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St Buryan Parish Church, St Buryan

The Church of St Buryan is situated above the village of St Buryan , a small village that straddles a wide minor road from Penzance that continues to St Levan parish.  The Parish Church of St Buryan was a collegiate church serving the Augustinian order. The remains of the Norman church survive in the north wall of the chancel, with the rest of the building being a late medieval rebuild on a substantial scale. The 92 foot tower is one of the tallest towers in Cornwall and was historically used as a navigation aid.

Parts of the chancel and the lower part of the east wall of the north aisle are built from granite rubble with volcanic stone dressings, otherwise the church is built from ashlar cut from local brown granite moor-stone (material excavated from within the rab subsoil that overlies the granite bedrock), probably from the Lamorna area that was deep quarried later. The roofs (3 parallel roofs) are laid with dry Delabole slate, which is a late 19th century replacement of probable scantle slate (small slate laid to random widths and diminishing courses).

The Church of St Buryan probably dates probably from about 1530 (based on the dating of the rood screen) but retains 12th century Norman features in the north wall of the chancel. The building was restored in 1814. Some restoration was carried out in 1854 by the curate. Plans were drawn up in 1864 by Edmund Sedding (older brother of John Dando Sedding, who became better known as an architect) and a subsequent restoration was carried out by William Butterfield from 1874 (completed by 1881) with building work was carried out by Carah and Edwards of Crowan. The windows were glazed by Mr Soloman of Truro.

The Norman church had at least a nave, chancel and north chancel aisle or chapel but only the chancel and some vestiges of the north chapel survive. In the early 16th century the church was almost totally rebuilt to what was then considered to be the ideal plan: nave, chancel, both north and south aisles and chancel aisles and a high status west tower plus a very imposing south porch.

The Church of St Buryan has one of the most complete and least altered late medieval exteriors in Cornwall, albeit with the north wall apparently rebuilt in about 1750 and some rebuilding to the west wall of the north aisle and the west end of the south aisle during the 1870s restoration. The building has many of its original windows, though in some cases with some repair. Exceptions to this are the 19th century replacement chancel east window and the windows in the south wall and west walls of the south aisle west of the porch.

The interior is both lofty and light thanks to the plastered walls (except for the bare stone window jambs) and the high proportion of clear glass to the windows. The arcades are tall and the bay spacing wide providing generous usable and visual space.

Fittings include a magnificent original and rare early 16th century rood screen that had been mostly dismantled in 1825 but much of it had been stored in a chest and the screen was re-assembled and restored in 1910, the missing elements copied from surviving fragments or based on other examples.

The richly-carved octagonal pulpit is also a late 19th century fitting. An interesting detail is the use of barley sugar twist columns to an otherwise gothic style design.

The peal of 6 bells in the tower, restored in 1994, is claimed to be the heaviest such group in the world!

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