St Michael’s Mount

St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

IMG_4617St Michael’s Mount stands off the coast of Marazion in Cornwall.

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It can only be reached by boat or by a tidal causeway.

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The origins of the castle  are medieval, it began life as a 12th century monastery. The castle you can see today is formed from this original monastery, but the majority dates to much later. It is run and part owned by the National Trust but still part owned by the St Aubyn family who do still live in areas of the castle.

The origins of the rock itself are even older. The rock of the Mount is one of a number of granite outcrops along the Cornish coast. These are the remains of a granite intrusion that rose up some 300 million years ago and has worn down over millennia to the outcrops you see today. Others in Cornwall include St Agnes Beacon and the Godolphin Hills.

Geology aside, legend has it that the Mount was the work of giants. There are several versions of the tale, but one is that it was built by the giant Cormoran and his wife Cormelian. This particular legend adds that chapel rock, which lies between Marzion and the Mount, fell from Cormelian’s apron as she carried it to the Mount. You can see the rock below.

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Other stories tell of the Mount being used in the giants’ sports as a sort of platform where targets were laid to be hit by rocks thrown from Trencrom Hill. Looking at the Mount protruding so dramatically, it is very easy to see why it attracted stories of giants.

IMG_4606The Mount was probably used by the local Celts and has been caught up in Arthurian legends and the Tristan and Isolde myth in particular. It has also been tradition that it was a central point for shipping tin to the continent, but sadly this hasn’t been born out by archaeology.

The origins of the current castle on the Mount are medieval. There was probably secular occupation of the Mount before the 11th century, but in the late 11th century the Mount was granted (possibly by Edward the Confessor) to the monastery of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. The matching  names of the two rocks is not a coincidence (but very confusing), their geographical and geological similarity wasn’t lost on the medieval monks.

Between 1135 and 1144 a church was built on the Mount by Abbot Bernard. It is this monastery which is the core of the existing building. The monastery was fortified in 1193 when it was seized by Henry de la Pomeray who disguised his men as pilgrims. Pilgrims were common on the Mount and the path you follow today runs along the main pilgrim route to the castle.

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The Mount was re-garrisoned a number of times through various English-French wars and the War of the Roses. The monastery was a casualty of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and came into Crown hands. In 1599 Elizabeth I sold it to Robert Cecil. In 1640 the Mount was sold to Sir Frances Basset and he fortified it for the Crown in the Civil War, the garrison surrendered in 1646 to Parliament and Captain John St Aubyn was put in charge. He bought the Mount from Basset’s son in 1659. It has been in the St Aubyn family ever since. The Mount has seen a number of battles including driving off a Napoleonic ship and being the site of  one of the beacons lit to alert London to the arrival of the Spanish Armada.

It was fortified again in World War II against German invasion and Ribbentrop had apparently chosen it as his residence if Germany won the war. In 1954 the National Trust was given part of the Mount and part remains in the ownership of the St Aubyns.

As you can see the Mount has had a long and varied history and any visit to it highlights its complex path. When I was lucky enough to go there in 2012 it was such a wet and miserable day that I certainly got a real feeling of how desolate the Mount can be.

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Getting to the Mount is very much tide dependant. Even in the horrific weather, which certainly added to to the drama of my visit, a large number of people were waiting impatiently for the tide to die down enough to cross to the Mount and climb up to the castle.

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The castle is very much not alone on the Mount. There is also an active harbour and town. IMG_4627IMG_4626There has been some sort of settlement on the rock for centuries and today 30 people live and work on the Mount.

The buildings that stand at the top of the Mount are collectively known as the castle, but also contain a church and a 19th century mansion. They are all built on the foundations, physical and metaphorical, of the original priory. There is also a Victorian garden clinging precariously to the edge of the Mount. I don’t have any photos of it specifically, it was too wet to get close enough, but you can see the very attractive wilderness in the photo below.

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When you reached the castle itself, its immensity is actually quite surprising.

