St Pirans Old Church, Cornwall

St Pirans Oratory, Cross

St Piran's old church is in the dunes too. This must not be confused with the ancient oratory of St Piran which was abandoned to the sands in the 10th century. The old church was built nearby to replace the oratory as the church of the local people. The replacement church had a stream protecting it from the sands, which did its job, until tin mining caused the stream to dry up, and allow the sands to engulf this building in 1804.

It grew from a small church to a collegiate church by the 12th century. By 14th century hundreds of pilgrims visited the church on their way to Compostella in Spain. This was probably due to the head of St Piran being kept in a silver casket in the church.

By the 17th century sand was causing major problems to the church, and applications were made to the canons of Exeter Cathedral to remove the church to a secure site. After much opposition this was agreed and in 1795 the last wedding was held there. During this year also the gable end of the lost oratory was seen.

St Piran's old church was dismantled piece by piece, and carted inland to be rebuilt. Burials continued in the surrounding graveyard until 1835, then that too was abandoned to the sand.

The old church survives as a ruin with walls up to 1.5m high, having been part-excavated in 1917-1920. The old burial ground around the church is still marked by a bank and St Piran's Cross.

Dr Dexter conducted a limited excavation of the chancel end in 1922. He discovered two slate tablets dedicated to two of the most important families of the parish. T.F.G. Dexter was the author of a substantial doctoral thesis in archaeology for St Andrews in 1922 concerning Perranzabuloe and St Piran's Oratory and Monastery. And he wrote "A Cornish Legend: The Three Churches of Perranzabuloe" originally published in 1923.

A geophysical survey, carried out in 2004, recorded a number of below-ground remains around the Church including boundaries delineating a number of small enclosures, cultivation marks, the location of two possible buildings, patches of stonework in the churchyard and possible mining activity.

Excavations in September and October 2005

The St Piran Trust dig involved moving around 250 tons of sand from the interior of the church, and related works to the outside. A large ditch in front of the old cross exposed an amount of rubble and some bones from the dig in 1917 by Dr Dexter. These were found only 1ft beneath the surface.

Turf was removed at the chancel end of the church and build up of earth and grass removed from the walls.

An old gravestone was uncovered in the body of the church. It lay in pieces as it had been thrown down onto the rubble when the church was abandoned in 1804. It recorded John Resugga and wife who died in 1628.

The interior walls of the church tower, unseen for 200 years, were revealed.

8th Oct. 2005, the dig finished, and the protecting sand restored.

St Pirans Oratory by the St Piran Trust


Cornwall Churches