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Cornwall's Maritime Churches

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St Just in Roseland

The Cornish peninsula of the Roseland is home to St Just church, known to be one of the most beautiful churches in the country.

Research provided by Lucy Raymond, an undergraduate student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, studying BA History.

Introducing St Just’s church

The subtropical plants and gardens alongside the water provide an impeccable beauty.

‘The origins of this as a holy place go back to the year 550, first emerging from the holy well around the time when we’ve got the Celtic church and missionary saints travelling around between Wales and Cornwall.’ – Nev Meek, local historian

Where it all began

‘The Roseland was almost an island when the rivers were in full flood some two thousand years ago, and ships would travel up the estuaries and rivers as far as Tregony.’

The location of this parish church has always been considered a holy site, intrinsically connected to its surrounding waters. For 400 years, the Celtic clergy used the original church as a religious venue. It operated with traders, sailors and the local fishermen to provide the local community with a dynamic and thriving economy.

When Augustine came to Britain, the Saxon Bishops of Cornwall overturned Celtic religious culture and in turn, the Bishop of Exeter gifted St Just’ Church to the Canons of Plympton Priory in 1140.

The present church was dedicated to St Just on 14 August 1261 by Walter, Bishop of Exeter.

Maritime roots

The maritime connections within the church are plentiful.

The churchyard contains many graves and memorials attributing local naval officers. The most notable being Commander George Devey and Myles Hastings Atkins, Lieutenant of the Royal Navy.

‘To the memory of commander George Davey R.N who died May 1829 he entered the Royal Navy early in life. Among other services he was present at the capture of St Lucia in 1778 his last years were spent in retirement in this parish. This tribute of respect and affection is erected by his nephew Richard Spry.’

Genealogy and census accounts have also been useful to find individuals, their job roles and marriage dates.

Part of this maritime church’s charm is the fact it served within such significant global events.

Not only the church functioned as a quarantine port for Falmouth during naval conflicts, but also hosted several ships in the local port during the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

During the Great War (July 1914-Nov 1918) St Just’s Rector, Humphrey Davis acted as the chaplain to the garrison stationed at St Anthony’s head. According to local memories, many troops who were stationed locally throughout both World Wars appear to have attended church services in St Just.

Neither must be forget the intimate and personal maritime stories connected to the church. The Royal Cornwall Gazette in 1896 amusingly notes

‘Wholesale theft of oysters near Truro: Allegations against Mylor men ‘two fishermen, Richard Vinnicombe and Frank Vinnicombe, of Mylor, were charged with stealing on or about March 29, in the parish of St. Just-in-Roseland, twenty-one bags of oysters, valued at £18 6s., the property of Thomas Blight, fisherman, of St.Just-in-Roseland. On Thursday, the 27th, he put 24,000 oysters in the twenty-one bags.’

Myths & legends

‘Joseph of Arimathea and Our lord came in a boat, and anchored at St Just Creek’ – Rev J Hammond, 1939

Throughout Cornwall exists a legend that Jesus visited St Just’s church as a child with his Uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.

Some oppose this idea, much like the Reverend Lewis who considered

‘the Cornish folk are not very fond of talking about their old legends and traditions… ridicule has, alas, nearly killed the holy legend.’

The church’s maritime identity is evident in visitor guides, both old and new which commonly state the attraction to live in the community lies within the

‘excellent facilities for sailing, boating and fishing… for the former, yachts and sailing craft of all sorts merge from numerous creeks and villages which surround Falmouth Bay and Harbour’.

Clearly the water and what it has to offer makes a vital contribution to the appeal of the church.