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.
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
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.
The 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.
Inside, 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
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.
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.
the north wall is a Norman window (5) discovered and
restored by Sedding.
Below 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
Look carefully up at the wagon roofs (8) and
their ancient bosses - the keen eyed may find a green man!
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
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
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.