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St Stephens Church, St Stephens-by-Launceston

The church of St Stephens sits atop a hill across the valley from the town of Launceston. The original Church at St Stephens was older than any buildings in Launceston.

The church still contains core fabric of a substantial Augustinian collegiate priory church. At this time it was at least a cruciform church with north and south transepts and also north and south chancel chapels. The church was consecrated in 1259 but has no historic building fabric recognisable from this date. The church was extended in 1419 with a south aisle and in the early 16th century (1520) a west tower and a 2-storey south porch were added. Probably also at this time the upper parts of some of the walls were rebuilt to enable embattled parapets to be added.

The church is built from coursed local slate-stone to the older parts. The dressings of the windows, once a local volcanic aglomorate, have mostly been replaced with Polyphant stone from a quarry a few miles from Launceston, the stone from this quarry widely used for restoration work when replacing the harder stone of similar colour that was used in the medieval period. The tower and porch are extravagantly constructed in granite ashlar, the prestige building material in Cornwall from the late 15th century. The roofs are presumed to be lead sheathed over the low-pitched roofs hidden by the embattled parapets.

The church consists of a nave of 6 bays, north transcept, embattled north chancel chapel and a south porch west of the tower.The roof structure was replaced in the late 19th century and has squat 4-centred arched trusses carried on moulded stone corbels. There is a 3-bay arcade between the nave and south aisle, a taller arcade arch to the south transept and another arcade bay to the south chapel.

There are the remains of Norman arcades in the form of round arches now embedded in the wall relating to the north and south walls of the chancel and on the south side extending part way over the transept arch.

Over the centuries, a large amount of rebuilding has occurred across a large proportion of the church. There is evidence of disturbance and rebuilding in the north wall if the north transept and north chapel. Elsewhere there is also evidence for wall heightening, blocked openings and other alteration. Towards the east end of the north wall of the nave, there is a phase joint where the wall has been rebuilt next to the north transept.

The interior walls have been stripped of their plaster.

Right of the south doorway is a doorway that leads to the chamber over the porch. In this porch there is a holy water stoup. The granite south doorway, visible within the porch, has a moulded outer frame and a 4-centred arched doorway with roll-moulded frame within.

A late Norman font has a round bowl with cable moulding to the rim, and a round shaft over a moulded base. At the west end by the tower arch is a medieval stone coffin base.

Late 19th century pews incorporate three early 16th century carved bench ends. The rood screen is late 19th century and has open panels at the bottom, traceried ‘windows’ above and a boarded vaulted canopy and intricately carved cornice. There are other late 19th century fittings including an octagonal panelled and carved oak pulpit. There is also a very large organ that fills the south Chapel.

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