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Cornwall's Maritime Churches

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Why these churches?

These churches have been selected on the basis of age, importance of legend, geography and for their specific maritime narratives.

The first five churches on the list are clustered around the colleges and Universities that will be taking part in the project. This geographical closeness will allow students to access the churches more easily in the first half of the project, before moving onto churches further away in distance. By beginning with a closer proximity, the students will be able to visit the churches and their parishes more often for their own interests and research alongside the project, allowing them to build their research and oral history skills before venturing further afield.

To just name a few, St Anthony of Roseland, St Just in Roseland, Falmouth Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr to Penryn’s St Gluvias’ Church each hold legendary and historical importance in the centre and east of Cornwall. Each of these churches also raises thematic discussions surrounding a diverse array of maritime narratives.

From early modern naval defence with the Spanish fleet at Penryn

The trafficking of the black slave trade at Falmouth

St Anthony of Roseland figuring as an example of the many parishes threatened and attacked by the North African Barbary pirates in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

the Arthurian legendary connection at its neighbouring church – St Just in Roseland

After this cluster of close churches, the trail travels further down the eastern coast to explore the Grade I listed Church of St Wynwaloe, located at Gunwalloe. The architecture here is particularly striking and will challenge the students to interpret the history behind the detached tower set into the solid rock of the headland, located to the north side of the beach. The historical significance of this church and its cove will open up the exploration into Cornish wrecking. The wreck of what is thought to be a seventeenth-century armoured cargo vessel identified as an English East Indiaman lies off Fishing Cove, one of Gunwalloe’s three major beaches. The ship was supposedly on her return journey laden with an extremely valuable cargo of spices, indigo, drugs, Indian piece goods and 100 long tons of pepper, when she was stranded near Loe Bar.

Historical evidence indicates that salvage took place soon after the wrecking. In late 2010, an early medieval site was excavated at Gunwalloe by a team of archaeologists from the University of Exeter’s Archaeological students and the National Trust. By continuing the social history of this location, we build upon the archaeological research already gathered in the surrounding area.

As the project also aims to explore as many narratives also surrounding the Cornish economy upon fishing and boat building, the trail aims to incorporate how the local people lived in their local parishes, and how they depended on the sea whilst utilising the church as a central symbol for their community. The landmark of the church in each of these communities thus transforms – from a centre of belief and religious practice, to a celebration of local legends, to a memorial site for shipwrecks to then a defence battlement against naval threats and enemies.

The trail therefore travels to encapsulate Northern Cornwall and the paralleled Arthurian significance of St Materiana, alongside the entwining narratives of the local copper, silver and slate mining, fishing and boat building. As the concept of ‘celebration’ of the sea remains significant to the study of these ten churches, the examination of Mullion’s Parish Church’s interior demonstrates the local declaration of a close relationship with the sea. The interior is notable for the wonderful collection of biblical 16th-century carvings – with one unusually depicting Jonah inside the whale alongside a 13th century dog door which intended sheep dogs to pass freely. This church is a prime embodiment of holding a close connection with local industries, from the Mullion Fishermen to the local farmers and miners.

The next part of the trail captures the exploring of Cornish folklore and the romanisation mingled with social history of a local parish. The Church of Saint Senara, in Zennor Churchtown. On the surface, it is in the Deanery of Penwith, Archdeaconry of Cornwall and under the Diocese of Truro. It is dedicated to the local saint, Saint Senara and is at least 1400 years old endowing the building with a Grade I listed status. However, when you venture further into Zennor Church’s history, an array of literary folklore manifests around the appearance of a local mermaid, intermingling the ancestry of the local parish with mermen.

The final case study culminates with Paul church, located near St Michael’s Mount off the coast of Marazion. NEED SOMETHING ABOUT PAUL HERE

Overall, by examining a breadth of churches across Cornwall, the similarities and differences in how parishes celebrated their relationship with the sea – either through industrial means or through forming their cultural identity – can be compared and contrasted from their origins to modern day. By having young people research and promote the value of this heritage – sometimes deemed as intangible through the recording of local peoples’ oral histories – the student and parish communities will be able to collaborate and produce a legacy that holds the potential to expand in future years.


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