Page Updated on:- Mon. 18/07/2011
Inside St. Keverne Church
Inside St. Keverne Church ©D.J.S.
Period 15th Century
Dedication St. Keverne
Status Grade I listed
St. Keverne
Little is known about this Saint other than myths connected with St. Just.

About 190 Celtic Saints were commemorated in the Middle Ages in Cornwall and Devon; they flourished between the 5th and 9th centuries, but their identities are hard to establish.


T
here has been some witness to the Christian faith in this place since around 600 A.D. when a Celtic monk, either St. Piran or St. Kieran, built the first small wooden church - and it is probable that this was previously a centre for pre-Christian worship: the early missionaries tried to set up their holy places on the site of, or near to places used in pagan culture, to 'christianise' them. The first church has long disappeared, as did its Saxon successor; of the Norman cruciform church little remains, and most of what is to be seen today dates from the 15th Century, though it is likely that some of the piers (pillars) have been re-used from the 13th Century church.
Much of the information on this page is taken from a guide to St. Keverne Church of which there is only one remaining copy.
The first thing to catch the eye at the approach to the lych gate with its stone coffin rest, is the cannon, or properly Carronade which came from the wreck of the Primrose, Carronade which foundered in 1809, bringing home troops from Corunna in the Napoleonic Wars. 104 men from Primrose and her sister ship are buried in the churchyard. Nearby, on the wall is the memorial in Cornish and English to Michael Joseph the Smith and Thomas Flamank who in June 1497 marched on London with a Cornish army to protest against the collection of taxes for an expedition to Scotland.

Notice the shields of the great local families on the two staged western tower. The Tower and Spire were built about 1450. The latter was destroyed by lightning on 28th February 1770, together with almost the whole roof of the church. Lake writes: The Vicar, the Rev. A Williams, was rendered insensible and nearly the whole congregation fell to the ground stunned... about ten were slightly hurt.' The spire was immediately rebuilt and serves as a landmark for local shipping. The Manacles reef to the east of the parish gets its name from the old Cornish 'Maen Eglos' or 'church rocks'.

In the handsome porch, swallows build their nests in the roof beams, and there is a jagged hole to the right of the door where the Holy Water Stroup once stood. Above the doorway notice the figure of the Saint - most such niches are now vacant, their figures removed when such carving was considered idolatrous.

The An Gof Memorial
The An Gof Memorial
Tower Porch
Tower Porch
St. Keverne's interior (through its draught proofed inner doorway) is wonderfully spacious and filled with colours very unusual in Cornwall. This is largely contributed to by the 13th Century pillars which are of grey, green and rose-coloured stone: there is nothing local like it, and the stone may have come from Brittany. The exception is the one granite pillar in front of the main door. The church is 110 feet long, with spacious north and south aisles which, unusually, flank the tower, which opens into them.

On the left of the door as you come in there is a list of rectors, vicars and assistant clergy of this parish going back to 1201. Of especial interest is the list of patrons which shows the influence of Beaulieu Abbey from 1235 followed by the Crown and later local families. The present patrons are the Church Pastoral Aid Society. Of recent years the parish has been served by clergy who have been to New Zealand, India, China and East Africa. On the South Wall of the side chapel there is a memorial to Canon Diggens who did much work on the history of this church and was a canon of Dunedin. He died in 1916 at Saltash three years after leaving St. Keverne. On the North wall is a much faded wall painting or Fresco, of St Christopher, with a drawing, done in 1905, showing how much it had deteriorated during that century. This mural was revealed when the whitewash was removed from the walls in 1893 and is much degraded. The saint himself is in the centre of the mural and various episodes of this life are depicted in panels around the outside.

The St. Keverne Nave
The St. Keverne Nave
To the left of the mural is a small lancet window. The feature is of Norman origin and the relatively modern glass depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd. Below the window the rounded head of the North Doorway also indicates Norman architecture.

