Sancreed Church - Origins

It is generally accepted that the cave-dwellings in the neighbourhood may well go back more than 2,000 years. That a church stood on the site of the present building long before the Norman conquest there can be little doubt. This is evidenced by the circular walled original burial ground, so typical of places of worship as far back as the 6th century. Certainly it was to this part of Cornwall that the Irish missionaries came in the 5th and 6th centuries; here that they established their lans or settlements, which were always monastic in character.

Earlier Churches

The circular configuration of the site, together with the Celtic crosses found within the churchyard and in the vicinity, suggests that the first church was probably monastic in character. It would have been surrounded by a collection of huts or cells, housing a community of monks, manual workers and domestics from whom the story of the original founder would have been handed on from generation to generation. While the character of the first church can be only a matter of conjecture, there is little doubt as to that of the second. Built in the 13th and 14th Centuries, this was of the usual Early English cruciform plan. Of the parts incorporated in the present building, little can be traced except the tower and font, both of the 14th century; the blocked, square-headed doorway (recently dated to c1150) under a rough arch of modern masonry in the north wall of the nave; and part of the chancel walls, including the trefoiled piscina on the south side. The remains of a still earlier font, of Norman design, were found during the course of the restoration carried out between 1881 and 1891, at the instance of the Rev. Reginald Basset Rogers, under the direction of architect, Mr. J. D. Sedding.

The present Church building consists of chancel, nave, south aisle, north transept (now used as a vestry), and West tower which is, for the most part, of the 15th century. The south arcade has five bays, with four-centred arches, supported by monolithic granite columns. At the entrance to the north transept is an arcade of two bays, of the same date and details. The springing of an earlier arch, which perhaps crossed the transept in one open span, can still be seen on the west wall.

The transept is lighted by a single lancet on the north, east and west, and has a modern doorway at the north-west. An older doorway, a little to the south of this, has been blocked. At the west end of the south aisle is a traceried window which is manifestly of earlier date than the wall in which it is embedded. This may have come from the south transept, demolished when the aisle was added in the late 15th century. In the east bay of the south aisle is a small blocked doorway, the original priest's door, showing only on the outer face of the wall. Close to this is a piscina, suggesting that the east end of the aisle once formed a Lady Chapel, the entrance to which would probably have been by means of steps, as the base of the doorway is well below the level of the nave. The rood stairs remain, as does the base of the old screen, which having been carefully restored and has still a number of the original 16th century panels. Both the old and the newer panels are elaborately carved with foliage, birds, animals and grotesques. The roof is of the usual waggon type, with moulded principals and purlins, and carved bosses and wall plates. Over the chancel are 64 fine Victorian panels containing modern tracery and carvings of a symbolic and ornamental character. The pews, copied from the old examples, were installed during the course of the restoration between 1881 and 1891 and incorporate, in many cases, the armorial bearings of friends to whom, as well as to the architect and craftsmen, the parish is indebted for the carrying through of a scheme which added much to the appearance of the building. One old medieval bench end remains alongside the entrance to the transept. It is carved with a shield bearing a chevron between two cinquefoils in chief and a boar's head in base. The carving, both old (in the screen) and new, is of excellent workmanship and compares favourably with any to be found elsewhere in the county.

The font, similar to that at St. Ives and probably the work of the same mason, is of the 14th century. It has a cup-shaped bowl, two feet three inches in diameter. At the corners are four angels, with crowns on their foreheads, bearing shields. It stands on a round stem, with four engraved shafts. The east window was installed in 1940 by Mrs. Charles Williams as a memorial to her parents, Thomas Bedford and Frances Jane Bolitho. In the centre is depicted the miraculous draught of fishes; below, the Nativity, with the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Wise Men. The outer lights illustrate local industries including agriculture, horticulture and mining.

Two scenes from the life of St. Euny, whose name is linked with the healing springs of Chapel Uny, appear in the base, while in the tracery is the shield of the diocese of Truro and figures of St. Columb, St. Austell, St. Mawnan and St. Credan, all Cornish Saints associated with the neighbourhood. The modern reredos, sculptured by Mr. S. Trevenan from the design of Mr. J. D. Sedding, with its twin subjects of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Visit of the Magi, were displaced when the present east window was inserted, and have subsequently been attached to the north wall of the chancel. A window in the south wall, commemorating the Rev. Reginald Basset Rogers, Vicar of the parish from 1879 to 1899 and his wife Laura Augusta, contains figures of the Virgin and Child, St. Piran and St. Margaret of Scotland.

The west tower is built of granite ashlar in large stones. The courses in the lower half are alternately deep and shallow. The windows 'are small and simply treated, the tracery being flush with the wall face. The parapet is unusually high and has small angle pinnacles which are relatively modern. Rising from one of these is a wrought iron weather vane. The copper wind fin is incised with the date 1763 and initials EH, PM and IG, perhaps those of the churchwardens at that time. The bells are three in number - a treble of 1759, a tenor of 1774 and a second tenor of 1882. They are rung by pivoted iron clappers.

