Ancient church antiquities

Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1814.

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Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons, 'Ancient church antiquities', Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814), pp. ccxxviii-ccxxxvii. British History Online [accessed 14 June 2024].

Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons. "Ancient church antiquities", in Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814) ccxxviii-ccxxxvii. British History Online, accessed June 14, 2024,

Lysons, Daniel. Lysons, Samuel. "Ancient church antiquities", Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814). ccxxviii-ccxxxvii. British History Online. Web. 14 June 2024,

In this section

Ancient Church Architecture.

Saxon.—Several of the Cornish churches retain traces of Saxon architecture, and some of them exhibit curious specimens of that style: the most considerable remains of this kind are to be seen in the church of St. German's, formerly the cathedral of Cornwall, though that edifice has undergone considerable alterations of late years. The west front retains more of the original style than any other part of the building; it has two towers, of different dimensions: that on the south side is square, and the upper part of it evidently of a much later date: the tower on the north side, which is the largest, is square at the base, the upper part being octagonal. Between these towers is the great western door-way, having a circular arch, enriched with various Saxon mouldings, over which is a pediment. In the octagonal tower, and over the great door-way, are several small round-headed windows.

Figure 15:

Saxon architecture in Cornwall

1 - Doorway of Kilkhampton church. 2 - Arch in Morwinstow church. 3 - Doorway of Cury church

The fourth door-way of Morwinstow-church has a semicircular arch, ornamented with chevron mouldings, and grotesque heads: the greater part of the church is also in the Saxon style. The richest specimen of this kind in Cornwall, is the south door-way of Kilkhampton church, which is ornamented with a great variety of grotesque heads and Saxon mouldings. Door-ways with semicircular arches, and Saxon mouldings, remain in the churches of St. Anthony in Meneage, Cury, Landewednack, St. Martin near Looe, Milor, and Tintagel: and at the White Hart inn, in Launceston. (fn. n1)

On the north side of the nave in the church of St. Michael-Carhayes, is a small door-way with a plain semicircular arch, with the figure of a man on horseback, carved on the transom stone.

On the north side of the church-yard of St. Germoe is a singular edifice, called St. Germoe's chair, being a stone seat, divided into three parts by pillars, in the Saxon style, with pointed arches, and placed in a recess, the entrance to which is under two pointed arches, resting on pillars in the same style.

Thirteenth Century. — Of the early Gothic architecture, Cornwall produces few examples; the most considerable of them are, the nave of the church of St. Anthony in Meneage, which has sharply pointed arches, with foliated capitals; and the south aisle of St. Germans church, which was rebuilt in the year 1261, as appears by the registers of the see of Exeter: yet some parts of the architectural decorations of this aisle are more in the style of the early part of the following century.

Fourteenth Century. — Great part of Sheviock church appears to have been built in this century, and probably by Sir Edward Courtenay, whose monument is under the south window of the south transept: the windows are in the elegant style which prevailed in this century; as is the east window of the church of St. Ive, the stone-work of which is variously ramified, having on each side an elegant niche, enriched with pinnacles and crockets.

The church of St. Austell, the tower of which is one of the most remarkable edifices in this county, was probably built as early as the latter end of this century: it consists of a nave and chancel, with side-aisles running the whole length, separated by clustered pillars. The tower is at the west end of the church; it has four lofty crocketted pinnacles resting on embattled turrets, much enriched with Gothic tracery. On the west side are several niches filled with images; in the uppermost is that of God the Father, holding the crucifix; immediately under this, are figures of angels supporting a cloth, including a number of small figures (the usual representation of All Saints): in the middle range of niches are images of St. Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, with the Lily-pot. In the middle niche of the lower range is the image of our Saviour crowned with thorns, holding the cross in his left hand; in the niches on each side are images of saints. On the south side of the church, are shields, with symbols of the crucifixion, &c.; and over the porch is an inscribed stone, a fac-simile of which is shewn in the plate at p. ccxxxii. fig. 1. (fn. n2) The spire of Lostwithiel church, which is octagonal and very elegant, having windows on every side at its base, may be referred to this century.

