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Cornwall's Maritime Churches

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Church of Storms

Lucy Whattley, our volunteer researcher during the summer, treats us to a poem based upon her study on Gunwalloe’s parish church, St Winwaloe.

 

Too many vast, wooden whales have perished here:

Their bellies faced towards the sky – towards God;

Their chests rattle with Spanish silver and gold.

 

Another ship arrives on it’s back. This time,

Lured in by the pull of the tides and flattered

By the words of the bitter winds, let itself

Be dragged up from the Atlantic and into

The rough grip of crooked teeth lining the shore.

 

Up above, no apology is given.

The Sky’s stomach growls, waiting to devour the

Kings prizes sitting stuck in the Cornish sand

At the ocean floor, like lost royal glitter,

Or the jump of gunpowder in daylight.

 

As seen through the glassy eyes of Cornish sand,

Nearby, rock-pools cackle at their fruitful catch,

Too eager to bury their sins in the sand

In hope that no-one else will ever find them.

 

Under that water, flurries of fish dash past

A wooden skeleton in the jelly-body

Of blue ocean. They flash like the clash of arms.

Their molten bodies serpents in morning light,

Ready for their phantom teeth to press into

The bloated flesh of recent missing sailors.

 

Across the water, The Church awaits payment.

It sits low on the beach – a cat waiting to

Pounce. Then, out of the melting mid-day silence,

It’s own bell – an ancient severed limb – rings out.

 

One long note wraps around the air like cotton,

Choking even the ocean into silence.

The sun, summoned by the familiar sound,

Dares to rear its head up over the water.

A foreign copper coin in the blue, slowly

Washing the morning sky clean of verdigris.

 

Seen under weight of a cherry sunrise,

The Church: a smudge of charcoal against the sky;

The silhouette of a faith kicked to the sand

When Paganism was king and Bretons like

St. Winwaloe were unheard of and unseen.

 

The Church of the Storms sank with the weight of sand,

Filling the stomach of the church, hall by hall,

Where many faceless characters have travelled:

Hands clasped in prayer; collars ruffled by war.

In one hall, then three, they all found God.

 

Lucy Whattley, Researcher


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