St Keverne, St Keverne

st_kevernOne of Cornwall’s largest and architecturally most intriguing churches, after Bodmin and St Germans.  This retains an open feel as pews were removed altogether at one time and when replaced c.1972 wide alleyways were left, as in the late medieval period, to allow for processions and bridal dresses.  St Keverne was one of the most populous and rebellious parishes in Cornwall.  A local blacksmith called Michael an Gof was one of the rebel leaders in 1497.  St Keverne men were still rebellious in 1537, 1548-9, and 1648.

  1. Norman window in north aisle near tower – resited?
  2. Figure of bishop in niche reset over south door in porch.  May represent patron saint of church. St Keverne’s patron was St Akevran but by 1540 confused with the Irish saint Kevin or Cornish saint Piran.
  3. Tower and spire have shields of Archdekne and Pincerna families.  Spire important seamark for ships seeking to avoid shipwreck on the Manacles. Spire may have been taller before it fell in 1770.  Tower unusually has arches through to north and south aisle as at Lanteglos by Fowey.
  4. Piers and capitals of north and south aisles appear to be build with a polychrome or stripey effect in mind, like 12th century French abbeys e.g Vezelay.  Different colour stone used but not durable as cracking and flaking shows so some granite replacement needed.
  5. South aisle piers appear to be earlier with a square profile with eight shafts. On the north side the piers are of Cornish standard pier design with four attached shafts with deep hollow chamfers between.  A 14th century and early 15th century date is possible for these aisles.  Hollow chamfers became less deep over time.  A granite pier of different section near the south door may be a replacement for one destroyed when the spire was ‘rent in pieces’ during a thunderstorm in 1770 when a service was in progress or earlier.  One north aisle capital has fleur de lys for Virgin Mary or a local family.
  6. Three rood stairs in north wall – an ongoing mystery of this church as only one was needed.  It is possible that they mark the changing position of the chancel/nave division.  If the earliest is the most westerly, then the eastward extension of the church with a new chancel in the 1520s would have created the need for a new stair much further east.  The middle one could possibly relate to a posh chantry chapel with its altar below the projecting bracket in the window embrasure by the most easterly stair.
  7. Unusual 15th century font with male figures at the corners and AM for Ave Maria and IHS for Jesus.  Hour glass base is later.
  8. Wall painting of St Christopher, now very worn, with scenes from his life and black letter texts over the top.
  9. Chancel of white granite appears to have been added to an existing church in the early 1520s.  The original east end may have been where this begins.
  10. Remains of shrine, with some original paintwork, and triangular reliquary cross with crucifixion scene.
  11. Bench ends, not best workmanship, but unusual designs.  Sacred monograms of the Virgin Mary – crowned Ms or fleur de lys, symbols of  Christ’s Passion – nails, pillar (for scourging), crown of thorns, ladder, spear and sponge, pierced heart, chalice and host, and lantern (arrest).  More unusual survivals are a diminutive pieta – the Virgin Mary with the body of her son Jesus on her lap – normally a target for iconoclasts and a weird Resurrection.  Next to a closed burial shroud, a man’s head emerges from an unravelling shroud.  Some animals might represent coats of arms of local families, these include three fish, a mule, a possible lion, and a peacock.
  12. Medieval wagon roofs survive in south aisle and north chapel with roof bosses and wall plates, rest replaced 1893.
  13. Many shipwrecked sailors are buried in this churchyard including 104 lost in 1809 and some of the 106 drowned souls in 1898 on the liner  Mohegan

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