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Saints, Mermaids & Phoenicians Contents

Cornish  Legends

Saints, Mermaids & Phoenicians

The Breton Legend

In the year 332 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Tyre and whilst the Phoenician culture was swept up into the Hellenistic empire this did not bring to an end the trade with Cornwall as the Greeks needed the tin. With the coming of  the Romans the Phoenicians  tried to keep their source a secret from Rome who also wanted tin and other metals.  The Phoenicians carried on the trade from Gades which is known today as Cadiz. This city state was set up as early as 1100BC as the Phoenician base on the Atlantic coast and it is believed to have opened up the sea route to Cornwall. However,  Stabo refers to the Romans following the Phoenicians to try and find where the Greeks were getting the tin from. (Ref.1) Once Cornwall was discovered by the Romans an overland route from the Mediterranean was soon established and Diodorus Siculus (circa 90-21BC) described the route as follows:

"The tin was shipped from there (Cornwall) to Morlaix (Brittany). From
Morlaix it was carried across France on pack horses to Marseilles. The tin
was loaded on to ships for the last stage of the journey to Phoenicia."

Amongst the traders who now supplied the Romans was a man named  Joseph who according to tradition, was the brother of St. Anne the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As the apocryphal Gospel of the Birth of Mary which can be found in pages 17-24 of The Lost Books of the Bible (Ref.2) tells us:

"Her [Mary's] father's name was Joachim, and her mother's Anna. The family of her father was of Galilee and the city of Nazareth. The family of her mother was of Bethlehem."

The Breton legend was collected by church historian Dr Taylor the vicar of St Just in Penwith during his travels in Morlaix, Limogas and the Rhone Valley. He recorded it in his book "The Coming of the Saints". (Ref. 3)

This tradition is very old, and among her name's variants are Anne among the Bretons  and Hanna among the Ethiopians  (Ref. 4). Really very little is known for sure about her, although there are numerous legends regarding her. Her feast is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on 26 July, 

I give in full the legend connecting St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin, with that land. While it is obvious that the Bretons themselves locate the scene of the legend in their own country, it is at least possible that it was transplanted from Cornwall, with many of their place names, at the time of the great migration around 870 - 930AD. The district with which the legend is connected is called Cornuaille which is located in Finestère (literally Land's End), the western most département of Brittany, the Cornish connection seems very strong as within the Catholic Church, St Ann is  patroness of miners.

The Legend.

Dr Taylor writes:- 

The Translation of an extract from Anatole le Braz’ “ Salute Anne de la Palude
“ in “Au Pays des Pardons.”

The writer tells how he was struck by the likeness of a poor peasant woman to the figure of St. Anne, before which she had been praying.

"Do you know,” I said, “ that St. Anne and you look like sisters?’ I am, like her, a grandmother,” she replied, “and, like me, thank God, she is a Breton.”

“St. Anne a Breton? Are you quite sure about that, my worthy woman?”

She turned her dreamy eyes on me, and answered in a pitying tone: “How easy
to see that you are from the town! The townsfolk are ignorant; they despise us country folk, because we cannot read their books. But they! What would they know of their land, if we were not there to tell them? Oh yes, St. Anne was a Breton. Go to the Chateau de Moellien, and they will show you the roo she inhabited, in the days when she was Queen of that country. For a Queen she was; nay, she was even “Duchesse,” a far more beautiful title. They blessed her in the streets, because of her goodness and her boundless pity for the humble and unhappy. Her husband, in turn, passed for a very hard man. He was jealous of his wife, and did not want her to bear children. When he discovered that she was with child, he flew into a violent passion, and drove her out like a beggar, in the middle of the night, in the depth of winter, half naked, into the icy storm. A piteous wanderer, she walked blindly on. In the bay of Trefentec, under this dune, a barque of light rode placidly, though the sea was rough, and at the stern stood an angel in white, his wings spread out like sails. ‘Embark,’ said the angel, ‘that we may take care of you; for the time is short.’ ‘Whither would you take me?’ she asked, and he replied, ‘The wind will direct us; the will of God is in the wind.’

“They passed along the coast of Judaea, and landed in the port of Jerusalem.
Some days later Anne gave birth to a daughter, destined by God to be the
Virgin. She brought her up piously, taught her letters in a book of Psalms, and made her wise in body and spirit; meet to become the mother of Jesus. Her task ended, as she felt herself growing old, she prayed Heaven, saying, ‘I am pining for my Bretons. If only, ere I die, I may see again my parish, and the beach, so sweet to my eyes, of la Palude in Plonnevez Porzay!’ Her prayer was answered. The barque of light returned to take her, with the same angel at the helm, only now he was robed in black, to show the saint of her widowhood, for the Seigneur de Moellien had died mean- while. The castle folk, gathered on the shore, received their chatelaine with transports of joy, but ‘she immediately hushed them. ‘Go,’ she commanded, ‘and distribute all my goods among the poor.’ She was resolved to end her earthly days in penitence. Henceforth she lived here, under this barren dune, in one perpetual orison. The light of her eyes radiated far over the waters like a moonbeam. On stormy nights she was the saviour of the fishers. With one gesture she calmed the sea, and drove the clouds back to bed, like a flock of sheep to the fold.

Jesus, her grandson, undertook for her sake the voyage to Basse-Bretagne. Before he was to climb Calvary, he went to ask her blessing, accompanied by the disciples Peter and John. Their parting was a bitter one. Anne wept tears of blood, and Jesus tried in vain to console her. At last he said to her, ‘Think, grand-mere, of your Bretons. Speak, and in thy name I will grant them whatever they ask.’

“The saint checked her tears. ‘Ah! then,’ she cried, ‘May a Church be dedicated here to me, and as far as its steeple shall be seen, as far as its bells shall be heard. may all sickness be healed, and. every soul, living or dead, find peace!’ 

There, my gentleman, is the true history of Anne of  la Palude, in Plounevez Porzay. There it is, just as I had it from my mother, who had it from hers, at a time when families transmitted piously, from memory to memory, the things of the past.” These simple words of the Breton peasant woman sum up the whole case for the credibility of oral tradition. Allowing for all possible embellishments in the course of time, the fundamental basis of the tradition dates back to those far-off ages when, in the beautiful words of the original “ les familles se transmettaient pieusement de memoire en memoire les choses du passe.”

Next did Jesus visit Cornwall.


  1. Strabo (c. 54 BC to c. AD 24)

  2. "The Lost Books of the Bible"  New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1974

  3. "The Coming of the Saints" Thomas Taylor M.A. F.S.A., Longmans Green & Co. London.

  4. " One Hundred and Ten Miracles of Our Lady Mary" Sir E. A. Wallis Budge (ed.)'s 1933, London: Humphrey Milford, Publisher to the Oxford University Press).

  5. Hit Counter

George Pritchard is the author of original work on this site.  I give permission to copy and use this information on the following conditions.
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Revised: September 07, 2006 .