Sixth-Century silver plate of Hercules

The Rocks, Stained Red with Blood: A Son of Hercules Slew Giants at Salcombe, Devon?

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Part of the 'Kermario alignments' of Neolithic standing stones near Carnac, locally believed to have been Roman legionaries, turned to stone by St Cornèly (Photo: Anthony Adolph)

Part of the 'Kermario alignments' of Neolithic standing stones near Carnac, locally believed to have been Roman legionaries, turned to stone by St Cornèly (Photo: Anthony Adolph)

This seems like the Christianization of a pagan myth, with St Cornèly subsuming the role of an earlier, wilder character, maybe our ‘Corunus’. Perhaps it is significant that the Carnac alignments are said to be haunted by spirits called Kerions, which remind us of Geryon, the giant whom Hercules slew in Spain.

The root of St Cornelius’s name is probably the Latin cornu, ‘horn’, so he was thought to be a protector of (horned) cattle. At Carnac each 13 September, local cattle were driven to his church and assembled in an arc, or horn-shape, in the hope that the saint would bless them. This may have aided St Cornelius’s assimilation with ‘Coronus’s’ father (as I speculated) Hercules, who was known to have wrested the finest cattle in the world from the giant Geryon.   

St Cornely, shown on the tower of the church dedicated to him in Carbac, Brittany (Photo: Anthony Adolph)

St Cornely, shown on the tower of the church dedicated to him in Carbac, Brittany (Photo: Anthony Adolph)

Giant-Slaying Father & Son?

The bloodiest hour for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Corineus, after joining Brutus in Spain, comes when they reach the Loire Valley. Reminding bystanders volubly of his giant-slaying credentials, Corineus leads a wholescale slaughter of Gauls. If this is indeed adapted from an older myth about a son of Hercules called ‘Corunus’, then maybe his next adventure after the Loire, as his fame was spread up the western seaboard of the Atlantic by travelers, fishermen, and traders, was a battle in Brittany which resulted in his enemies being turned to stone. This does not appear in the version adapted by Geoffrey, but Geoffrey may deliberately have edited it out so as to speed his heroes on their journey to Britain.

The closest land-fall to Brittany is Prawle Point, after which mariners could enter the Kingsbridge Estuary. Perhaps the veneration of St Cornelius there, which is implied by his presence on the rood screen, was a similar Christianization by the church’s Breton founders of the same pagan hero whom they had disguised back home as St Cornèly – the pagan hero ‘Coronus’ who may, perhaps, have slain giants in Devon just as his father Hercules had slain them in Spain and around the Mediterranean.

Carnac parish church, with its statue to St Cornèly half way up the tower (Photo: Anthony Adolph)

Carnac parish church, with its statue to St Cornèly half way up the tower (Photo: Anthony Adolph)

As I wrote above, I did not include this argument in my Brutus book because it seemed too tenuous, but if this idea places ‘Corunus’ at East Portlemouth, then it may be no coincidence that Clark’s entirely independent line of thinking locates Corineus immediately over the estuary at Salcombe. If an ancient myth of giant-slaying ‘Corunus’, son of Hercules, had reached southern Devon, then perhaps Salcombe’s blood-red rocks were identified as a plausible place for his slaying of a giant. Perhaps echoes of this, surviving in local folklore, reached the ears of Geoffrey of Monmouth who, already possessed of a written version of ‘Corunus’ myth, fortuitously united the two by turning ‘Salcombe’ into saltus Goëmagot , as Clark suggests, the place where Corineus killed Goemagot.

Of course, this is all entirely unprovable, but when two different scholars of the same subject follow two completely different routes, but end up on either side of the same Devonshire estuary, we may wonder if this is more than mere coincidence. It seems to be a step further towards proving the existence, buried in Geoffrey’s story of Brutus of Troy, of an ancient myth of a giant-killing son of Hercules, ‘Coronus’, who rid the west-country of giants. 

 

Anthony Adolph is a professional genealogist and author of Brutus of Troy, and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British , which tells the full story of the mythological national founder of Britain. His book, Brutus of Troy, has been reviewed on Ancient Origins by author and historical researcher Petros Koutoupis.

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Top Image: Sixth-Century silver plate of Hercules ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ) and Salcombe Castle (Stephan Lea/ CC BY-SA 2.0 );Deriv.

By Anthony Adolph

Comments

Note too that this is the Jurassic Coast where the cliffs are full of dinosaur bones...

Anthony Adolph's picture

Thanks for your comment. The ‘Jurassic Coast’ is actually further  east, and southern Devon is more notable for its Ice Age remains – much later than Jurassic times but still resulting in some very large bones, which our ancestors preferred to explain in terms of giants, as opposed to giant beasts.   

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