Cornish Folk Tradition: Songs Music Dance and Associated Customs
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Gwari Bosvenna and the Beast of Bodmin

at Bodmin Riding 6th July

 

 

The Beast

Every year at 15:49 on the first Saturday in July the Gwari Bosvenna takes place on Mount Folly in the centre of Bodmin. The Gwari Bosvenna (Bodmin Play) takes the form of a mock court, a tradition going back many centuries which was revived as part of the Bodmin Riding celebrations in 1974. It has taken different forms since then but for the last 14 years the court has featured the trial of the Beast of Bodmin Moor at the hands of Justice Jan Tregeagle and the Ragadazio, the town elders.  

Throughout the day the Beast races around Bodmin, hotly pursued by the Helliers (hunters), with frequent stops along the way for suitable refreshments. Likewise, the Ragadazio are warned of the Beast first thing in the morning and set off to tour the town rehearsing their case for the trial at various hostelries as they go.  The Gwari Bosvenna is part of Cornish Guize Dance tradition, the Ragadazio are disguised with grotesque masks and the Helliers are young Celtic warriors in kilts and war painted faces. The Beast is of course large, hairy and has lots of teeth!  

The key to understanding the play is 15:49, the date of last Cornish rebellion of the Tudor period. It was triggered by the imposition of the English language and the destruction of Glasney College, Penryn, the previous year. Glasney had been a focal point for the Cornish language, identity and culture.  Bodmin played a key part in supporting the rebellion and when it failed the mayor of the town was arrested and hanged. One of thousands to be executed in the bloody aftermath of the rebellion.  The underlying narrative of the play was written by Bodmin historian Clive Little and there is improvisation around this each year. The Beast represents the spirit of Cornwall and just as the rebels of 1549 protested their Cornish identity so historic characters are called to the trial to witness Cornwall’s distinct culture and heritage.

It is a play of many levels. For some, especially the young, it is a colourful pageant with a delightfully ugly Beast that is captured and placed in chains but eventually escapes to freedom. For the adult listening carefully there is topical satire with just that bit of pantomime innuendo. Underpinning it all there is the story of Cornwall and Cornish nationhood.

The Gwari Bosvenna weaves its way around Bodmin amongst the many events being held to celebrate Heritage Day. There is a street fair, children’s entertainment, Cornish Wrestling and bands performing though-out the day. The Ragadazio cordially invite you to join them at court on Saturday 6th July, meet the Beast and enjoy some music, dance and singing along the way.  

   

An Daras, doorway in Cornish, is an outreach project of Lowender Peran, Cornwall’s Celtic festival, and provides a portal to the distinctive traditions of Cornwall . The links on the site map will take you to the tunes, songs, dances and associated traditions of Cornwall. There are also links to teaching materials and further research work and publications on Cornish Folk Tradition.

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