IMG_4632I’m not going to cover every room in the castle, but just highlight some of my favourites.

The Library:

It was part of the monastic buildings, but from the late 18th century was used by the family for relaxing. What really strikes you as you walk in is how intimate and cosy the room is, especially when you consider the gale which was howling outside.

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The Chevy Chase Room:

This area was originally the priory’s refectory, but it became the great hall of the castle. The plaster frieze around the walls is of the medieval hunting ballad the Chevy Chase. The frieze was created some time between the late sixteenth and mid seventeenth century. It has been meticulously restored.

IMG_4638IMG_4643IMG_4645The other highlight of the Chevy Chase Room is the stain glass windows which were gathered from chapels and priories from all over Europe. IMG_4642

The Priory Church

It stands on the summit of the Mount and dates back to the original 12th century monastery, though the current building is very much an amalgam of the decades.

IMG_4650IMG_4656IMG_4657Protected inside the church is a truly beautiful 15th century lantern cross. It is carved from one piece of stone, which probably came from Padstow. The pinnacles are part of the nineteenth century restoration. It has four panels which depict: the Virgin and Child, a king who may be Edward the Confessor, the crucifixion and an ecclesiast who is probably one of the priors of the Mount.

IMG_4662The Blue Drawing Room

In complete contrast to the grand hall, library and the church is the Blue Room which is very late 18th-early 19th century

IMG_4665The room would have originally have been the Lady Chapel of the priory, which by the late 18th century had fallen into disrepair and was rebuilt as the drawing room you see today.

There are other intriguing parts of the castle, but what you are left with most after your visit is an impression of time, and in my case the power of the weather. The Mount reflects many eras and it remains in many ways a family home. It is a place steeped in legend as well as history and deservedly holds its place as one of the jewels of Cornwall.

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References:

Site visit 2012

Castles and Ancient Monuments of England by Damien Noonan. ISBN: 9781854106216

Cornwall: A History by Philip Payton. ISBN: 9781904880059

https://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-michaels-mount

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000654

http://www.cornwall-online.co.uk/heritage-trail/heritage-national-trust/stmichaelsmount/Welcome.asp

The photos are all mine: the rain drops on the lens in some of them were a bit unavoidable.

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 6th: Lanercost Priory

Lanercost1Lanercost2Lanercost3Lanercost Priory was founded in 1169. It was home to a group of Augustinian canons. Augustinians were not monks exactly. Each was a canon, an ordained priest, and they were ruled by a prior. The priory was founded partly as a political act; both to establish a point of Anglo-Norman control and to help demarcate the newly re-established English Scottish frontier. In fact a reasonable portion of the stone used to build the priory was probably reclaimed from the nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

The priory was founded by Robert de Vaux. As well as political considerations de Vaux also probably wanted a site to endow perpetual prayers both for himself and for the souls of his parents. The priory was endowed with both churches and lands and it was both dedicated and founded in 1169. The original buildings would have been largely wood, but due to the proximity of Hadrian’s Wall, and thus a steady supply of already cut and dressed stone, the buildings were built in stone comparatively early in the building process. There was also significant rebuilding works in the mid 13th century.

Lanercost is a small priory, but it found itself at the centre of English Affairs in 1306-1307 when Edward I stayed there. He was in the area to deal with a resurgence in Scottish resistance. He did not intend to stay at Lanercost for a long period of time, however illness confined him there for nearly six months. This meant that the priory was not only host to the king but to a number of leading courtiers and the Queen and Prince Edward. New buildings had to be constructed to house the growing number of attendants, ultimately there was at least 200 people in permanent residence with the king. This is not counting the courtiers that turned up with their retinues. The priory was quite impoverished by having to supply resources to the king for six months, but he did reward them by bestowing the churches on Carlaaton and Mitford on the priory. It took time to secure their claims though, and it was years before they were better off from the king’s visit.

