Altarnun Church – Cathedral Of The Moors

Photo by John Winchurch

Alternun Church is known as the Cathedral of the Moors and while from the outside it looks at a glance like many other parish churches in Cornwall, this one has tower which is 109 feet tall (3rd tallest in Cornwall) and is partly constructed of moorstone which is not quarried stone, but granite lying about on the moor. The original church of St. Nonna was Norman and built in the 12th century, but only a few pieces still remain. Named after after the mother of St David who left her native Wales around 527, the church as you see it now was built in the 15th century.

In the photograph just above and below you can see a Celtic cross from the 6th century which would have been standing during St Nonna’s time.

The Celtic cross is to the left of the church gates.

Moving inside the church the first thing you see is the light from the long row of windows and the faces on the huge font below.

The baptismal font is one of the few remaining pieces from the 12th century church and according to a church guide written by William Kneebone (parish vicar from 1936 to 1967) is typical of the late Norman style. The faces and radial motif along with the square shape are typical of the period in contrast to the rounded fonts favored during the Saxon period.

I think they look fairly fierce in a simple sort of way.

I can’t imagine having a baby baptized over a font that has been in use since the 12th century.

One of the things this church is known for and one reason John wanted to see it was the collection of carved bench ends. These are also unusual in that the work is signed. As you can see above, the 79 bench ends were carved by Robart Daye during the years 1510-1530. Some are traditional Christian symbols.

Some depict scenes from the renaissance period like the medieval fiddle above.

On this one you see a jester which seems an interesting choice for a church bench.

Some of them have had the faces destroyed.

This box was interesting in that not only was it dated 1684 based on the carving you see, but it was still in use. There’s loads more in this church that is historical and interesting. To read more about it you can go here or come to Cornwall to see it for yourself.

Altarnun – Pausing To See More Than A Road Sign

As is often the way here there are unexpected surprises sometimes waiting just around the next bend in the road. John and I took the time to discover one a few weeks ago. For as long as John has lived in Cornwall, Alternun has been just another name on small roadside sign, one of many villages scattered just off the A-30 as it snakes it’s way through Cornwall all the way to Land’s End where it does what everything does there, it ends.

While he is often given to impromptu side trips to explore new places, John had never taken the turn to the village below. Last Christmas his cousin Mary came to stay with us for the holiday and while she was here shared a story with him about this sweet little village that had been one of her mother’s favorites. Cousin Mary if you remember is 87 and has had a fondness for Cornwall since she first came here as a child. As we were driving back from an errand in another village John saw the sign and detoured taking us straight off the A-30 to see Alternun.

We parked near the church which has an interesting history that I’ll share here in a post here tomorrow.  For now I’ll take you on a little walking tour around the village. The bridge above was built in the 15th century and is known as the packhorse bridge.

John took this photograph from a grassy patch near the village hall. The church tower is tucked just behind the trees on the left and the building in front is a row of cottages.

This sweet little bridge as I said earlier is called a packhorse bridge and not wide enough for cars.

This was taken from the packhorse bridge and that is John in the striped shirt off in the distance near where he stood while taking the second photograph in this post.

Just over the footbridge you see this memorial to those who died in several wars. In the distance you can see a row of cottages with the one on the end having a big garden. This is all right in the heart of the village which adds even more visual interest.

Here’s another view looking down the main street.

See the monument in the shadows of the right corner, this row of cottages is to the right of it.

Here is a shot of that pretty little veggie patch I mentioned.

I found this row of cottages pretty interesting. There was a small running stream right underneath the stone slate footbridges that led to each front door. I asked John if these were designed this way in order to dump waste into the stream for removal when originally built … he was not sure, but it did seem likely to us both.

This had to be one of the best looking rural phone boxes I’ve seen in Cornwall. With cell phones so accessible and in wide use the need for pay phones is not really necessary. People have protested the removal of the easily recognizable red phone booths based on how they’ve come to be symbolic images associated with the UK and while they stay in place for now, most are beginning to look pretty uncared for.

I’m not sure about this building, I’ll need to go back sometime soon to ask some questions about the history of the buildings from some locals. It was very quiet when we were there and so I came away with lots of questions and little answers.

John graciously agreed to pose next to this door so you could see how low the entrance was. No one lives here now and it could use some renovation and repair.

This may not look too odd to some of you … just and old farmhouse cottage across the street in a Cornish village in southwest England until you notice that silver thing with the bell hanging off the back end of it. Hmm … this might look familiar to any Americans reading this post.

Yep, I do believe that says U.S. Mail on it which seems so out of place in Altarnun particularly with the word cottage on the wall behind it. Someone has removed the red flag normally found on the side of the mailbox. I like the use of the bell as an alert.

If you look behind the row of cottages you can see the church on the hill. Just inside the gate is a Celtic cross said to date to the 6th century. Remember … come back tomorrow for a little show and tell as to what makes this church so special.