The reputation of St Morwenna and St John the Baptist is high. An eccentric vicar – are they always ‘eccentric’? – Robert Hawker ministered here for over 40 years. Famous for burying drowned sailors at his own expense, he also wrote poetry, including the Cornish National anthem, and had a cliff-top hut here.
The church is a remote churchtown in a remote part of the county, a few fields back from the cliff and a very short distance from the Devon border. Pevsner calls its position ‘incomparably romantic’. The solid tower has no bell openings on its western end. Why bother when only sheep will hear them?
The first impression is of the lovely Norman arches on both openings of the porch, the outer one having been moved from elsewhere. Little faces terminate the mouldings.
This Norman feel sets the tone for the interior where you are greeted by three lovely regular arches in the north arcade. It is difficult to work out why there are not more Norman arches in the church but the three are a joy with some brilliant bird-beaked faces which are in astonishingly good condition.
The rood screen, inserted by Hawker, makes the chancel the darkest and most secluded we have yet seen. A tall wooden sedilia, no doubt of his invention, sits within.
Normally we would object to such seclusion but there is more than enough in the ‘public’ area to warrant a visit.
The (possibly) Saxon font is a delight as much as anything because it is so unusual. Slanted, it reaches out to invite you in.
There is the figurehead of the Caledonia which went down locally in 1842, the remnants of a wall painting of St Morwenna and the Hawker memorial window.
His wife, Charlotte, lies under a slate slab in the north aisle and a photograph of him hangs in the south west corner, making sure that we continue his work at Morwenstow.
A trip around the churchyard is also recommended, especially in spring when we saw it, for there are many fine memorials, some adorned with what is probably Hawker verse.
Simon Jenkins awards the church two stars for its position, ‘Norman’ font and connections to Hawker, describing it as a ‘smuggler’s church’. (Hmm …) A warranted award.