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Bodmin Parish Church of St Petroc

The church of St Petroc is found in the north-east corner of the old town of Bodmin. The Church of St Petroc is the largest parish church in Cornwall and arguably the most important. The church was built with great effort by the townspeople and their guilds, perhaps in a determination to rival the nearby priory whose power over the town was irksome to local people.

Bodmin also had an Augustinian friary church belonging to an extensive friary complex from which only a few fragments of dressed masonry remain, but extensive foundations must survive underground. Except for a Norman north tower, the whole church was rebuilt to a single design and one phase of construction between 1469 and 1472.

The Church of St Petroc is considered to be an exemplar church in Cornwall, a building that inspired architectural fashion and plan form throughout the county. Yet because its plan form and late Gothic features were so widely copied after its construction, the church at Bodmin now seems more typical.

The church is built from finely dressed and coursed freestone, much of which has eroded badly resulting in extensive 19th century re-facing. Granite has been used sparingly as it was a very expensive material when the church was built despite the proximity of the building to granite upland of Bodmin Moor.

Despite much re-facing of stonework and window repairs the church makes a dramatic statement of quality and status partly due to its unusual height but also its large windows and imposing porch. The porch has a moulded pointed-arch doorway with two orders of nook shafts, but with no hood-mould but there is a string course above. A 2-light window above the doorway has a square hood-mould and sunk spandrels, anticipating the Tudor style.

St Petroc’s Church has a very lofty and light interior. The building is the longest parish church in Cornwall with nine arcade bays of white granite: six to the nave and three to the chancel with no break between them except that there are chancel and chancel aisle arches springing from the piers that divide the east and west ends.

The west font makes a powerful three-gable statement but was the subject of much restoration in the 19th century including the replacement of a central Norman window with a granite Tudor style doorway. The font is arguably “the best Norman font in Cornwall”, has a large round bowl on a shirt shaft and busts of angels on capitals over corner shafts.

The rood screen, fronting the east chancel aisles, is 19th century but contains early 16th century rood screen panels and bench ends. Some more bench ends of similar date are re-used in the choir stalls, reredos and desk. The octagonal pulpit is mentioned in 1491 but has been re-worked in the 19th century and incorporates panels from the old choir stalls in its square base.

Most of the original roof was destroyed in 1699 when the spire (150ft high) was struck by lightening but a few beams remain in position in the Lady Chapel. The building was patially restored in the early 19th century when the west wall was rebuilt and a further restoration took place about 1860.

Content generated during research for the paperback book 'Cornwall and the Cross: Christianity 500-1560' (ISBN 978-1-86077-468-3) for the England's Past for Everyone series