Bodmin Church, Cornwall

Bodmin church, Cornwall

Bodmin Church is the largest parish church in Cornwall at 151ft long and 65ft wide. Bodmin Church has strong links to St Petroc , who relics have resided here on and off over the centuries.There were earlier churches on this site. Part of the tower contains masonry of the Norman period, but most of the present building was built in 1469 - 72.

Bodmin Church pillars are typical ‘Cornish Perpendicular’ with small capitals. It is one of the few churches of the period of which building records survive almost complete. The Mayors accounts are preserved at the County Records Office, Truro. The total recorded cost was £196 7s 4d (about half a million pounds today). The ‘furniture’ - pulpit, screens, seats, etc - cost £92 under a separate contract with one Mathy More in 1491. The timber was bought in Wales and some of this original woodwork is incorporated in the present Screens and Priests’ seats.

About 1110 a party of French canons visited Cornwall, and caused a violent fracas here when one of them scoffed at the notion, dear to the Cornish, that King Arthur was not dead and would one day return to govern his people.

Most of the original roof was destroyed in 1699 when the spire (150ft high) was struck by lightening but a few beams remain in position in the Lady Chapel. The building was partially restored in the early 19th century when the west wall was rebuilt and a further restoration took place about 1860.


The Font is 12th Century- and has carvings of figures of evil on the West and the good on the East.

The present Organ was given by James Larche and George Hunt, Bodmin's two MP's in 1775. The organ was moved in 1932 to the West End of the church. North East Chapel (St Maurice's) became the Chapel to the Duke of Cornwall's light Infantry. Standards and Battle Honours can be found in the North Aisle.

The Chancel. Behind the present reredos ( which contains some of the 1491 Mathy More panels ) can be found the original reredos with mosaics

The High Altar is of local granite.

The Lectern-This is made up of a few medieval misericords. Interestingly one of the figures has five fingers and a thumb.

Chantry Chapel-At the east end of the church stands the now roofless chapel of St Thomas Becket. It was licensed on 18th March 1377 ( just over 200years after his murder in December 1170). For over 300 years it was used as a school ( the for-runner of the Church of England School). The building has been roofless for about 100 years and is a listed building. There is a crypt underneath which may have been a Charnel House.

The Lady Chapel -The East Window commemorates Mrs Walter Raleigh Gilbert and depicts Fortitude, Patience, Faith, Hope , Charity and Purity. the Gilbert family formerly owned Priory House and married into the Pennington family of Bellfounders. the Madonna is by Faust Lang.

The Porch-Is carved Pentewan Stone and is a fine example of groyning. Above the porch are two Parvise (Priests) chambers in which originally the parish priest lived. On the external south face are three empty niches, presumably these once held statues-possibly including one of St Petroc-which were probably destroyed during the Civil War (or Earlier).

Medieval Cross Slab Cover - During 1999 a short programme of archaeological evaluation was undertaken by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit along the proposed route a new water pipeline Two trenches were dug which revealed the remains of a medieval cemetery. One very significant find was a 13th – 14th century decorated cross slab used as a lintel stone over an alcove. There are very few crosses of this sort known in Cornwall, the best known example being one at St. Buryan Church. Bodmin has the largest number of such crosses originally from various ecclesiastical centres in the town, (the Priory, the Friary and the Parish). This slab, now on display in Bodmin Museum, would undoubtedly have been selected for carving at great cost, for high status grave markers.

St Petroc

St. Petroc has given his name to the Padstow (Petroc's - stow) and to Little Petherick near Wadebridge. He was the founder of Bodmin, which for some time was an Abbey-Bishopric, and remained the religious capital of Cornwall up to the end of the Middle Ages.

St Petroc went from Wales to Ireland, where he spent 20 years, before coming to Cornwall. St. Petroc is recorded as having arrived at the mouth of the river Camel, near Trebetherick around 600 AD. .

St. Petroc and his followers established themselves in the Celtic Monastery of Lanwethinoc, which became known as Petrocstow, Petroc's Church. He travelled to Rome and Brittany, performing many miracles and healing the sick.

At this time, a hermit, St. Guron, had established his "cell" on the site of the present building. The hermitage had all the natural advantages of running water, there was a pool, copious water springs, and the valley, then, as now, must have been verdant and sheltered. It is possible to see the Well of St. Guron in the grounds of the Parish Church.

St. Petroc came to this hermitage, from Padstow, with three of his fellow saints, Credan, Medan and Dechan. St. Guron left and proceeded to the south coast to a spot named after him, Gorran.

It was not long before St. Guron's hermitage was enlarged into a Priory of considerable size and importance. St. Petroc became the first Prior.

St. Petroc died at Padstow and his bones were placed in a "fair shrine" placed before the high altar in the Church. His relics and his handbell (the cimbalum) were used for ecclesiastical purposes for at least five hundred years after his death.

The fact that English influence was at work during the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, is revealed in the manumissions of slaves recorded in the Bodmin Gospels. These Gospels are now in the British Museum (Add. MS. 9381, in the British Museum). Most of the owners of the slaves whose liberation is recorded appear to have been English, but there are some whose names were Cornish.

The relics of St. Petroc were brought to Bodmin Priory. The head of the saint was placed in an ivory casket and kept in a shrine in the church of the Priory. The Priory however suffered much damage during the Reformation and the casket was hidden in the room over the South porch of the Parish Church. It remained hidden until the eighteenth century. The casket can still be seen on display in the Church.

In 1177, one of the Canons, Martin, who had fallen into disgrace with the Prior, stole the relics of St. Petroc and took them to the Abbey of St. Meen in Brittany. The church demanded the return of the sacred bones. The Gotha manuscript contains a long account by one, Robert de Tautona, who accompanied the Prior to recover the relics. The ivory casket was returned with "due honour, apology and homage". On the return journey the relics were venerated by Henry II and his Court at Winchester, and the King gave a silk pall to cover the sacred shrine. The Bishop of Exeter accompanied the Prior and Canons on the way to Bodmin which they reached on the 14th September. This date is still celebrated.

In 1994 thieves broke in and once again targeted St. Petroc's reliquary. Letters appeared in both local and national newspapers expressing anger and sadness at the theft. The casket was later "found in a field in Yorkshire" . The Town Council, the rightful owners of the reliquary, received it back into the Church of St. Petroc and agreed to have it reinstated subject to adequate security arrangements being made by the ecclesiastical authorities.

Parish Registers - Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Funerals run from 1558.

Bodmin Church, St Petrocs their own web site

Bodmin Town Web Site

Cornwall Churches