Olivier, a sometime mayor of Wilton, near Salisbury, allegedly saw some of the domes and spires of Lyonesse in the sea, when standing on the cliffs at Land's End.
According to ancient celtic tradition, the narrow strip of the Atlantic Ocean that lies between the coast of Cornwall, England, and the Scilly Islands was once dry land, covered with prosperous towns and handsome churches. Then, sometime in the 5th century AD the ocean abruptly engulf Lyonesse, and only one man, named Trevilian, or Trevellyn, escaped to tell of its destruction. According to the story, he outdistanced the rapidly advancing waters riding a white horse. To this day, his descendants' family coat of arms bears a picture of a rider in a white horse emerging from the waves, the manner in which the ancestral Trevilian reportedly rode to safety.
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Sources: (1) Lacy, Norris J., The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, Routledge Publishing; (2) Steiger, Brad and Sherry Hansen, The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained, Thomson Gale Publishing; (3) Coghlan, Ronan, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends, Houghton Mifflin Publishing.
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