Fifteenth Century. — The greater part of the Cornish churches appear to have been rebuilt in the fifteenth and the following century. The most considerable building of the fifteenth century is the parish-church of Bodmin, the greater part of which was erected in the year 1475, as is recorded by the following inscription in text hand, carved on the cornice in the south aisle: "An° Dni MCCCCLXXV° ed' ficatum fuit :" it consists of a lofty nave and sideaisles, separated by clustered pillars (the capitals of which are ornamented with roses) and pointed arches, forming a parallelogram of about 140 feet by 63. The north aisle of the chancel seems to be more ancient, the windows being in the same style as the east window of the south aisle of the church of St. Kewe, the painted glass of which was taken out of the old church at Bodmin, when it was rebuilt; the pulpit and seats are covered with a profusion of carved ornaments, among which are the symbols of the crucifixion, which appear very frequently on the seats and other parts of the Cornish churches, and among them a remarkable one sometimes occurs, being St. Peter's sword with the High Priest's servant's ear attached to it. It appears by an indenture, preserved among the archives of the corporation of Bodmin, that the seats were made "after the form and makyng of the seges in St. Mary church of Plympton, and the pulpyte after the form and makyng of the pulpyte in the parish-church of Moreton in Hemsted," by Matthew More, carpenter, who was to be paid for the same the sum of 92l.

The church of St. Kewe, St. Burian, Fowey, and Padstow, are handsome buildings, apparently of this century; that of St. Kew seems to have been built about the same time as Bodmin church, which it resembles in style; the tower of Fowey church is lofty, with pinnacles, and ornamented with bands of Gothic tracery; on the south side is a large groined porch, with a room over it. The church of Padstow has pointed arches and clustered pillars, the capitals of which are enriched with foliage, and other ornaments carved with great neatness.

Sixteenth Century. — Camborne-church is a handsome building, which may be referred to the beginning of the sixteenth, or the latter end of the preceding century; it has a nave and side-aisles, with clustered pillars, and obtusely pointed arches. The capitals of the pillars are ornamented with foliage, in a manner which is very prevalent in the Cornish churches, a specimen of which is shewn in the plate, at p.ccxxxii. fig. 2. The church of St. Just in Penwith has clustered pillars and obtusely pointed arches; the capitals being variously ornamented with vine leaves and shields of arms: the pillars are of a lime-stone, nearly resembling that of the Gloucestershire hills. St. Neot's church is a light elegant building, with nave and side-aisles, having clustered pillars and pointed arches; the windows have considerable remains of painted glass, which will be more particularly mentioned hereafter. The church of Probus is a large uniform edifice of moor-stone, with clustered pillars and pointed arches; the tower at the west end is lofty, and richly ornamented with quatrefoils, &c.: it was rebuilt in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Figure 16:

Part of Launceston church

The most remarkable building in Cornwall, in the style of the later Gothic, is Launceston church, which is built of granite, and covered with a profusion of ornaments, chiefly pomegranates; on the south side is a large porch, with a room over it; on the front are figures of St. George and St. Martin, carved in bas-relief: round the base of the building is a range of shields, each of which contains a letter; the whole forming the following inscription, which begins from the small door on the south side: — "Ave Maria gracie plena, Dominus tecum sponsas, Amat sponsam Maria, Optimam partem elegit, O quam terribilis ac metuendus est locus iste, vere aliud non est hic, nisi domus Dei et porta celi."

Ancient painted Glass. — In the windows of the church of St. Kew, which appears to have been rebuilt in the fifteenth century, are considerable remains of painted glass, evidently coeval with the building, containing various historical subjects from the New Testament, portraits of benefactors' arms, roses, &c. The east window of the south aisle, consisting of five lights, is nearly filled with rich painted glass of an earlier date, representing the favourite subject of the root of Jesse, at the bottom of the middle light, with several branches, containing figures of the Virgin and child Solomon, Manasses, Josophat, &c. From the style of the crown and sceptre in their hands, this appears to have been a work of the fourteenth century, and was formerly part of the decoration of Bodmin church, from which it was removed, when that edifice was rebuilt; having been sold to the parish of St. Kew for the sum of 26s. 7d., as appears by the accounts of the rebuilding Bodmin church, from 1469 to 1471, among the corporation records. (fn. n3)

