Sunday 16 February 2014

St Tue and the Giants (Rock hurling contest near Liskeard)

Wherever there was a well a saint took possession of it. The votive offerings of the natives to the bright, sparkling divinity dwelling in springs of water passed into their hands. The water cures became miracles, and chapels and baptistries were built over the wells. Chapels and hermits' cells abound in Cornwall. There is one spring which ensures a man will not hang if he is but christened with its water in childhood. There is another in which a madman may be ducked until he is cured. In another a maiden may see her future, and there are others which can cure sad souls and sadder bodies. St. Tue was one of these saints who had a little well all to himself, and this is his story. 

The tale opens at a period when the saints had been some time in the land, and the people took kindly to them, and brought them fish on Fridays. The giants grew jealous and resolved on holding a conference. When they were all assembled, Uther was voted to the chair, because he had the broadest shoulders and the best head-piece of all the race from the Tamar to Pol-Pedyn. The question was, "What shall we do with the saints?" Various methods had been already tried - boiling, baking and grilling were no use. Uther, the president, put the matter before them in a statesmanlike way. First of all, he counted up six saints on his fingers, and then he counted half a dozen. Then he said, "If you take six from six, there's nothing, but if you wipe six, six remain." The speech seemed very precise and clear to the giants. So much so that it was pencilled down on a half-sheet of notepaper, and, in time, became the model for future prime ministers. It was certainly very well received. Then there was a discussion, and some said one thing, and some another, and when all spoke at once, it was very difficult to know what was said or meant. The president tried to keep order, but was just as helpless as Madam Speaker in modern days. Fortunately it was an open-air meeting, and the sky was not cracked. 

Saint Tue was a small and weakly man, who took to fasting on cod-liver oil. He was, however, young and full of zeal. The conference was held in what he called his "sphere of influence" and, when he heard the mighty shouts, he looked upwards and saw a sign in the sky. So he hastened to the conference, and, by dodging in and out between the giants' legs, he managed to reach the president, who was threatening to leave the chair unless better order was kept. 

"Pick me up," said St. Tue. So Uther picked him up and showed him to the assembly, for, being a strong man himself, he admired the saint's pluck.

"What do you want here, my little man?" asked Uther, thinking into which pocket he should pop him to ensure his safety.

"I want to challenge you to a trial of strength; but let me speak to the giants," replied the saint. 

Uther stood St. Tue on the palm of his hand and held out his arm, so that he might speak. This he did, in a loud voice, telling them solemnly that they were warring against heaven and one mightier than they. He finished by challenging the mightiest to a contest of rock-hurling. If he were beaten, all the saints would leave the land; but if he won, then the giants were to cease their persecutions and be baptised with the sign of the cross. 

Now, the giants were not a united family, and were fond of hurling rocks at one another, and fighting and wrestling for fun or glory, just when the fancy took them. Uther was a champion rock-hurler, and it was a pastime with him to throw rocks like quoits, and so truly as to balance them one over the other, the top being the largest. The game was no child's play, and the assembly agreed that, if Uther would accept the challenge, they would abide by the result. When they looked at St. Tue and the rocks to be hurled, they laughed mockingly. 

There were twelve rocks in all. They had been used before and were fairly round. The smallest was hurled first, and Uther pitched it one hundred feet. St. Tue's knees shook. What if his faith should fail now? He cast his eyes upwards. Then, oh, blessed miracle, the rock became as a feather in his hand, and he hurled it with such precision that it capped number one as though it had grown there. 

So the game went on, and the pile grew more and more like a mushroom. The giants shouted mightily when Uther's rock capped the saint's, but when the saint's capped Uther's, they groaned aloud and showed their tempers. 

It was the saint's turn to hurl the last rock which, being the heaviest and largest and having to be thrown the highest, required the greatest skill and judgement and strength. The slightest error, and the pile would topple over. The silence was so great that a grasshopper was heard to chirp. True as a die the rock settled on the rest, and the whole mass swayed upon its stem, but fell not. 

The victory was not yet won however, and a thirteenth rock was brought. So huge was it that the giant knew it was beyond his powers to hurl. Still, he raised it with both hands and threw it with all his might and strength, and fell prone to earth, exhausted. The rock fell short and was rolled back to where St. Tue stood, trembling once again. Would Heaven fail him now? But no. His eyes were opened and he saw an angelic host raise the stone to his hand, carry it through the air and place it as a crown upon the "wring", that man might wonder at it for evermore. The giants, however, were blind with rage, and saw not. 

Then Uther bowed his head in humility, confessed his sins and was baptised. Some followed his example, but more returned to their castles and made what trouble they could. The saints rejoiced, all the same, when they heard what St. Tue had done. For they were made free in this land, and from then on they made so free with the land that all the best they took for themselves. They pursued the giants with soap and water and Sunday clothes, and so trimmed their beards and nails, that the race dwindled and dwindled and died out. So the saints triumphed, and the Cheese-wring is their memorial. 

St. Tue founded the "Union of Saints", and then his troubles began in such earnest that he had to increase his doses of cod-liver oil in order to bear them. An elm, an oak, and an ash tree grew over his grave, and their roots formed an arch. Under the arch a spring of pure water gushed forth, and St. Keyne came to live by the well. Up to this century, Cornish brides still drank from the water, wearing divided skirts, and fed their husbands with long spoons. 

From "Cornish Saints and Sinners" by J. Henry Harris

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