A brief history of St Michael, Caerhays

The little church at Caerhays was in 1259 re-dedicated by
Bishop Bronescombe to St Michael and All Angels. From the
eleventh century the parish was part of the manor of Brannel
and until 1852 fonned a united benefice with St Stephen in
Brannel and St Dennis. From the sixteenth century successive
rectors chose to live at Caerhays so that it was regarded as the
mother church. It is now a joint benefice with its neighbour,
Gorran.


The earliest church building would have had a nave and a
chancel, the north and south transepts being added probably in
the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, so that the shurch
became cross-shaped. These fiansepts would have been built by
local families as burial places, and the tomb in the north transept
has unusually survived. Little now remains of the Norman
ohurch except its north doonvay, ornamented outside with a
carving of the Agnus Dei pamb of Godl, and the font, which is
made of local Pentewan stone and is carved in a typical late
Norman design.


Major alterations were carried out in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries: the tower was added, containing threo bells, which
survive, and which have been described as some of the finost
pre-Reformation bells in Cornwall. The south tansept was
enlarged into a Lady chapel bythe Trevanions, who lived at
Caerhays, and contains memorials of several generations of this
important Cornish family.


By the early nineteenth century the building was "in want of
great repair": by the 1850s it was being used as a social and
smoking room by local fishermen. However, by 1865 ten new
stained glass windows had been installed, a carved chancel
screen and altar frontal fitted, with a tesselated reredos and
commandment panels, all made by the tector, the Reverend
William Willimott, a talented craftsman.
A harmonium replaced the church "band" (a clarinet and a bass
viol). Further restoration in the 1880s by J P St Aubyn saw the
chancel screen moved to the tower arch and a new wooden
floor in the Trevanion aisle, while in 1892/3 three additional
bells were installed. In the twentieth century elecfricity was
installed for lighting and heating, and the tower, then dangerously
cracked, was reinforced first with a wooden buttress, and
subsequently with a permanent support of stone.

 

Note especially:
The north door with its Agnus Dei: a rare survival;
The mediaeval tomb in the north transept;
The lovely slate floors in tower and porch;
The archway which once led to the rood stairs;
The Trevanion aisle with impressive memorials;
Willimott's amazing stained glass windows,

Further reading:
Church guidebook, 2011 [available in the church]
'Parson Willimott's Cornish Sketchbook', published by
the PCC in 2010 
Caerhays Castle' by Charles Williams and others,
published 2011 [history of the estate formerly owned
by the Trevanions and subsequently by the Williams
familyl


Our Churches' Histories
Webpage icon A Brief History of St Goran
Webpage icon A brief History of St Just