St Ia the Virgin, St Ives
The site is dedicated to St Ia reputedly an Irish virgin and noblewoman. According to a life of St Gwinear of c.1300 she had intended to come to Cornwall as a missionary with him and his companions, in later accounts St Elwyn is noted as leader of the group. Being a somewhat tardy saint, she missed the boat, but fortunately a leaf enlarged itself into a boat especially for her. William of Worcester in 1478 said she was sister to St Erc (Erth) and St Euny. The present building was commenced in 1410 and consecrated in 1434. It probably replaced the 13th century town chapel and there was also a chapel of St Ia at Troon in Camborne by 1429. Both chapels had holy wells nearby. St Ives was originally a chapel of ease to Lelant, gaining a cemetery in 1542 and so effectively becoming the parish church of St Ives in 1576.
The church retains many of its original features and is unusual in Cornwall in being completed in the 15th century in the new Perpendicular style. The tower rises 80 feet above the town and must be one of the most painted and photographed in Cornwall. Its construction is of local granite, from the quarries of Zennor. The four pinnacles rest on the backs of angels. Internally the church has aisles of sandrock, following the Devon (wave moulding) rather than Cornish (hollow chamfer) standard. According to Betjeman, ‘the pillars and walls lean this way and that, giving the place a home-made look’. There is an outer southern aisle or Lady Chapel added by the Trenwith family in the 1460s. The internal roofs are of the wagon type, carved and painted, some with angels.
The granite font was in place by 1428 and there are several old bench ends. Choir stalls are probably of the 1530s and bear the name of John Payn, portreeve of the town who was executed in 1549 as a leader of the Western or Prayer Book Rebellion. The church was the subject of three nineteenth century restorations and the stained glass dates from this period. Modern adornments include a Madonna and Child carved in 1953 by Dame Barbara Hepworth in memory of her son Paul, killed in active service with the RAF. There is also a 1985 painting by Bryan Pearce, Three Angels.
Outside, a 15th Century stone cross stands near the south entrance to the church. A gargoyle and grotesques from the same period can be seen on the south wall of the Lady Chapel. Successive rural deans complained about the lack of space in the churchyard well into the 1820s: there is a report from 1815 that it was so ‘narrow and contracted and choked up with corpses that the dead bodies are frequently dug up half decayed and the coffins thrown over the wall into the sea’. Fortunately, this issue has been addressed satisfactorily for some time now.