The south doorway of the nave, which, like the aisle, is of the late 15th century, has a four-centred head, with square label and traceried spandrels. Over it is a trefoiled niche which formerly contained a carved figure of the Virgin. The porch, probably contemporary with the doorway, has a four-centred outer arch, and a holy-water stoup at the north-east angle. Over the arch is a slate sundial bearing the inscription: “A &C Fecii; Late.50:10.” This dial used to be near the east angle of the south wall, but was moved in 1881 to its present and possibly original position. The date 1752 is carved thereupon.

The Churchyard contains five ancient crosses. One of these, that abutting on the diagonal path leading from the porch to the south-east entrance, is reputed to be the best specimen of incised work in Cornwall. Opinions as to its date vary from the 8th to the 11th century. Its total length is nine feet, and it stands eight feet three inches clear of the base. It is sculptured on all four sides. On the front is the figure of our Lord in bold relief, the features being still distinguishable. The figure is clothed in a tunic, the expanded sleeves and the lower hem of the garment being well defined. Below the figure is a vase or jug, with a handle on one side, from the mouth of which issues a stem about two feet in length, the top of which is generally thought to represent the lily emblem of the Virgin, although there are antiquarians who incline to the opinion that it may be a spearhead and that the composition is intended for the Grail and Lance. Below this is a much defaced inscription of which INCX forms one line, with another X beneath it.

Of the ornaments on the back and sides, the most interesting is the inscription on the panel on the right side. This is in debased Latin capitals and reads from the bottom upwards. Although much defaced, the words FILIVS IC in the lower line are still decipherable. Archaeologists incline to the opinion that this lettering is of an earlier date than the ornament on the cross itself. The cross on the east side of the south porch has many points in common with the larger one described above, both so far as is known are the only examples of this particular form in Cornwall. The height of this cross from base to top is five feet nine inches. On the front is a figure of our Lord similar to which reference has already been made. An inscription on the right panel of the front is thought to be the mark of the maker. On the left side is a single panel containing a serpentine creature, the body and tail of which form interlaced work exactly similar to that on the cross at Lanherne. On the back is a central boss, surrounded by interlaced work composed of four Stafford knots with a continuous serpentine band. The remaining crosses, three in number, lack both shaft and base. Before re-erection in the churchyard the first and third of these crosses were respectively at Trannack and Anjardin (farms within the parish). Their original site cannot be determined.

Plate and Registers - the traditional plate consists of a small chalice inscribed in dotted letters, “1576 IT,IG”; a small paten inscribed “St. Sancred 1726”; a large flagon, with the Exeter date-letter for 1730, given in 1736, and a standing paten, with the date-letter London, 1765, given by the Rev. Edward Hobbs in 1772. There are also a chalice and a paten presented in 1917 by Mr. Joseph Bosence, a past resident, whose family had been established in the parish for more than 500 years. The complete registers begin with the marriages for 1559, baptisms for 1566, and burials for 1579. The plate and registers are for security reasons not housed within the church.

The Benefice - The advowson of Sancreed appears to have been attached originally to the Manor of Bosvenning, held by the Earl of Gloucester. It was transferred in 1182 by the latter to the Church of St. James in Bristol, a priory or cell of the Abbey of Tewkesbury, whence it passed, in 1243, to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, who continued to exercise the right of patronage until 1889, when it was vested in the Dean and Chapter of the newly formed Diocese of Truro.

The Newlyn School of Art - Both churchyard and church did during the last century have a strong appeal to members of the Newlyn School. Among those who lie buried in the churchyard is Stanhope Alexander Forbes, R.A., who for many years was a worshipper at the church, and which formed the subject of one of his exhibits at the Royal Academy in 1898; along with John Millar of the Old Vicarage who together with his mother are buried to the West of the porch, as is Mrs AJ Munnings RA (1888–1914) aka Florence Carter Wood aka Edith Florence “Blote” (the subject matter of the film “Summer in February” shot locally in Cornwall and released in 2013). Beyond these the churchyard is also the final resting place of Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931), Jill Garnier (1890 - 1966) and Geoffrey Sneyd Garnier (1889 - 1970). Memorials for the latter two along with those of Stanhope Forbes, Maud Forbes, Thomas Cooper Gotch and Gotch's daughter, Phyllis are all the work of William Arnold Snell (1890-1971), a highly respected stonesmith associated with much of the work of the Newlyn School as well as the restoration of Madron Church in 1936. At the Southeast corner of the arcade there is a superb bas relief monument by Stanhope Forbes in honour of his son William Alexander Stanhope Forbes who died during First World War at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.