VCH Explore

Explore England's Past

Parish Church of St Columba, St Columb

The Church of St Columba is generally acknowledged to be a building ahead of its time, having achieved its present plan form by the early-mid 15th century. The church has every plan space that is common to Cornish churches: nave, chancel, transepts, nave aisles and chancel aisles, 2-storey porches and a west tower.

The earliest surviving fabric in the church may be in remnant pre 14th century masonry within the lower parts of the east end of the chancel and similarly at the west end of the nave.

This church is large, and lofty, having one of the largest interiors of any church in Cornwall , with a particularly high west tower that due to the elevated land on which it stands can be seen from a great distance.

The church is built from slate-stone rubble with Beer (or Bere) stone, granite, elvan (including Pentewan stone) and freestone dressings. The very dark greenish stone used in parts of the church is probably Catecleuse (or Cateclews) stone, the more greenish stone is volcanic aglomorate from near Launceston.

The Norman church was probable a simple plan form with nave and chancel, but of this building there are no certain remains. By the early-mid 14th century the building had developed a cruciform plan by the addition of transepts and early in the 15th century the building acquired at least chancel aisles and a west tower. A vestry with boiler house under was added in the early 20th century and sits clumsily against north transept, the north window re-sited at a higher level to compensate.

The building retains original 15th century and earlier walling to all but the upper parts of the walls. The embattled parapets are probably later 15th century or early 16th century. Many of the windows have been replaced to different design than the former windows, such at the present 3-light east window of the south chancel aisle, which looks like a late 14th century design but is in fact a 19th century replacement of what is shown as a 5-light Perpendicular window in the old picture.

Pre-Reformation fittings include a 15th century octagonal granite font of unusual design with ‘corner’ shafts, and there are 38 carved bench ends thought to date from 1510. A medieval stone altar is hidden under the present altar. Most of the fittings date from the 1903 restoration and include the rood screen, parclose screens, panelling, pulpit, lectern and pews.

Many old monuments were, including fine Arundell monuments, destroyed when a supply of gunpowder that was stored in the south rood stair exploded, after the magazine was ignited by local youths in 1676.

Content derived from research undertaken as part of the Victoria County History project