The windows of St. Neot's church are nearly filled with painted glass, which, from several fragments of inscriptions remaining in them, appears to have been placed there in the early part of the sixteenth century. In the six windows on the south side of the south aisle, are many portraits of benefactors, some of them in groups, with labels on their heads, inscribed, "See Neote, ora pro nobis. Sce Leonarde, ora pro nobis, &c.;" the figures of which saints are represented over them. In one of these windows are twelve compartments, containing different subjects from the history of St. George, very coarsely executed, with inscriptions under them in text hand. From the fragment of an inscription in one of these windows, it appears to have been executed at the expence of Katherine Borlace, and others of the Borlace family. In the windows on the east end of the south aisle, are fifteen small compartments, containing subjects from the Old Testament, beginning with the creation, and ending with the death of Noah, with an inscription under each, explaining its subject. The windows of the north aisle also contain many portraits of benefactors and figures of saints, with inscribed labels: under one of these windows is the fragment of an inscription in text hand, by which it appears to have been executed "sumptibus uxorum parochiœ." (fn. n4) One of them contains, in twelve small compartments, various subjects from the legend of St. Neot, with inscriptions under them. (fn. n5)

The east window of the south aisle of St. Winnow church is nearly filled with painted glass, containing many portraits of knights in plate armour and surcoats, with figures of saints over them.

Rood-lofts, Screens, &c. — In St. Buryan's church is a richly ornamented screen and rood-lost, running across the church, under which are four wooden stalls. The screen of a rood-loft also remains in Duloe church. In Tywardreth church is a richly ornamented screen, on the lower part of which are paintings of figures in white robes, holding the symbols of the crucifixion. In South-Petherwin church are some remains of a very richly ornamented rood-loft. In Lancels church the seats are richly ornamented with carved Gothic tracery, the symbols of the crucifixion, &c.; and the lower part of the screen remains, on which are figures of the apostles rudely painted. In the church of Mawgan in Pyder, is the screen of a rood-loft, extending across the nave and the south aisle, very richly ornamented with carved scrolls of vine branches, animals of various kinds, and Gothic tracery, the gift of one of the Arundell family, whose arms appear on it.

The pulpit in Camborne church is much enriched with carved ornaments, among which are the symbols of the crucifixion and the royal arms, apparently a work of the early part of the sixteenth century. The pulpit at Padstow has also the symbols of the crucifixion, and among them St. Peter's sword, with the High Priest's servant's ear. The pulpit in Tamerton church is ornamented with Gothic tracery, quatrefoils inclosing shields, &c.; and over it, is a richly ornamented Gothic canopy, with gilt ornaments on a blue ground.

The pulpit at Egloshayle is of stone, richly ornamented with carved foliage, &c. (fn. n6)

Figure 17:

[Notable features of Cornish churches]

1 - Inscription over south porch, St. Austell church. 2 - Capital of pillar, Camborne church. 3 - Stone pulpit, Egloshayle church. 4 - Sculpture over west door, Egloshayle church. 5 - Piscina, Padstow church.

In the chancel of Padstow church is a Piscina, over which is an image of St. Petrock in bas-relief, in a niche, with a crutch-stick in his right hand, a book in his left, and some animal at his feet. In Maddern church is a Piscina and stone seat, with the remains of another, in the style of the early Gothic.

Figure 18:

Font in Bodmin church

Fonts. — Of the fonts in the Cornish churches, a considerable number may be referred to the time when the Saxon architecture prevailed; the greater part of these are round, many of them quite plain, while others are ornamented with mouldings resembling those which appear on the Saxon door-ways: the most remarkable of this class, are those in the churches of St. Enoder, St. Erme, Feock, Fowey, Ladock, St. Mawgan, Lanreath, Mevagizzey, St. Stephen's-juxtaLaunceston, Whitstone, and St. Nighton's chapel: those of Alternon, Callington, Jacobstow, Laneast, Landrake, St. Thomas near Launceston, and Warbstow, are all nearly alike, being square at the top, with human heads at the corners, and circles inclosing stars on the sides, supported by serpents, &c.: that of Warbstow is figured in the annexed plate.

