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DEDICATION. The church is dedicated to St. Piran and St Michael (the Archangel). Saint Piran, a son of Ireland, the land of saints, came to Cornwall around the year 498. He landed on the North Coast, near Perranporth, and between there and Perranzabuloe he built a tiny church, where he ministered until his death in 520. He also crossed Cornwall, through Perran-ar-worthal and Perranwell to Perranuthnoe, preaching the Gospel in these places and taking it across to Brittany. Saint Piran and other Celtic saints whose names cover the map of Cornwall brought Christianity here and established  it long before St Augustine landed in Kent on his mission from Rome in 597. The true measure of St. Piran is that for a thousand years after his death people made pilgrimages to his shrine, not only from all parts of Cornwall, but also from Ireland and Brittany. His tiny church at Perranzabuloe was buried by the sand dunes in the ninth century and not re-discovered until 1835. In 1910 a concrete shelter was built over it to protect it from the weather, and it may be seen today – one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, and certainly the oldest in England.

Saint Piran was a very tall man and the altar in his tiny church is unusually high. He is said to have taught the Cornish tin miners a new way of smelting tin. It is an undoubted fact  that St. Piran became the Patron Saint of Cornish miners and his emblem is a white cross on a black background.

THE CHURCH IN PERRANUTHNOE. It is probable that St. Piran built a tiny church here similar to the one at Perranzabuloe. If so, it must have been buried under the sea long ago, for in his time the sea was about a mile further out. It was not the practice in the twelfth century to dedicate churches to Celtic saints unless one of that dedication already existed in the parish; this fact points to an earlier church here.

The first church was built on this site in 1160. It was smaller than the present one, having a small, squat tower and a thatched roof.  It is likely that the priest lived in the upper floor of the tower, as was a common custom then. The Church itself had a nave with a transept on each side and a chancel to make the form of a cross. The High Altar was dedicated to St. Piran and St. Michael. The dedication to St. Michael was due to the popularity at that time of the cult of St. Michael and perhaps also to the proximity of St. Michael’s Mount. The altar in the north transept was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and that in the south transept to St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of sailors and children (our “Father Christmas”). Of this first church, four parts remain. The font, with its carvings of palm trees to remind us of Apostolic baptism in running water with palm trees waving overhead, is the original font of the 1160 church. The old Norman doorway with its three strange heads is the original one, and a smaller Norman doorway may be seen on the outside of the north wall, now blocked up. This was moved to this position when the church was enlarged in 1470. The other part of the first church still standing is the archway of the south transept behind the pulpit and the transept itself.

In 1470 the church was too small to cater for the increased population and the north transept was taken down and the north aisle built in its place. The pointed arches and the pillars date from this time. The tower was made higher and the four pinnacles added on top to make the tower a landmark  for ships entering Mount’s Bay. The inside walls of the church would be covered with bright pictures of Bible scenes and incidents in the life of St. Piran and the windows were filled  with stained glass. At this time, too, the rood screen was erected. It had a stone stairway at each end by which you could climb to the top. These stone stairways still remain; one in the south transept and one behind the organ.

At the time of the Reformation many of these beautiful things were destroyed, stained glass windows were shattered, pictures teaching the Bible to those who could not read were defaced, screens were removed and font covers were thrown away. In recent years much has been done to restore the church to its former beauty. In 1926 the chancel screen, the choir stalls and the reredos were added in memory of Charles Aldington, C.B.F., a former general manager of the Great Western Railway and the altar and Communion rails were placed there in memory of the Rev. Richard Astley and his wife. All these are reproductions of fifteenth-century work and are very beautiful examples of modern craftsmanship. The figures on the reredos are (from left to right) St. Michael, the Madonna, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Piran. Saint Piran’s hand is on a mill-stone on which, according to legend, he sailed from Ireland to Cornwall. The legend has probably grown out of the small circular altar stone which Celtic monks carried about with them. The centre figure of the reredos shows our Lord on the Cross crowned and wearing Eucharistic vestments. One could not claim this as unique, but it is unusual and very beautiful. In 1937 the CHapel of St. Nicholas, in the south transept, was restored to use in memory of Canon Purves, and in 1952 Miss C.C. Astley presented a new font cover to the church. This is also a reproduction of fifteenth-century work.

THE REGISTERS. Baptisms and Burial registers date from 1562; the marriage registers from 1589.

RECTORS. A list of Rectors hangs on the church wall near the font, the earliest known Rector being the one appointed in 1277. The list is too long to give here, but the following notes are of interest:

“In February, 1277, Master Adam styled Heym, Rector of Menheniot, had a dispensation from Pope John XXI to hold also the Churches of Uthnoe Parva (Perranuthnoe) and Southill (near Callington) notwithstanding the decrees of the Council of Lyons against holding benefices in plurality.”

“In 1307 the Rectory of Udno Parva became vacant and the right of presentation  fell by lapse to the Bishop of the Diocese (then Exeter). The Abbot of Hartland asked the Bishop to give it to his cousin Thomas de Karyveynec (Carvinack), but the Bishop excused himself in a letter dated 17th April, 1308, and promised to find him an equivalent benefice worth not more than ten marks (6 Pounds 13 Shillings 4 Pence) per annum yearly. On May 25th, 1308, he collated to Udno Parva Robert Bythewalle.”

“This Rector exchanged for Lawhitton Rectory with Master John de Godrevy who was instituted on December 11th, 1312. Patron: John de Carmynou (Carminow) by grant from William de Whalesburgh, Lord of the Manor of Uthno. This rector appears to have been a clerk on the staff of Bishop Stapleton (of Exeter) and as such to have attempted to carry out an Ordinary Visitation at the royal exempt Church of Buryan. He was summoned by a royal writ to answer for this in 1315. He was still Rector in 1317, when the Bishop put him in charge of the sequestrated Rectory of Stythians, whose Rector Roger de Carminou has been excommunicated.”

Sir Nichols Tresuswall (Treluswell, near Penryn) was instituted to the Rectory ofr St. Pieran in Penwythe on July 17th, 1348. He died within a few months, and it is probable that he and his predecessor were victims of the Black Death which raged 1348-49.

Perran’s most distinguished Rector was Sir Michael Tregorra, who was instituted on September 21st, 1427, and resigned in 1433. He was born at Tregurra, in Stl Wenn, and was Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, from 1422-27. Sir Michael was the first Rector of the University founded at Caen, in Normandy, by Henry VI, in 1440, chaplain to that king, and at length, in 1449, Archbishop of Dublin, where he died in 1471. His effigy, still to be seen in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, was restored by Dean Swift.

The longest incumbency is that of the Rev. Richard Astley, who was Rector from 1850-1902.

PATRONAGE. William de Whalesburgh is mentioned as Patron of the living in 1312, and the patronage continued in this family until 1471. William Michill was instituted on September 5th, 1499, the patron being John Trevilian, Esq.

The patronage of the living is still held by the Trevelyan family.

From: The Rev. J.D. Curson, The Rectory, St Hilary , Churchtown, Penzance, Cornwall.

Dear Sir

Thank you for your letter which was awaiting me on my return from holidays hence the delay.
We shall be delighted for you to use whatever you will of the “Historical Notes of the Parish Church of St Piran and St Michael, Perranuthnoe”.
We still have a Mrs Gundry in our congregation who is the widow of Charles Gundry whose forebears have lived in Goldsithney for many years.
We wish you every success with your endeavours and we send you greetings from Cornwall.

Yours sincerely,
J. David Curzon
Rector in Charge