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Cornwall's Maritime Churches

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St Wynwallow’s Church, Landewednack

Situated in the parish of Landewednack, on the Lizard Peninsula, St Wynwallow Church is the most southernly church in mainland Britain.

Research provided by Matthew Slack, an undergraduate student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus.

Introducing St Wynwallow’s Church, Landewednack

Nestled amongst trees, it stands somewhat hidden, yet proud.

Unfortunately, nothing remains of this original church. The oldest asset still standing is the 12th-century Norman doorway, under which the current entrance stands.

Inside there is a 15th-century font, inscribed with

Dn. Rich Bolham me fecit which translates from Latin as ‘Master Richard Bolham had me made’.

Richard Bolham served as rector of St Wynwallow’s from the early 15th Century, indicating its age.

The tower is thought to be a similar age. It is formed of alternating granite and serpentine blocks which created an eye-catching pattern. The materials can be linked to the local area with serpentine a dominant feature of the Lizard coastline, which is less than a mile away.

Where it all began…

The church of St Wynwallow is thought to have origins at least as early as 500 AD. At this time, across the channel in Brittany, several monks began travelling to spread the word of St. Winwaloe. Having reached the Lizard peninsula, they settled in order to build a place of worship in honour of Winwaloe. In 1297 the building was officially named Ecclesiam Sancti Wynewali, an explicit reference to this now-saint.

On the exterior of the church, there is another unique feature; a window behind the pulpit, under which there used to be a simple block of stone.

This little addition was an extension to the hagioscope, a gap in the wall through which locals could stand and peer into the church to hear that day’s sermon. At the time this window was constructed, the Cornish Language would have been widespread.

In 1549 the Act of Uniformity introduced the Book of Common Prayer in the English language during services, stirring the Prayer Book Rebellion. With the quick suppression of the uprising, the language fell into decline. In the latter 1670s, Reverend Francis Robinson preached:

Qy A Wra Aga Clewes Kewsel D’aga Tasow Agan Honen An Gwy Threson Mur A Dhew (‘We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God’).

It would be the final sermon delivered in this eloquent language – to have it be about the power of speech was no doubt a fitting choice.

Maritime roots

Shipwrecks were a something of a frequent occurrence in the waters surrounding Landewednack.

Between 1800 – 1855 the Manacles on the east side of the Lizard claimed 25-30 vessels, costing between 700 – 800 lives.

In 1859 the Czar became one of the wrecked. Luckily for the 18 shipwrecked sailors who made it to shore that day, the inhabitants of the Lizard ensured their safe recovery. On the Sunday after the wrecking, the seamen attended the service at St. Wynwallow’s and personally thanked the community before being forwarded to Falmouth Sailor’s Home the next day.

These unfortunate incidents carried into the 20th century.

Of particular significance are the memorials to the wartime shipwrecks. The first, as referenced on a plaque in the church, is to the MV Polperro. The ship was a small collier vessel carrying coal from Manchester. In the early hours of 6 January 1944, the Polperro was part of WP457 convoy that was between Land’s End and the Lizard when it was spotted by German E-Boats. The E-Boats split into 3 groups and attacked, sinking 5 ships; the Polperro lost all hands – 8 merchant crew and 3 gunners. Landewednack is the closest parish to the wreck site.

Kynance cove, Benjamin Elliott

The second ship was sunk 2 years prior to Polperro; the three Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones which stand on the edge of the churchyard facing the road serve as representations of this incident.

Buried in the graveyard are the crew of the SS Gairsoppa, a British steam merchant ship that had left Calcutta on 4th December 1940 bound for London. The ship was forced to leave her convoy and divert alone to Galway for lack of fuel; en-route to which she was ominously circled by a four-engine aircraft.

A day later, on 17 February 1941, she was torpedoed on the starboard side and sank within 20 minutes; three lifeboats were thought to be have been launched but only one was heard from again. This was the lifeboat captained by Second Mate Richard Ayres, and which was now floating 300 miles from the nearest piece of land.

The next 13 days were a fight for survival for those on board this lifeboat. Estimates put the total number of men in the craft at the time of the sinking at around 30, but by the time it had been driven to Caerthillian Cove, a rocky inlet between Kynance Cove and Lizard Point, there were 3 or 4 Europeans and 2 Lascars still alive.