Figure 19:

Ancient fonts in Cornwall

1. - Lanreath; 2 - St. Enoder; 3. - St. Stephen near Launceston; 4 - Warbstow; 5. - St. Austell; 6. - Tintagell

The font in Bodmin church is of large dimensions, being three feet seven inches in height, and three feet five inches and a half diameter at the top: it is in the form of a bowl, supported by a pedestal in the middle, and four slender pillars on the outside. This font is covered with ornaments in the Saxon style, consisting of grotesque animals, foliage, &c.: the pillars have angels' heads for capitals: their bases, as well as that of the pedestal, are in the style of the earliest Gothic architecture. (fn. n7) Adjoining this font is an octagonal Piscina with eight apertures, ornamented with roses, &c. There are fonts of the same form with that of Bodmin, but of smaller dimensions, in the churches of St. Austell, St. Columb-Minor, Crantock, Cuby, St. Dennis, St. Gorran, Luxilion, Newlyn, Roche, Southhill, Tintagell, Veryan, and St. Wen: those of St. Austell, Luxilion, and Newlyn are much ornamented with figures of grotesque animals; the others are most of them nearly plain. The fonts of Boconnoc, Cubert, Grade, St. Illogan, Landewednack, St. Martinjuxta-Looe, and Padstow, are nearly in the same form as those last described, but evidently of a much later date, and ornamented with stars, trefoils, &c.; that of St. Illogan has angels with shields, as capitals of the pillars. On the Landewednack font is the following inscription, which, from the character of the letters, does not seem to be of a later date than the reign of King Edward the First: "IhcD. Ric. Bolham me fecit." The fonts at Padstow and St. Merran, which are of the Catacluse stone, have figures of the twelve apostles, carved in bas-relief, in Gothic niches, and four angels holding shields; the pillars, under that of Padstow, have been removed.

The fonts at Lanteglos-juxta-Fowey, Linkinhorn, Maddern, Probus, RuanLanihorn, and St. Tudy, are square, very little ornamented, and supported by a pedestal and four pillars: those in the churches of St. Ives and St. Winnow, and the old font of Camborne, now standing in the pleasure-ground at Tehidy, are nearly alike, and apparently of the fourteenth century, being round, with four angels supporting shields, and inscriptions in text hand: those of Camborne and St. Ives have four lions at the base: the base of that of St. Winnow appears to be modern. The inscription on the St. Ives font is imperfect; but appears to have been of the same kind, though not in the same words as the other two, which run thus: — "Ecce karissimi de Deo vero baptizabuntur spiritu sc'o;" with several single letters.

Figure 20:

Ancient fonts in Cornwall

1. - Lanwednack; 2. - Lostwithiel; 3. - Padstow; 4. - Camborne

The font of Lestwithiel is octagonal, of large dimensions, standing on five clustered pillars, having on the different sides various subjects sculptured in basrelief, very rudely designed, among which are, the crucifixion, and a man on horseback, with a hawk on his left hand, a bugle-horn in his right. The font of St. Kevern is octagonal, with angels on four sides, and this inscription, — A. Ω., I.H.S. on the others: that of Peranzabuloe is also octagonal, with very rude figures on four of the sides.

Ancient Sepulchral Monuments.

In the south transept of Mawgan church, called Carminow's aisle, under the south window lies the effigies of a crusader, carved in stone; he is represented in mail and surcoat, with a helmet under his head, and a lion at his feet: near it, is the mutilated effigies of a lady, in a long gown, with a dog at her feet: these are said to have been removed from the chapel of Carminow barton, in the reign of King James I. The effigies of a crusader, carved in stone, in the act of drawing his sword, with a lion at his feet, lies in the north window of Stratton church, supposed to be that of Ralph de Blanchminster, or his grandson, Sir John, both lords of the manor. In the north aisle of the chancel of Burian church is a slab of stone ornamented with a cross-florée, having this inscription, in Lombardic capitals, round the verge, — "Clarice la femme Cheffrei de Bolleit, git ici, Deu del alme eit mer, e ke pur le alme p'unt di jor de pardun averund."

