History

The church of St Germanus in the village of St Germans in south-east Cornwall is one of the finest, oldest and historic parish churches in the county, and one of the oldest buildings still in use for its original purpose.  Set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and at the heart of the St Germans Conservation Area, the church is of exceptional architectural, art historical, archaeological and historic significance which is reflected in its Grade 1 Listing.

An earlier building on the site was the cathedral for Cornwall before the area was absorbed into the Diocese of Exeter just before the Norman Conquest. The Normans then built a Priory on the site of the old cathedral, and the present church building dates to the 12th century and has more original Norman masonry in its powerful and iconic west front than any other Cornish church; indeed it is a rare survival anywhere.

The monks lived on the site of the adjacent house of Port Eliot, which still has visible monastic 12th-century walls with lancet windows in the basement, though the rest of the monastic buildings were changed in the late 18th century. The Bishop sometimes stayed in a magnificent house at Cudden beake in the village. The monastery had a busy port and was an important attraction for pilgrims visiting St Germanus’ relics. The last Prior, Robert Swymmer, surrendered the Priory in 1539 and it was leased from the Crown by John Champnon in 1540 after the Kings agents had stripped everything of value, later passing to the Eliot family, who still live there today.

Today the only relics remaining from the monastery (apart from the church itself) are a 15th-century statue of St Antony of Padua, the 13th century font, a 13th century coffin in the porch and a misericord seat with a carving of Dando and his hounds. Dando (as the legend goes) was a monk who took drink from a man on horseback (the devil) on the sabbath.  With his hounds he was was reputedly dragged into the waters and never seen again. His ghost and his hounds are said to haunt the estate.


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The Priory church became the village parish church. The Elizabethan reformers destroyed the shrine in the south chapel which had been dedicated to St Germanus.  A huge monument to Edward Eliot by Rysbraek was eventually put in this area (this is now in the north tower). The chancel fell down due to lack of use and maintenance, however the east window was rescued and placed in the east wall of the nave (the east end of which which now forms the chancel). This window now holds magnificent stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones, which is 24 feet high and the finest such in Cornwall. Another of these stunning windows is in the south wall of the church.

In the 19th century Lord Eliot obtained a faculty to pull down the north aisle which was in a sad state, and replaced it with a family pew designed by Sir John Soane, who also remodelled the house; at the same time the church was re-roofed. Gradually the monastic site with its mill, infirmary, laundry and port were changed to reflect the wealth and position of the Eliot family, with the estuary being dammed off by Humphrey Repton to create a landscaped park. The changes to the church and house reflected the changing fortunes of the Borough and parish of St Germans and the efforts made by the parish to maintain the church after the dissolution of the monastery.

   
   

Formation of the Trust 

Two years ago the future looked bleak for St Germans Priory, then locally known as St Germans Parish Church. The Parochial Church Council (PCC) was struggling to keep up with repair work required to maintain the building, let alone make it a warm and welcoming resource for the local community and visitors alike. There was a significant danger that the building would eventually deteriorate to the point that it became a monument unfit for use and seriously impact the local community.

With the support of the Bishop of Truro, The Rt. Revd Tim Thornton, a willing band of enthusiastic local volunteers have developed a ground breaking plan to look beyond the immediate challenges and see the opportunity this valuable gem of a building holds for the nation as well as the local community for the next millennium. This is the Trust website.

Our vision is to return this important building and surrounding grounds into an effective community resource as well as retaining it as a place of worship. It will become a welcoming visitor attraction and educational centre providing: a unique learning environment for schools from across the county; a focus for historic and archeological research; opportunities to learn about the origins of Christianity in Cornwall; exciting trails and projects for children; and a new tourist destination in Cornwall.

Now that the Trust has been formed, the Church building will be called “St Germans Priory. The Trust that will take on the responsibility for making the Priory ‘fit for purpose’, providing heating, lighting and all the facilities you would expect in a modern community building. To do so it will be raising several £Million for a capital works programme.

Commenting on the launch of the St Germans Priory project, the Rt. Revd. Tim Thornton, Bishop of Truro, said:

"I am very grateful to all those who are working so hard to try and ensure a sustainable future for this internationally important building. I hope and pray the Trust is successful in its work, and will do all I can to support it.