The priory was dissolved in 1537 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the nave of the church was retained to serve as the parish church which is continues to do today. The remainder was sold as a grand residence. Thomas Dacre was granted the priory in 1542 and converted the west range of the cloister as his residence and the first floor as his great hall. You can see Dacre Hall in the final photo above. It is reputed to be the oldest village hall in England. It was given to the people of Lanercost as their village hall in 1952.

References:

Site visit 2012

https://dacrehall.com/history/

Lanercost Priory Cumbria by Henry Summerson and Stuart Harrison. ISBN: 9781873124309

The photos are all mine

 

 

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 3rd: St Augustine’s Canterbury

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St Augustine’s was founded in roughly 598 by St Augustine, making it one of the oldest monastic sites in the country.

Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great in the late 500s to restore Christianity to Southern England. Christianity had waned in England with the departure of the Romans. In the late 500s England was divided into a number of small kingdoms and Augustine set out with the aim of converting the royal families, deciding that they could then persuade their subjects.

He started in Kent because the king,  Ethelbert, was one of the most powerful in the region and his wife, Bertha, was already a Christian.  Augustine was successful and Ethelbert converted.

The Abbey was built after Ethelbert’s conversion and it served both as accommodation for the monks that Augustine imported and as a burial place for the kings. It was built outside the Roman and later medieval walls of the town of Canterbury. It also became the burial place for the early Archbishops of Canterbury.

After the Norman conquest the abbey became a standard, though powerful,  Benedictine monastery. It remained so until 1538 when it was suppressed as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. After it was dissolved it was used as a royal palace by Henry VIII and as a resting stop on the journey between London and the ports in the South East. It was used as a brewery for a time in the 1700s and 1800s and by the late 1800s a missionary school had been established. Today some of the site is still occupied by King’s School. The abbey is often overshadowed by it spectacular neighbour Canterbury Cathedral, but as the site of the re-establishment of Christianity in England and as one of the most powerful monasteries of the time it is in many ways more important.

 

References: Site visit 2012

English Heritage book: 9781850746690

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 2nd: Bury St Edmunds

burybury st 3bury st 5Bury St Edmunds is one of my favourite abbeys. It was the first abbey I ever saw and the ruins that remain are less romantically dishevelled than many of the other religious institutions you’ll see on this list. There is an epicness to the ruins which is hard to convey in photographs.

As Bury St Edmunds is one of my favourites I have written about it before in detail so here’s the link to the original post

https://historicalragbag.com/2014/10/07/bury-st-edmunds/

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 1: Rievaulx Abbey

The last two years I have run an advent calendar over December. In 2015 it was medieval quotes, in 2016 it was medieval castles, this year I am doing medieval religious institutions (abbeys, monasteries, convents, priories etc not churches or cathedrals). This means that each day from the 1st of December to the 25th of December I will put up a short post on a medieval religious institution with photos. These will be British, Irish and French and from a variety of religious orders. Some of the places I will have written about before in more detail and some I will write about later in more detail.

I am beginning with Rievaulx Abbey

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Rievaulx is a Cistercian abbey in North Yorkshire in England. It was the first Cistercian monastery in the north of England. As this is first Cistercian monastery listed I’m going to briefly explain what the Cistercian Order was.

The Cistercian Order was founded in 1098 in Citeaux in what is now France. While its foundation is complex, essentially it was a reaction against the perceived corruption and extravagance of the older Benedictine monasteries like Cluny. The aim of the Cistercian Order was to return to the original ideals of St Benedict and to live a very simple life. Cistercian abbeys were usually isolated and self sufficient, though the lay brothers did the work on the farms because the monks were cloistered. They lived simply and ascetically, closely following the rule, away from the gold, excesses and luxuries often seen in the bigger older monasteries.

By 1153 over 350 houses had been established across Europe, including Rievaulx. This was at least partly due to the work of the man who is probably the best known Cistercian of his period; Bernard of Clairvaux.