Fourteenth Century.—Under the south window of the south transept of Sheviock church, are the effigies of a knight, carved in stone, in plate-armour, with a lion at his feet; and his lady, in the dress of Edward the Third's reign, and having two small dogs at her feet: there are several shields over the monument, the arms of which are now obliterated. A few years since, those of Courtenay impaling Dawney were visible, over the figure of the lady; evidently indicating that it was intended to represent Emmeline, the daughter of Sir John Dawney, and wife of Sir Edward Courtenay, who by this marriage acquired the manor of Sheviock. In one of the windows of the north aisle of the same church is another effigies of a knight, carved in stone, with a lion at his feet, much resembling that above described in the south transept.

In the chancel of Cardinham church is a grave-stone with the effigies of Thomas Awmarle, rector of that church, engraven on a brass plate, with the following inscription, in text hand: —"Hic jacet Thomas Awmarle, rector eccl'ie d'Cardynan. Rogo vos ff'res orate p' me &' ego p' vohis i' quantu' possu'." Under the inscription are two shields of arms. The rector is represented in a gown, with a dagger on his left side. The mutilated effigies of a merchant having long hair, and his purse by his side, lies in the window of the north transept of Egloskery church.

Fifteenth Century.—In East-Anthony church is a grave-stone with brass plates, containing the effigies of Margery Arundell, formerly lady of the manor of EastAnthony, and daughter of Warin Erchdeken, Knt., who died 26th October, 1420; she is represented with the reticulated head-dress and veil.

In the nave of Callington church is a grave-stone, with the figures of a man in a judge's robe, and his wife, on copper plates, with the following inscription round the verge of the stone: — "Here lyeth Nicholas Asheton and Margaret his wife, which Nicholas was one of the Kynges justices, and secondarie of the court . . . . . . . . . . ally to the . . . . . manner of . . . . . . . sepulcre. The which Nicholas decessed the 10th day of March, the yeare of our Lord God 1465, on whose soulys God have mercy, Amen for Charite." And twelve Latin verses (Hexameter and Pentameter) under his feet, beginning, —

"Asheton in tumulo Nicholaus conditur isto, Conditur et secum judiciale decus,"

commemorating his good qualities as a judge, and his hospitality, and stating that he rebuilt the chapel in which he lies. (fn. n8)

Under an arch in Duloe church, richly ornamented with vine leaves and grapes, is an altar-tomb, enriched with shields and quatrefoils; having at the west end a bas-relief of the crucifixion: on this tomb lies the effigies of a knight, carved in stone, in plate armour, with a collar of S. S. Round the verge of a large slab of Purbeck marble, on which it rests, is the following inscription, in text hand: — "Hic jacet Johe'es Colshull, miles qo'd'm d'n's de Tremethert, et patron' hujs. eccl'e, qui obiit XVIII die m'es M'cii an°. Dni Mill' CCCCLXXXIII. Cuj' a'i'e prop'ciet' Deu' a'."

In the church of Lanteglos is an altar-tomb, under an obtuse arch, richly ornamented, with the effigy of a knight in plate armour, and this inscription, on brass plates: — "Hic jacet Thomas de Mohun et Joh'es pater ejus filius et heres Reginaldi de Mohun militis et Elizabethe uxoris sue filie et heredis Joh'is FitzWilliam militis, qui . . . . . . Thomas obiit die . . . mens . . . . anno Dom. MCCCC quor'," &'c.

Sixteenth Century. — Under an arch, between the chancel and the north aisle of Callington church, is the monument of the first Lord Willoughby de Broke, steward of the household to King Henry the Seventh, and steward of the duchy of Cornwall, Knight of the Garter. It is an altar-tomb of alabaster, much enriched with Gothic tracery; at the foot of which is a shield of arms, surrounded by the garter, containing the coats of Willoughby and Broke, quartering Latimer, Cheney, and Stafford. On this tomb rests the effigies of the deceased, who is represented in plate-armour, with long hair, in the mantle of the garter, with the collar and gorget, and his hands joined in prayer: under his head is his helmet, with the lamberquin, and crest, a stag's head: at his feet is a lion. This Lord Willoughby de Broke married Blanch, daughter and coheir of John Champernowne.

