1. Tower

2. Sundial

3. Font

4. Squadron Plaques

5. Norman Window

6. Early Bench Ends

7. Coat of Arms

8. Wagon Roof

9. Pulpit

10. Chancel Screen

11. Reredos

12. RAF Window

13. Screen

 

 

ST.EVAL CHURCH

On a high plateau, 300 feet above sea level, and exposed to the Atlantic gales, stands the ancient church of St Eval. Around it lie the remains of the Coastal Command Airfield of R.A.F. St Eval where up to 2000 personnel kept a constant vigil against German U-Boats during the Second World War. The Parish Church then became the Station Church, until the RAF withdrew to St Mawgan in 1959. The contribution of the Royal Air Force to preserving and beautifying this ancient place of worship forms a fascinating chapter in the story of a building which goes back to Norman times, when the first church was built on the site of a Celtic shrine.

The splendid tower (1) was built during the summer of 1727 - towers were built between Easter and Harvest, to utilise good weather. It replaces an earlier one which fell into disrepair in the 1600s. It rises 64ft, with a superb newel stair built into the north east corner. There are battlements and tall pinnacles of moorstone capped with ball finials. During the War, it was used as a manned lookout, and it has long been used as a significant landmark.

 

 

 

The original 13th Century church was enlarged by building the South aisle, probably in the early 16th Century - at the same time screens were built across it separating the Nave, where the people were, from the Chancel, where the Holy Mysteries were celebrated. Above the Screen was a carved Rood - life sized figures of Christ Crucified with Mary and St John on either side, and behind them a painted representation of Doom. Then came the Reformation which saw figure and colour banished from churches, as is dramatically displayed here, and later the Victorian restoration, sympathetically carried out by John Sedding from 1888-89. The building was further restored and enhanced through the generosity of the RAF and parishioners in the middle of the 20th Century. Such a 'potted history' can only give the briefest glimpse of changing times in this remarkable church. Visitors are strongly recommended to purchase the excellent Guide by John Shapland which contains much fascinating detail.

SundialThe sundial (2) over the south porch dates from 1724; it has a unique inscription 'Wee shall die all'. It is carved on rag slate which had badly deteriorated by 1990, so it was taken down and restored on a resin backblock, with a modern gnomon - the piece which casts the shadow. The porch was moved when the south aisle was added.

FontInside, the church is low and welcoming; whilst showing marks of the Victorian restoration, it also preserves much of its earlier history. As the nave reflects a distant past, so the south aisle is full of reminders of more recent history, with its Squadron plaques and RAF memorial. Just inside the door stands the Norman font (3) on a stone step. It is of the plainest design with a circular bowl on a single cylindrical stem.  The font cover belonged to 205 Squadron and was given to the Church in 1971 when 205 Squadron disbanded in Singapore. 

The cross on the southern wall shown here, was brought back from Singapore at the same time 

  To read the full story behind the cross click on the picture.

 

Squadron PlaquesTowards the tower are more reminders of the RAF presence, including the Memorial and Squadron plaques (4) of every serving squadron that lost more than one person from 1939-1945 - there is a detailed Guide on sale. The Church is a shrine to RAF Coastal Command - without the support of RAF St Mawgan and all those memories, the church would not be in the fine state it is today.

Norman Window

On the north wall is a Norman window (5) discovered and restored by Sedding.

Bench EndsBelow it are three of the earlier benches, almost in their original state. There are 24 other bench ends (6) dating from 1540 - 1560, most depict emblems of Christ's Passion, or initials. They were rebuilt in 1872. The Coat of Arms (7) are of a Georgian Monarch but painted over an earlier set, as was common practice; at the restoration in 1962 the ghost of the letters C.R. were found - suggesting a date from 1625 -1649. The old, blocked, north door is Norman.

Wagon roofLook carefully up at the wagon roofs (8) and their ancient bosses - the keen eyed may find a green man!

The Victorian restoration covered the Pulpit (9) with layers of brown varnish, but by 1990 it had become very ramshackled and was taken to pieces, cleaned and restored and a date found carved into one of the base stringers - 1638. Only 20 pulpits of this age survive in Cornwall.

The 15th Century Chancel Screen (10) was restored by XV Squadron RAF as a memorial to Flt.Lt.Stephen Hicks who was killed in the Gulf War. The Barber's pole decorations are easily discernible after 600 years. The panels may have been painted with Saints. Choirstalls and this altar were restored in 1888, and the reredos (11) bought in 1911 for 4.

A special appeal, supported by the parish and those who had links with RAF St.Eval, restored the Lady Chapel and installed the superb Stained Glass Window (12) by Crear McCartney to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Station in 1939. The symbolism of the window is fully explained on the cards on sale in the church.

 

 

Screen What is left of the Lady Chapel Screen (13) is spectacular: little better could exemplify the barbarous acts of the Reformation or the Commonwealth than the rough hacked remains of the great carved Screen once surmounted with an ornate Rood. The panels that remain are very fine and date from 1540. Look for the dragon eating a large bone! St Eval is a remarkable testament to the faith and beliefs of past generations.

 

Pause and be thankful for the example of those who gave so much in times past to this place, and for those from the nearby Coastal Command Station who guarded this island during the War years.

Most of the text and pictures on this page have been extracted from
Church Trails in Cornwall - Set 8: The Padstow Area, with permission.
(thanks to Mike O'Connor for scanning the pictures)
The 19 Church Trail packs are being produced by the North Cornwall Heritage Coast & Countryside Service, in conjunction with the Diocese of Truro, and may be purchased from all good bookshops.