Bernard is not one of my favourite historical figures, largely due to his puritanical opposition to Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was Queen of France. He was, however important. He joined the Cistercian Order as a novice in 1113 and by 1115 was the founding abbot of one of the early daughter houses in Clairvaux. He preached the 2nd crusade, was a councillor to Louis VII and had an immense amount of influence. He died in 1153 and was canonised  by 1174.

Riveaulx was founded in 1132 by Bernard to drive the colonisation of Northern England by the Cistercian order. The original buildings would have been wooden, but William, the first abbot, began building in stone by the late 1130s. By the 1160s it was one of the most powerful abbeys in Britain. The abbey was at its height under Abbot Aeldred (1147-67) who was later canonised. Aeldred came to Rievaulx in 1134 and was elected abbot in 1147. Under Aelred Rievaulx was home to a community of 140 choir monks and 500 lay brothers and servants. It also expanded extensively including the building of the spectacular church in the late 1140s

Riveaulx was part of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. It was dissolved in 1538, though by this time it had shrunk to a community of just 23. It was sold to Thomas 1st Earl of Rutland. Rutland had the buildings dismantled, especially the lead roofs and the bells which he reserved for the king. Luckily Rutland’s steward from nearby Helmsley Castle kept detailed records of everything that was dismantled.

Rievaulx made very picturesque ruins and was a favourite of the romantic painters. It is certainly still hauntingly beautiful today.

 

References

Site visit 2012

English Heritage Rievaulx booklet

https://historicalragbag.com/2017/05/22/mellifont-abbey/ (for the part about the Cistercians)

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rievaulx-abbey/history-and-stories/history/

 

 

An Easy to Evil Medieval Quiz. No.2

This is my second easy to evil medieval quiz. To have a shot at the first click here.

The way this quiz works.

It’s pretty simple. You see the question with a photo underneath and underneath the photo, which might be some kind of clue, you’ll find the answer. There’s twenty five questions so keep track of how many you get right and how many you get wrong and see how you do at the end. There’s also a poll at the end so you can see how you compare to everyone else if you’re interested.

As the title suggests, it starts off easy and gets much more complicated. There are five sections: Easy, Medium, Hard, Difficult and Evil.

Easy

  1. What is name of the Duke who became King of England in 1066.IMG_7055

Answer: William I. Other acceptable answers include William the Conqueror and William the Bastard.

Photo: The Abbey of Sainte-Etienne in Caen where he is buried.

2. What is the name of King John’s Queen?

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Answer: Isabelle of Angouleme. (any spelling of Isabelle is allowable, there’s lots of them)

Photo: Isabelle’s effigy (on the left) with  Richard I, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in Fontevraud.

3.  What is the name of the royal castle only an hour by train from London? The largest inhabited castle in the UK.

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Answer: Windsor Castle.

Photo: Windsor Castle, obviously.

4. What is the name of the King who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485?

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Answer: Richard III

Photo: Richard III’s tomb at Leicester Cathedral

5. What is the name of the abbey in London where a significant portion of the Kings and Queens of England are buried.

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Answer: Westminster Abbey

Photo: Westminster Abbey.

Medium

6.  Which king was known as Rufus and probably died in the New Forest?

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Answer: William II

Photo: the ossuaries in Winchester Cathedral where his bones are thought to reside.

7. What Crusade did Eleanor of Aquitaine go on? Bonus point for the start date and or the King she went with.

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Answer: 2nd Crusade, 1147 and Louis VII of France (to whom she was married at the time)

You get one bonus point if you got the date or the king. If you got both, you’re very clever but still only one bonus point.

Photo: Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy at Fontevraud.

8. Who was William Marshal‘s oldest son?

IMG_5978Answer: William Marshal the Younger. You get the point if you just said William Marshal.

Photo: What is probably the younger Marshal’s effigy in the Temple Church in London.

9. What area of what is now London was known in the medieval period for its brothels, and was the site of the Bishop of Winchester’s London palace who also licensed the brothels. The prostitutes are said to have been called Winchester’s Geese.

IMG_6718Answer: Southwark

Photo: The remains of Winchester Palace.