The three sets of Rood Screen Stairs are one of the great mysteries of all Cornish Churches. 3rd set of Rood Steps Normally the Rood Screen would run across between the Nave the Chancel, but there must be a different explanation here. Perhaps the first, west most, set went to the North Aisle roof and may have been the first stage up a central tower. The second doorway would then mark where the Rood Screen originally was. The third set would then show where the Screen was moved to around 1500. (The present Screen is from the Victorian restoration). However, the north wall has undergone extensive restoration as modern bricks were found in the stonework when a previous heating system was installed in 1987. Outside, the Roof Stairwell Turret can be seen.

There is fine and interesting pulpit of Jacobean age, however nothing is known of its history.

A brass plate on the North Wall of the church commemorates one of the victims of the Drawing of the Pulpit sinking of the Titanic. The Sandys memorials throw interesting light on the faith and convictions of a family who exercised considerable influence in the area from their seat in Lanarth. For those interested in anagrams there is a very early one engraved on a memorial stone just in front of the Communion rails in the South Aisle. Near the main door, in the choir vestry behind the list of incumbents, can be seen the gudgeon from the transport ship Primrose which was wrecked in 1809 on the Manacle rocks. Above the chancel steps is the 1914-1918 War Memorial Cross, the base of which has part of an old beam dated 1457, the oldest piece of wood in the building.

High above, bats roost - there is evidence around the choir stalls! Bats are a welcome and protected species in many Cornish churches.

Lancet Window
Lancet Window
One set of Rood Steps
One set of Rood Steps
The Jackobean Pulpit
The Jackobean Pulpit
The window at the East End of the Chancel is a memorial to the 108 passengers and crew of the S.S. Mohegen who perished on The Manacles in October 1898. It was erected by the owners of the ship. A framed description of the disaster will be found on the south side of the chancel screen near the door to the side chapel. The central light pictures Jesus saving St. Peter on the sea of Galilee. The left light is a portrait of St. Christopher bearing the child Jesus, as the North Wall fresco once did. It also shows St. Paul shipwrecked on the voyage to Rome and being succoured by the people of MELITA otherwise Malta. Look also for the figure representing St. Keverne.

The South Aisle contains much of interest. Several of the original roof timbers, with their bosses and wall plates, can be seen in the South Aisle and the Chancel end of the North Aisle. The roof probably dates from about 1500 but by the end of the 19th century was considerably decayed. A diarist of the 1880's says that the building was a standing disgrace! In 1893 the older timbers were mostly removed and the larger part of the East Wall of the church demolished and rebuilt. New roof timbers were installed and new Delabole slate laid to the roof. This very major Victorian restoration was carried out in good taste, in contrast to the insensitive 'restoration' of the period to be found in many English parish churches. There is an interesting photograph at the east end of the nave which illustrates this restoration.

The East Window
The East Window
The South aisle
The South aisle
The 15th Century font was moved to its present position in 1972 as baptisms now take Drawing of the Font place in the course of family worship in the church. It is an octagonal bowl with angels on the alternate sides. These have the cross of St. Andrew on their breast, which would seem to indicate the world-wide mission of the church, bidden as she is by her Lord to baptise people of all nations as his disciples. Also on the sides can be seen the letters 'a,w' Alpha and Omega - which are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. Seemingly this is to denote the Scripture truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning and the ending of all spiritual life.

The near by Lectern is an outstanding and unusual example of craftsmanship.

The fine 15th Century Font
The fine 15th Century Font
The bench ends of the old pews are of great interest. At the turn of the century they Finely Carved Bench Ends were in a poor state of repair, but were re-used when the existing pews were installed between the two World Wars. The carvings chiefly represent emblems of the Passion of Our Lord, e.g. the nails, the cord, the spear and the scourge. Also the sacred heart pierced by the spear and the body of our Lord wrapped in linen. There is also the figure of Pontius Pilate, his authority being expressed by the number of spears on the same bench end. There are references to St. Peter - the cock which awakened him to repentance and the fish from which he took the tribute money. Some of the bench ends contain the names of past families of the parish.
St. Keverne is a fine example of a church much touched by history and human tragedy, a place where the good News of Christ continues to be proclaimed now as it has been for well over a thousand years.
Sketch of Bench Ends
Sketch of Bench Ends
Sketch of Bench Ends
Sketch of Bench Ends