Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A Tudor Church and a Tale of Loss

Looking back to our walk around Launceston, the discovery of the parish church of St Mary Magdelene was a highlight of the day. We had just left the grounds of Launceston Castle, admired some of the fine Georgian houses nearby and then turned up towards the centre of town once again. In front of us stood the tall granite tower, a blue clock ( not working) that had seen better days and an old, studded wooden door.

We walked into a little courtyard to the left of the tower, to find that the walls of this church were decorated with stone panels of intricate and beautiful carvings.

As we turned the corner, the southern side of the main church was before us. Soft strains of organ music drifted through the tall windows. A peaceful, yew-guarded graveyard surrounded the building and we were astonished by yet more carvings. Along the base of the wall and then up each pillar they stretched. Some patterned with symmetrical designs and symbols of the age of chivalry, others with the shapes and forms of nature.

Along the east end of the church, we found a pathway that led into a town street.

On the east end was this sculpted figure. Unusually, the clothed figure appears to be lying on his or her front. I would love to know the story behind this image.

The north side of the church is again adorned with panels of beautifully crafted carvings.

A small door on the north side and the elaborate pillars surrounding its archway.

Above a larger door in the north side stands the figure of Mary Magdelene herself.

Here is one of the carved "grotesques". A seemingly mythical beast looking out over the town street from a corner of a pillar.

Since our visit to Lanceston, I have tried to find out more about this beautiful and intriguing church. From the Town website and the Parish website, I have discovered that the current church is the third to be built on this ancient site. A very early church was replaced by a second building in 1380. The tower is apparently all that remains of that building, which was built during the reign of King Richard II, who was remembered by his people as a "foolish tyrant".

The main body of the current church dates from Tudor times. It was built in 1524, from Cornish granite, by a wealthy local landowner, Sir Henry Trecarrel. Sir Henry had initially commissioned craftsmen to complete the exterior carvings for the manor house that he planned to build for his wife and young family. His dreams for his family were dashed by the death of his wife. Soon afterwards, his infant son died. The story tells that the baby died " after being bathed".

Distraught with grief after this second loss, Sir Henry paid for the town church to be rebuilt in their memory and for the carved panels, once destined for his manor house, to be used to decorate the outside walls of the church.

One day soon, I hope to return and explore the interior of this ancient church. It is said to be one of the finest churches in Cornwall and the exterior carvings are a remarkable testimony to the fine craftmanship of local stonemasons who sculpted them over five hundred years ago.


Angie said...

I found this post so interesting ...and sad.

Bovey Belle said...

What fabulous carvings. I'd love to see it. Perhaps when we are house-hunting . . .

ChrisJ said...

I wonder what is the story behind the carvings. Somebody(ies) made them, formed the ideas for them, chose where to place each symbol. I'm greatly intrigued. Incidentally we had to study Shakespeare's Richard II in VIth form in high school. I will be forever grateful to my English teacher who inculcated a love of Shakespeare and other literature in me. And yes, he was a foolish king.