In Fowey church is a large slab of Purbeck marble, with the effigies of three men in plate-armour, rudely cut in outline, with their arms (a chevron between three trees; and an inscription, in memory of "Sir John Treffry, Knt., William Treffry, and Thomas Treffry, Esqrs., brethren, that died in the month of September; the said Sir John in the 16th year, the said Sir William in the 20th year of King Henry VII., and the said Thomas, the 1st of King Henry VIII."

At the east end of the north aisle in Bodmin church, is an altar-tomb of stone, with the effigies of a bishop in his pontificals, having angels supporting his head, and holding shields of arms; there are two more angels at his feet, also holding shields of arms. Round the verge of the slab on which the effigies rests, is the following inscription, in text hand: — "Hic tumulatus venera'dus pater Tomas Vivian Megarensis Epūs, hujusq' domus prior, qui obiit anno D'ni M.D.XXXIII primo die Junii, cujus . . . . . . cietur Deus, Amen." Round the tomb are the symbols of the four Evangelists, and two shields of arms, carved in alto-relievo. In Tywardreth church is a slab, with a cross-florée, and an inscription for Thomas Colyns, prior of Tywardreth, who died in 1532.

There are in the Cornish churches a great number of sepulchral monuments of the sixteenth century, consisting of large slabs of slate with the effigies, frequently of whole families, carved in bas-relief, sometimes as large as life, and for the most part very coarsely.

Remains of Monastic Buildings.

Very few traces of monastic buildings at present remain in Cornwall, except those parts of the church of St. German's priory, which have been already noticed.

No part of Bodmin priory is now standing, but capitals of pillars in the Saxon style, and other architectural fragments, and parts of gravestones have been dug up, about 150 yards south-east of the parish-church, in the garden of Walter Ralegh Gilbert, Esq., which, from these discoveries, appears to occupy the site of the priory church. Great part of the buildings of the priory on St. Michael's Mount are standing, but internally they retain little of their original appearance; the present dining-room, which is ornamented with a frieze, on which are representations of the hunting of various animals, is said to have been the refectory of the convent, and appears to have been altered about the middle of the seventeenth century. (fn. n9)

Of the monastery of St. Benet's, near Lanhivet, there are considerable remains, now occupied as a dwelling-house; the tower of the church is also standing. The chapel of St. Lawrence's hospital, near Bodmin, remains, with clustered pillars and pointed arches.


  • n1. See p. 191.
  • n2. This inscription has given rise to a great variety of conjectures. It has been generally read, "Rych Inri," and the second line supposed to be the initials over the crucifixion, which does not seem very probable, connected as it is with the foregoing letters. Dr. Borlase, who appears to have paid much attention to the subject, thought this inscription contained the name of a founder or benefactor. (MS. Collections.) It might be observed, that the first letter, usually read as R, is unlike that letter in the second line, and more resembles a K.
  • n3. Another window was sold to the parish of Helland for 26s.
  • n4. Dr. Borlase (MS. Collections) gives this inscription, when perfect, thus, — "Ex sumptibus uxorum istam fenestram facien' an'o dn'i millesimo quingentesimo vicesimo octavo;" and also the following one: — "Ex sumptibus sororum quœ istam fenestram secerunt an'o dn'i millesimo quingensimo vicesimo nono."
  • n5. Several of these are imperfect, and two destroyed; the five following remained in 1786, when an account of those windows was published by the Rev. Benjamin Foster, rector of Boconnoc. 1. "Hic tradidit corona fra' suo juniori. 2. Hic p'fectus est monachus. 4. Hic tres pisces in fonte invenerat revelatione angelicâ. 7. Hic Barius portabat decos pisces in disco. 8. Hic Barius mittebat illos duos pisces interu' in fontem.
  • n6. See the annexed plate.
  • n7. See the annexed plate.
  • n8. Borlase's M.S. Collections. Only part of the inscription can at present be seen.
  • n9. Grose's Antiq., vol. viii., p. 37., 2d edit.