Origins and History


The Gorsedd of Cornwall

The Local Government Commission in its 1994 report on Cornwall said -

"Cornwall's Celtic roots create a strong sense of identity within the county. The 13th century Mappa Mundi shows the four parts of the island of Britain as England, Scotland, Wales and CORNWALL. Some(sic) suggest that Cornwall has never legally been incorporated into shire England. Cornwall is rich with artistic, literary and religious expressions of its history, It has its own flag, and patron saint and has the highest number of recorded ancient monuments in Britain."

The Gorsedd of Cornwall, or to give its Cornish language title, Gorsedh Kernow, is an organisation dedicated to the preservation of Cornwall's unique Celtic spirit, through literature, language, music and the arts, and the recognition of all forms of important service to Cornwall and its people.

It is neither political nor religious, although some of its members are active in Cornish politics and church services in Cornish are held on special occasions throughout the year. It is allied to the Gorsedds of Wales and Brittany and has strong links with both these Celtic countries. It cannot be stressed too strongly that it has no connection whatsoever with Druidism nor with any pagan practice.

Henry Jenner, first Grand Bard of the Gorseth of Cornwall

Henry Jenner,
first Grand Bard of the
Gorsedh of Cornwall

Click on the image for a
larger version (48k)

In ancient Celtic times, Bards - story-tellers, poets and singers had great importance as keepers of the heritage. They had places of high honour at important assemblies regularly held at venerated sites throughout Britain, one of which was the stone circle at Boscawen-un, in the parish of St Buryan on the high moors of West Cornwall.

This tradition, following that of Wales, was revived in Cornwall in 1928 at a Gorsedd, or meeting of Bards, at Boscawen-un, when Cornwall's first Grand Bard, Henry Jenner and 12 Bards were initiated by the Archdruid of Wales, Jenner taking the Bardic name Gwas Myghal, Servant of Michael. (The Welsh title ‘Archdruid’ also has no connection with Druidism and is merely a title for the Senior Bard).

Since then a Gorsedd has been held every year on the first Saturday in September, except for the war years 1939-45. Over 1000 men and women have been invited to become Bards and the current roll is 496, 56 of whom live abroad, particularly in Australia where Cornish traditions are very strong.

2006 Gorseth at Redruth
2006 Gorsedh at Redruth

Bardship is by invitation only, is not restricted to native-born Cornish people and membership does not demand a knowledge of the Cornish language, although many Bards are proficient in it. The Gorsedd ceremony is held mainly in Cornish, with English translations available for spectators. Bards wear a ceremonial blue robe and head-dress, and details can be found in the Ceremonies and Regalia section.

During the colourful ceremony, which lasts about 1½ hours, deceased Bards are commemorated, awards made for honourable service to Cornwall and prizes given to those successful in the open annual competitions for writers, poets and artists. Every effort is made to involve Cornish schoolchildren as it is considered vitally important that they should know as much as possible about their homeland and heritage. A highlight of the ceremony is the Flower Dance by costumed local children and the presentation of a symbolic sheaf of flowers and herbs by the robed Lady of Cornwall and her Attendants. Delegates from Wales and Brittany attend in the robes of their Gorsedds and make short speeches in their own languages. New Bards are initiated by the Grand Bard, taking a Bardic name in Cornish which reflects their particular interests, careers, places of origin or family connections. The ceremony concludes with the swearing of fealty to Cornwall on the Sword of Cornwall, symbolically representing Excalibur, the Sword of King Arthur and the singing of Bro Goth, Old Land of our Fathers.

Some 250 Bards regularly attend and because of this, the large numbers of spectators, and the need for car parking and other facilities, it is no longer possible to hold the ceremony at remote stone circles like Boscawen Un and for some years it has been usual to use large schools and their grounds. The venues usually rotate between West, Mid and East Cornwall. Remarkably, bad weather has forced the ceremony indoors only three times since 1928. It is a free public ceremony and attendance is welcomed and encouraged.

The day ends with a Concert featuring local artistes, open to the public at a small charge. A religious service in Cornish, also open to the public at no charge, is held locally on the day following, Sunday, at 3pm.

1928 Gorseth at Boscawen Un

 1928 Gorsedh at Boscawen Un (68k)

1934 Gorseth at Padderbury Top

1934 Gorsedh at Padderbury Top (60k)

1969 Gorseth at Liskeard

1969 Gorsedh at Liskeard (68k)

Click on each image for a larger version

A brief biography and picture of all Grand Bards can be found in the Grand Bards Gallery.

A list of former deputy Grand Bards, Secretaries and Treasurers is available in this web site's archives.

Further information may be obtained from the Secretary to the Gorsedd Council,
e-mail: secretary@gorsedhkernow.org.uk

All content © The Gorsedh of Cornwall unless otherwise attributed.