Launceston St Mary Magdalene church

Launceston St Mary

St Mary Magdalene stands in the middle of the old town, hemmed in close by a variety of charming houses and a confusing pattern of roads and lanes.

It has an instant impact for every inch of its external granite surfaces is decorated in ‘barbarous profusion’ (Pevsner). Simon Jenkins gives it four stars for its facades and C20 woodwork.The carving is incredible when you consider how hard granite is and how difficult to carve.

Pevsner assures us that the church dates from the early C16 which gives it an unusual  unity for Cornwall. There were three major restorations between 1850 and 1911.

Sadly, it was closed when we visited (September 2016) as new central heating was being installed. This should be completed by Christmas.

Launceston St Mary: the Magdalene carving

The porch is as decorated as the rest of the church with statues of the BVM, St George and St Martin recognisable. There is clearly an upstairs room or parvise over the main porch.

On the exterior of the east end is an unusual carving identified as being of Mary Magdalene with a  vase of ointment. Beside her are kneeling figures playing musical instruments.

Alongside, in the churchyard, is the head of a lantern cross, standing on a simple stone pillar. This features the Madonna and child on its eastern face, a crucifixion on the western and what might be two saints on the shorter sides.

Launceston St Mary: the porch and link building

The strangest feature of the church, from the outside, is the link between the western end and the tower. The gable of the western wall is well short of the tower. The gap between has been filled by a, probably C19, building which seems to be a parish room of some sort, its architecture doing little to blend in to the historic fabric.

We will return.

See also Launceston St Stephen and Launceston St Thomas.


A journey through the landscape and history of Cornwall