10. Who wrote the History of the Kings of Britain in 1136?

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Answer: Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Photo: Monmouth Castle.

Hard

11. Who purportedly said. (Bonus point for who they are speaking about.)

“My Lords, here you see the countess whom I have brought into your presence. She is your lady by birth, the daughter of the earl who graciously, in his generosity, enfieffed you all, once he had conquered the land. She stays behind here with you as a pregnant woman. Until such time as God brings me back here, I ask you all to give her unreservedly the protection she deserves by birthright, for she is your lady, as we all know; I have no claim to anything save through her”.

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Answer: William Marshal, he was saying it about his wife Isabel de Clare.  Remember you get the bonus point if you got Isabel de Clare too.

I use “purportedly” in the question because although it is recorded in his relatively contemporary biography we have no proof he actually said it, for more about the complexities of the History of William Marshal click here

The quote is from History of William Marshal Volume II. pgs 177-179. ISBN: 0905474457

Photo: Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, where the statement was purportedly said.

12. What are the dates of the Period of Anarchy where the Anglo Saxon Chronicle said “that Christ slept, and his saints.”

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Answer: 1136-1154.

Photo: the non contemporary tomb of Empress Matilda, one of the participants.

13. What is the name of the Earl of Leicester who married King Henry III’s sister?

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Answer: Simon de Montford.

Photo: Statue of Simon de Montford, non contemporary, on the clock tower in Leicester.

 

14. What was the name of William the Conqueror’s brother who possibly commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry?

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Answer: Bishop Odo, you can have the point if you just said Odo.

Photo: Ships sailing to England in the Bayeux Tapestry.

 

15. What is the name of the mistress of John of Gaunt whom he later married?

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Answer: Katherine Swynford.

Photo: Katherine Swynford’s tomb in Lincoln Cathedral

Difficult

16. Winchester Cathedral was begun in which century?

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Answer: 7th century, though there is nothing left of the original building.

Photo: Winchester Cathedral

17.

Who built Castle Rising?

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Answer: William d’Albini the Earl of Arundel you get the point if you just said William d’Albini.

Photo: Castle Rising.

18. Who wrote:

“I have your picture in my room; I never pass it without stopping to look at it; and yet when you are present with me I scarce ever cast my eyes on it. If a picture, which is but a mute representation of an object, can give such pleasure, what cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can raise them as much as if the persons themselves were present; they have all the tenderness and the delicacy of speech, and sometimes even a boldness of expression beyond it.”

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Answer: Heloise. The quote comes from a letter from her to Abelard. It can be found at http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aah/aah04.htm

Photo: The non contemporary tomb of Abelard and Heloise in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

19. Who took Lincoln Castle in 1144. There were two, but you can have the point if you get one of them.lincoln-2

Answer: Ranulf Earl of Chester and his brother William of Roumare. You get the point if you got at least one of them and some variation on the name is OK.

Photo: Lincoln Castle.

20. When was the Charter of the Forest first issued separately from the Magna Carta? bonus point for who issued it.

lincoln-3Answer: 1217, it was issued by Henry III under the seal of his regent William Marshal. If you got either Marshal or Henry III you get the bonus point. If you got both, well done you’re very smart, but no extra points.

Photo: Lincoln Castle from inside the walls which holds a copy of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.

EVIL

21. What is the name of the cavern under Pembroke Castle and what stone is composed of?

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Answer: Wogan’s Cavern and limestone. you need both to get the point.

Photo: The cavern.

22.  Where is this description from the Domesday Book describing?

“King Edward had 51 Burgesses paying rent and 212 others over whom he had sake and soke, and three mills rendering 40s. Now there are 19 Burgesses paying rent. Of [the houses of] the 32 others who were [there] 11 are waste in the city ditch and the archbishop has 7 of the them.”

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Answer: Canterbury. The quote is from the page five of the Penguin Classics edition of the Domesday Book.

Photo: facsimile of the Domesday book from the National Archives.

23.  What is the name of the chapel in Richmond castle and what century does it date to and what type of vaulting is the roof?

