Merlin sculpture at Tintagel Castle causes outrage


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English Heritage has been accused of vandalism after the charity carved the face of Merlin into a Cornish castle in what locals say is a stunt to get more tourists in.

Merlin scuplture at Tintagel Castle causes outrage
The sculpture was created to increase visitor numbers 
[Credit: Apex]

The sculpture has been created amid the bedrock below the castle, in Cornwall, to try and promote its link with the king and build on visitor numbers.

But a decision by the current custodians of the site to allow the sculpture has caused outrage and they have been accused of attempting to “dumb down” history to try get people through the door.

A spokesman for Kernow Matters To Us (KMTU), an organisation dedicated to preserving the integrity of Cornwall’s history and culture, said: “This official vandalism has been condemned by people who love Cornwall, both at home and as far away as Australia.

“We are deeply shocked that the inappropriately named ‘English’ Heritage has installed a sculpture of Merlin in our Cornish Tintagel Castle. This is nothing but ‘false’ history and diminishes our heritage. It is a disgrace. No doubt it will enhance tourist numbers for a season or two – but at the cost of further denuding the Cornish cultural and historical context of this location.”

Merlin scuplture at Tintagel Castle causes outrage
The face of Merlin amid the bedrock below Tintagel Castle 
[Credit: Apex]

Despite its long-association with King Arthur that English Heritage widely promote, some historians argue that there is no evidence to associate Tintagel with the so-called “once and future king”.

The new carving, undertaken by local craftsmen Peter Graham, is situated at the entrance to a rocky inlet known for generations as Merlin’s Cave, and is supposedly the setting for a story in which the wizard carries an infant Arthur to a place of safety.

Mr Graham spent three months carrying out the work. He said: “Usually you would choose the perfect stone from a quarry, but here I have worked into the rock of Tintagel’s landscape. Merlin has emerged organically out of that rock – and to see him now is really rather satisfying.”

The carving is part of a project designed to “bring the legends and history of Tintagel to life”, according to EH. Further sculptures and installations have been commissioned and are expected to be placed on the castle site throughout the year. But KMTU pointed out that “Cornwall” was first recorded in the place-name, “Durocornouio” – fortress of the Cornish – around 400AD, five centuries before the name “England” was first used.

Merlin scuplture at Tintagel Castle causes outrage
Peter Graham working directly into the stone 
[Credit: Telegraph]

The spokesman added: “It’s been fairly well shown by archaeologists over many years that Tintagel was a seasonal or ceremonial seat of the royal house of Dumnonia between 400AD and 700AD.

“But where at Tintagel does English Heritage tell people anything about these kings? Is there even a mention of them? By doing this, Cornish history gets sidelined, while English Heritage concentrates on dumbed-down populist trash that they think will attract the punters.”

Kernow Matters To Us, is now calling on English Heritage to arrange a meeting to discuss the matter, in a bid to prevent what it describes as “further desecration”.

Responding to the criticism, English Heritage issued a statement saying Tintagel Castle had been “inextricably linked with the legend of both King Arthur and Merlin since the Middle Ages”.

Merlin scuplture at Tintagel Castle causes outrage
The rocky inlet has been known for generations as Merlin’s Cave 
[Credit: Telegraph]

A spokesman said: “The newly carved face of Merlin reflects this legend and sits just outside Merlin’s Cave – so called after Victorian poet Alfred Tennyson’s retelling of the legend in which Merlin used the passageway to carry away the infant Arthur. Tintagel Castle has inspired artistic endeavour for centuries and this piece embraces that spirit of creativity.”

The statement added that the carving received planning permission last year as part of an outdoor interpretation scheme that is due to launch this spring.

It said: “The whole scheme will help people to understand the history and mythology of this internationally important site.”

Alex Page, English Heritage’s historic properties director for the West of England, said: “Our new carving reflects the legendary link between Tintagel Castle and Merlin. We took great care to ensure that the carving complements rather than competes with the spectacular setting. The carving of Merlin’s face is discreet, a little larger than life, and is tucked away amongst the rocks for people to discover.”

Source: Telegraph [February 18, 2016]


  1. As an amateur Arthurian scholar, I've been to Merlin's Cave several times and I'm not outraged. However, I am an American and we carved faces of Presidents into a beautiful mountain…and more importantly, I do not live in the town. I would have hoped that citizens were consulted first…or at least true Arthurian scholars.

  2. Eventually it will erode away, if it is not repaired annually like the Mt Rushmore carvings. Which, incidentally, were carved by a racist into a mountain sacred to the Native Americans of the region. He did the same to Stone Mountain in Georgia, another mountain sacred to Native Americans, and tried to do the same to Ayers rock in Austrailia, sacred to the native peoples there.



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