The day could not have been better for today’s Gorsedh held on the Bude Castle lawns in brilliant sunshine. It is a curious ceremony which must have set a few visitors thinking. Certainly, I had never seen it before.
The word is Welsh in origin (Gorsedd) and in Breton, it is Goursez. The Esedhvos (similar to the older Eisteddfod in Wales) Festival, is held every year at a different location in Cornwall to celebrate Cornwall’s distinctive identity and Celtic heritage, recognised under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
If you missed it, you can watch the ceremony here. The first ceremony was held in 1928, in St Buryan; it rewarded people for promoting Cornwall and its identity, and it has continued ever since.
Or, as the website says, for the Cornish speakers among you:
An kynsa solempnita Gorsedh Kernow a veu synsys 1928 yn kylgh a veyn Bosskawen Woon. Y’n solempnita, pewasow a veu res dhe dus drefen avonsya Kernow ha’y honanieth. An dus ma eth ha bos Berdh (eseli) Gorsedh Kernow. Solempnita a’n Orsedh re beu synsys yn Kernow pub bledhen a-dhia 1928, ha moy ages 1,000 person res eth ha bos Berdh.
Gorsedh means ‘a Bardic assembly’. It comes from the ancient Celtic word meaning ‘high seat’ or ‘throne’.
Bard derives from ancient Greece, a name given to poets and musicians associated with priests and Druids. Originally, the term Bard was generally conferred upon all professional poets (hence, Shakespeare as Bard of Avon). Bards were very prestigious people.
The Head of all the Bards in the Gorsedh was, and still is, the Grand Bard whose symbol of authority is the great chair in which he or she sits.
Not all bards are Cornish, and not all are resident in Cornwall. When people become a Bard they choose a special Bardic name. The name is usually in the Cornish language.
Contrary to my initial thoughts, the Cornish Gorsedh has nothing to do with druids or paganism, although the rituals seem reminiscent, and each Bard wears a distinctive blue costume based on the ancient druid’s costume from Celtic history. The Gorsedh is also not a religious or political organisation, and you do not have to be born in Cornwall to become a Bard.
Gorsedh Kernow is to preserve the history and culture of a Celtic people through poetry, song, dance, music, art, sport and spoken word. It stretches back to the story tellers – Bards of ancient Celtic countries.
The website says:
Bards are elected by the Gorsedh Council and the honour of Bardship is awarded to people who have given exceptional service to Cornwall by a manifestation of the Celtic spirit or by service to Cornwall, to people who qualify by a high degree of proficiency in the Cornish language and people of distinction who, in the opinion of the Gorsedh Council, should be received as Bards of Honour.
Strong links are maintained with other Celtic countries like Wales and Brittany and with Cornish Australians and citizens from other parts of the Diaspora, where some of the current 496 Bards reside.
It was certainly a ceremony worth watching.