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Answer: St Nicholas’ chapel, 11th century and barrel vaulting. You need all three for the point.

Photo: The chapel.

24. What was the amount of money paid to Prince Louis of France to leave England in 1217?

IMG_3421Answer: 10 000 marks

Photo: The effigy of William Marshal in the Temple Church. He was regent at the time the money was paid.

25.

Who created the Lindisfarne Gospels and when did they die?

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Answer: Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne and 712.

Photo: Lindisfarne Abbey.

THE END

So that’s it. How did you do?

1-5: Well you’ve got some basics down pat. Good start.

6-10: You know more than basics, well on your way.

11-15: Good work, beginning to build a wealth of obscure facts.

16-20: Impressive. You know you stuff.

21-25: Incredible effort. You may know more about this period than is sensible 🙂

26-27  remember the three bonus points: Speechless. Incredible. You definitely know more than you need to about this specific period and area.

28: If you got them all… Sure you didn’t write the quiz?

Now if you feel like it put your results in the poll below.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 9th: Lindisfarne Castle

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This is the first and only in this series that is not strictly speaking a medieval castle, but it is such an interesting castle that I have decided to include it anyway. It stands on the tidal island of Lindisfarne close to the stunning Lindisfarne Priory, which I have included a photo of for anyone who is pining for a medieval site. I will write about that at a later date.

Lindisfarne Castle was an Elizabethan fort originally. It was built to protect the Lindisfarne Island harbour which at the time was the last deep water port before the Scottish border. Building began in c. 1570 and a significant quantity of the stone came from Lindisfarne Priory, so part of the castle is technically medieval. Prior to this under Henry VIII the rock on which the castle stands had been fortified to an extent, but it wasn’t a castle.

It didn’t really see any significant battle apart from briefly in the Jacobite wars, but it was consistently garrisoned for 300 years which shows just how important it was seen to be to national security.

The guns and soldiers were removed in 1893 and after it had been used for nothing in particular for a while it was bought by Edward Hudson, who was the founder of the Country Life Magazine. He commissioned his friend Edward Luytens to turn it into a comfortable holiday home, but to retain its character, and this is the building that remains today. The castle was sold a number of times and came into National Trust hands in 1970.

 

References:

Site visit 2012

National trust brochures on the castle

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lindisfarne-castle/features/the-castle-peeling-back-the-layers

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: 7th of December: Helmsley Castle

helmsley3helmsley-2helmsley1The original castle at Helmsley was built in the early 12th century by Walter Espec who also founded the spectacular Rievaulx abbey which you can see nearby. The original castle would have most likely been a wooden and earth structure. It was built in stone later in the 12th century, and the de Roos family modernised it. The earth works you see today date largely from the original castle and are unusual in that they are surviving medieval ring works, as in they literally ring the castle and continue to do so today.

The exceptionally tall east tower was built by Robert de Roos at the end of the 12th century, although it was added to in the 14th century to make it taller and more of a status symbol. Also in the 14th century the rooms on the first floor were probably converted into a private chamber, possibly for the use of the visiting Edward III.  The castle passed briefly into the hands of Richard III, when he was Duke of Gloucester, when the de Roos family sold it to him in 1478. When he died at Bosworth in 1485 Henry VII gave it back to the de Roos.

Helmsley faced its greatest challenge during the civil war when it was held for King Charles and endured a three month siege. Ultimately Crowell’s men were victorious and they blew up the east tower, literately splitting it in half. This is the state it remains in today. The east tower is only part of the castle as more domestic buildings have been added as the years went past.

The castle came into the hands of the Duncombe family and they lived there until the 18th century when they abandoned it. During the 18th and 19th century they used the remaining buildings for a manor court and social functions, including renting part of it to the local lawn tennis club. The castle came into the hands of the State in 1915.

 

References:

Site visit 2012

http://www.yorkshire.com/view/attractions/helmsley/helmsley-castle-660807

https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009963

The photos are all mine