St Buryan, TR19 6BZ
Grid ref: SW409257
The centre of St Buryan village is dominated by the massive Grade 1 listed granite tower and church of St Buryan. This church is dedicated to St Buryan or Buriana, a female saint first noted in the 10th century, and thereafter this place was one of the most important ecclesiastical centres in West Cornwall. There are many crosses in this parish including a fine example showing Christ crucified and a fragment of a coped tomb stone. The churchyard, almost circular in shape, was once a Romano-British settlement enclosure; its ditches found during road widening in 1984.
Reputedly, in AD c.930 Athelstan, a Saxon King, founded the college, but more likely he just confirmed the rights of a pre-existing religious community with privileged sanctuary status. Domesday Book in 1086 also suggests that this site was once a Celtic monastery. From this date until the Reformation, the church was served by a body of canons under the authority of a dean. The college was dissolved in 1548, but, St Buryan remained a Royal Peculiar deanery till 1857. A silver seal matrix and other interesting records are at the Cornwall Record Office. Before the mid-19th century the parish of St Buryan included the chapelries of St Levan and Sennen.
The earliest feature of the church today is a Romanesque or Norman pillar on the north side of the sanctuary which may indicate a long lost aisle or adjoining chapel. One stone in the centre of the eastern arch still has a consecration cross etched into it. The coffin-shaped tombstone of Clarice, wife of Geoffrey, de Bolleit has an inscription in Norman-French and is 13th century in date. The 15th century font with angels is like the 1428 font at St Ives and so may well predate the rebuilding of the whole church which began after 1473. The chancel is unusually long for a village church, but this was to accommodate the Dean and College.
The present church has granite ashlar walls and a 92ft tower with set-back buttresses. Mullion windows with round heads of c.1520s-40s date light both north and south aisles; suggesting that enlargement of this church was being done as the Reformation unfolded. Chancel and chancel chapels were separated from nave and aisles by an exuberant rood screen and loft created probably in the 1530s. A decorative turret on the south side contained a stair to give access for the organ player and parish clerks who would light candles before the images up there and occasionally sing or read from there.
The church was restored in 1814. The ornately carved benches were cut down and two bench ends were saved and made into the Litany Desk. In 1825 almost all of the medieval Rood Screen was taken down. Some had been destroyed, but the original pieces, mostly from the centre section, were gradually replaced between 1880 and 1909. The screen, one of the most splendid in Cornwall, was the gift of the Godolphins of Boskenna and others. The original red, blue and green paint and gilding to the original medieval parts can be seen.
The Lady Chapel section of the rood screen was restored in the early 1920s by Belgian refugees and the Northern end restored in 1922 as a memorial to those who died in the First World War. The only relic of the Deanery days are the four Prebendal Stalls inside the screen.
Between 1915 and 1918 the oak Tower Screen was put up in memory of Private Geoffrey Coles who was killed in action in 1915. The tower arch was screened in 1990 and a room provided in the tower in memory of Fr Cecil Lawson, Rector.
There are four stained glass windows. The high altar window was dedicated in 1872 to Charles Bevan, the judge of the District County Court who lived at Boskenna. The window in the Lady Chapel was dedicated in 1897 to the Revd Canon Thomas Coulson, Rector of St Buryan. On the south wall near the screen is a window dedicated in 1910 to the Permewan family and in the south west corner a window dedicated to Revd Uriah Tonkin and Revd John Tonkin, both Curates of the parish.
The High Altar and Reredos were carved by Miss Pinwell of Plymouth who was responsible for much of the best woodcarving done in the West Country in the early part of the 20th Century.
On the west wall near the font is a very fine 17th Century slate memorial erected to the memory of Arthur Levelis of Trewoofe in 1671. At the foot of the tower, to the west of the entrance porch, is the tomb of Augustus Smith (1804-1872), who was Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly for 35 years.
There were probably three medieval bells originally and these were recast in 1638, 1681 and 1738. Roger Purdue recast the first and the last was recast at St Buryan; a notable local event. A tenor bell was added in 1901. Today the full peal is six; the Tenor, weighing almost 2 tons, was hung and consecrated in 1994 and is the heaviest in the Diocese. A model shows the working of the bell wheel.