Montol

Montol Festival

Montol
Montol
Montol, which means 'winter solstice' in Cornish, is a recently-revived ancient festival that takes place every year in Penzance. The ritual heart of the festival, which has been likened to a Venetian Masquerade, is the huge 'Rivers of Fire' procession, which features countless home-made lanterns, the Penglaz 'Obby Oss, guise dancers and musicians and culminates in the 'Lighting of the Mock' at Lesckudjack Hill Fort, one of the most ancient sites in the parish of Penzance.

In his book 'Cornish Homes and Customs', A. K. Hamilton-Jenkin notes that in 1831 the festival was described as being 'like an Italian carnival'. Today's Montol, which dates back to 2007, remains atmospherically faithful to former times and is characterised by lanterns, bonfires and spooky costumes, or 'guises'. A series of fringe events take place in the weeks leading up to Montol Eve (usually the 21st December) including a poetry and storytelling evening, a traditional carol service and a historic Cornish Mummer's play, which does a tour of local pubs.

The Montol Market takes over a former 1930s cinema and bingo hall on Queen Street for a week, with over thirty stalls selling a range of locally handcrafted designer-made gifts and decorations as well as local luxury food and drink, mulled wine and hot snacks to take away. Meanwhile, in order to prepare the lanterns and costumes for the procession a number of community-based arts worshops are held in various locations, with care and attention given to the festival's roots. Traditional 'guises', which were usually mock-formal, 'topsy-turvey' (cross-dressing to confuse), 'tatters' (ribbons to represent rags), animals or Venetian carnival are encouraged. The fiery procession, which acts a a perfect foil for Penzance's midsummer Golowan festival, ends with a grand street party on Chapel Street, which is closed to cars for the night.

Photo courtesy John Stedman