Looe Island is a potential covenant site that will be added to the material which is gradually being collected for a Cornish gazette for the Ars Magica roleplaying game. Much of this material comes from Alex Langstone’s book “From Granite to Sea” or from the Cornish folklore journal he edits “Lien Gwerin”.
Looe Island has a Cornish name meaning “the island of the monks’ enclosure”. In English it is either called St George’s Island, or St Michael’s Island in period, but given how many monastic islands of St Michael we are already struggling with, let’s just go with the name of the nearby town, Looe. Its on the south coast of Cornwall, toward the east, which places it away from Tintagel and Scilly, the other two sites I’m considering developing.
The island is about 22 acres – so it’s large enough to sustain a covenant’s population, particularly given the resources of the sea, and trade with nearby ports. Looe, the nearest modern port, doesn’t seem to exist as a legal entity in 1220, but may be one of the many boroughs that Richard of the Romans sets up. He seems to give them a fair. There’s a village at the site before the Normans turn up, and part of what’s now Looe is made up of three Domesday manors, one owned directly by William himself.
There is a second, smaller islet nearby. It’s now called Trelawny Island, but that’s a recent change. Historically it seems to have been called Little Island. It’s close enough to be connected with a simple footbridge, and large enough that the magi might build a separate domicle there, if they prefered to live physically separated from their community.
The island is identified by some writers with Ictis, the place where the ancient Cornish set up a trading post to sell tin to international traders. There are some features which do not match the description, for example Ictis is meant to be tidal, but for the purposes of the game, the link might be made. It certainly appears in period, because the Cornish people believe that Joseph of Armithea left his nephew, Jesus Christ, on this island for a while, when he came to Cornwall to buy tin along the coast. This has made the island a pilgrimage site from early times, but not a major one inssofar as I can tell. Regardless, Insula Ictis would be a fine Latin name for a covenant here.
The island belongs to Glastonbury Abbey (from 1144 in real Europe). It is administered by two Benedictines at Lammana Priory. In the real world, the Abbey sold the island to a local landowner, so the covenant could make them an offer. The priory was small, and so was converted to a secular chapel, possibly dedicated to St Michael, giving the island its repetitive name. Glastonbury is the abbey that was so fortunate as to discover the tomb of King Arthur about 40 years ago, and its lucky for them that their good fortunate continued, such that they control the only part of the British isles that the Saviour Himself visited in his lifetime.
A pair of Victorian antiquarians said that Looe has man-made caves in it, similar to those grottoes built by the Etruscans. I’ve been trying to work the Etruscans into the game for a while, because they give us a new source for an early, published NPC. In “Sanctuary of Ice” I developed a two line description of Johnathan Tweet’s, an archmagus skilled in lightning magic, raised as a Tytalus. They might serve as the ancestors of that tradition.
The last mention of the Etruscan magi I can find is that in 408, when the Visigoths came to sack Rome. The Romans heard that Visigothic forces had been scattered from a town (called Narnia, strangely enough, which is modern Narni) by a magical ritual that called down lightning. The priests of the old religion, Etruscan haruspexes came to the Pope and said they could save the city by performing the same ritual. The Pope said yes, but demanded it be done in secret, or at least in private, so the haruspexes refused and left.
There is some question as to how the story played out, but regardless there were lightning magi actively destroying armies in the 5th Century. Other features of Etruscan (or Rasenna, as they called themselves) culture suit Hermetic magic also. They had comparatively egalitarian sexes, they lived in city states ruled by a small oligarchic caste rather than monarchies. The Etruscans also lived in the area of modern Italy that was the local source of copper and tin, so there’s a weak link there. The Etruscans are best known in the modern day from their cavernous, decorated graves, which I could place on the island.
In later periods, smugglers worked from Looe Island, and spread tales of ghosts to frighten off people who might otherwise be attracted to their lights and noise. In Mythic Europe, that’s how you attract faeries. There are at least three Looe ghosts There is a dark-skinned man with blood on his face. There is an aristocratic, long-fingered man with grey hair who emerges from a blue light. There is a white hare which warns of storms and is the spirit of a girl who committed suicide when wronged by her suitor. Apparently this happens a lot in Cornwall, so there are several of these hares about as potential familiars.