Albion, Art, Don and Wen, sacred sites, TOLL, travel

A Thousand Miles of History: The ‘First and Last’ Church

We were sorely in need of grounding after our visit to Boscawen Un stone circle and set off in search of breakfast. Okay, second breakfast. Land’s End… now a tourist attraction rather than the end of the land… was full of visitors and wreathed in, if possible, even thicker mist than the day before. There seemed little point in paying to park there if we would barely see the edge of the cliffs, let alone beyond them. As it was a little later than the previous day, we tried the First and Last Inn… but we had no better luck there either. It was still closed. I remembered a little café that we had passed on a back road, so we headed that way, catching a glimpse of crosses in the churchyard of St Sennen’s. That would have to be our next stop.

Duly fortified with a breakfast that would serve us as both lunch and dinner too, we returned to the church to explore. The sea-mist had settled around the tower, hazing everything with grey. The sign proudly proclaimed that the church had been founded, by St Sennen himself, in 520 A.D., though, as the church admits, ‘the identity of the saint himself is a bit vague.’

Sennen is thought to be the St Senan who was born near Kilrush in Ireland in 488 where he founded a goodly number of churches. The story goes that he visited Land’s End on his way to Brittany and founded the little church en route. The faith in this area is Celtic Christianity, the Ionian faith of St Columba, rather than the Roman variety imposed after the Synod of Whitby in 664; Cornwall goes its own way… it has its own distinct identity and in everything except legal terms, is more another country than a county.

The current building bears no trace of the original church, except, perhaps in the wayside crosses within its churchyard… and even they are not supposed to be there. A Rector of the parish in 1878 thought, for some reason, that all the crosses should be collected and erected within the shadow of the church. Only two now remain… it seems that he was ‘encouraged’ by the locals to put the rest back where they belonged. I approve of that; such stones were erected where they stand for a reason.

The church is under the patronage of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, who is also Duke of Cornwall. That title has its place in Arthurian legends which tell that Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, was the husband of Igraine, the lady desired by Uther Pendragon. Gorlois, to protect his wife, rebelled against the king and was killed… and Uther took both Igraine and Gorlois’ castle of Tintagel, where their son Arthur was born…

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