St Columb Church is a fine Grade 1 listed building, at the head of the fertile Vale of Lanherne. It was in the running to be the cathedral for Cornwall in the middle of the 19th century.
St Columb Church is dedicated to St Columba. She was a holy woman who probably came from Ireland to preach the Gospel to fellow Celts here and in Brittany. According to tradition Columba was pursued up the river by a heathen tyrant who wished her to marry his son, and was martyred at Ruthvoes near St Columb. (Columba in Latin means a Dove - the emblem of tenderness and purity, and used to represent the Holy Spirit in medieval times).
The site was possibly a large tumulus or burying place in pre-Christian times. A church has occupied it for at least 1000 years. The church building has a cathedral-like appearance; it was erected in about the 12th century.
The consecration cross on the East side of the doorway was probably made for John Grandison Bishop of Exeter who re-consecrated the church in the early 1500's. Also at that time the bench ends added, of which there are now only 38 left. And the "Cradle" roof was built.
In 1676 some youths set fire to a store of gunpowder which was kept in the church for defence (remember this was just after the Civil War) which resulted in their death and great damage to the church. Money was raised locally and the church was rebuilt. The explosion was responsible for the destruction of several monuments including the founder of the Chantry Sir John Arundell.
August 9th 1842 was when Bishop Philpotts confirmed 400 school-children. Bishop Philpott had long advocated the formation of a Cornish see. His efforts resulted in Lord John Russell putting forward a bill for the creation of four new dioceses of which Cornwall should be one. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the matter. Meanwhile a rivalry had grown up between Bodmin and Truro for the cathedral, but when the Royal Commission reported, they recommended a new Cornish See at St Columb. Dr Walker, the vicar of St Columb, a wealthy individual, offered his vicarage (built at a cost of £7,000 ) and the avowson of the living estimated at £1,600 per annum. The bishop of Exeter agreed to it, but Lord Palmerston, the prime Minister, turned down the whole idea in 1860. The see was approved in 1876 and went to Truro.
St Columb Church was restored and the figures on the wall plates of the roof were added carved by local craftsmen in 1903. In 1920 the chiming clock was added as a memorial to the men of the town who died in the Great War.
The chancel arcades are of two arches each, and the nave arcades each of three lofty pointed arches. The material is chiefly Pentewan stone, but occasionally Caen stone is used. The aisles are separated from the transepts by transverse arches. The south chancel aisle was formerly a peculiar chapel for the Arundell family, and thereunder several of them are buried.
Some medieval frescos (wall paintings) were discovered in the course of further repairs in 1846.
The tower, a fine example of a 15th Century building, stands about 80 feet in height and is unusually built with a passage beneath, wide enough to admit carts; it formed a right of way to parishioners to the college. It is of three stages; the first stage is open - having north and south arches. It is buttressed on the square, has battlements and pinnacles and contains eight bells. The tower was damaged by lightning in 1690. The tower contains eight bells which were re-hung in 1950. Beneath the Tower are two granite slabs, probably grave coverings,one with a floriated cross is from a grave of a former Rector.
An odd passage runs beneath the tower from the North to the south. It is believed that until 1820 the land on the three sides of the Tower did not belong to the church, but to the College founded by Sir John Arundel in 1427. These buildings probably got so close to the church that the parishioners could only build their tower by allowing a right-of -way beneath it, for the members of the College.
The pulpit was also replaced in the early 20th century. It is hard to understand why the fine 16th century one was replaced, one of the panels was discovered in a house at Newquay, and forms the front of the credence table.
The South Chapel or Lady Chapel - At Lanherne in St Mawgan was the home of the Arundells who were probably responsible for the re-building of the South Chancel on the condition that it might be used as their private chapel and burial place. In 1427, Sir John Arundell established the Chantry of Our Lady with a college of five priests to serve it, by saying Masses for the souls of the departed Arundells. The priests were housed near the west end of the church. The foundation was terminated (as were the others in the church) by the passing of the Chantry Act of 1545, although the priests received pensions.
The South Porch of the same date as the South Transept Window with "Ball-Flower" mouldings a typical 14th century device of a pointed arch having at the terminals the heads of a man and a woman. Although "Ball-Flower" ornament is frequently found in other parts of England it is exceedingly rare in Cornwall.
What is now the Choir Vestry and the organ chamber is one of the most interesting parts of the church. Until 1545 this was the chantry Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Trinity (see above under South Chapel). After the dissolution of their chantry were cited as "Twelve Men" and governed the affairs of the parish until the establishment of the parish council. The Green Book of St Columb was their minute book.
Some other interesting items inside the church:
* Some fine Brasses, Sir John Arundell 1591 and his wife, John Arundell 1633
and his wife.
* A fine wooden screen by the architect George Fellowes Prynne.
* A fine organ by Bryceston Bros & Ellis of London.
* A "letter of Thanks" to the Cornish People sent by Charles I in 1643.
* Two sculptures by the artist Allan G Wyon.
St Columb Major village