St Just in Penwith church

St Just IP 01St Just church stands in the middle of this small town within striking distance of Land’s End and in the midst of what was once a very productive mining district.

It has a long history which is set out in a well-written, readable and well-presented guidebook (a rarity on all three scores).

Its layout is a conventional three-aisle with west tower arrangement which grew in the usual way: small nave and chancel, extension of the nave, addition of transepts, replacement of the transepts with aisles.

St Just IP 05The porch seems later than the rest of the church and is embattled and pinnacled. Inside, there is a small door leading to an unused staircase which suggests that the porch was to have had a small room above – a parvise.

The interior is spacious with irregular arcades – an accident of the building chronology – and unusually well decorated capitals possible due to the use of ‘soft’ stone.

St Just IP 10
St George

The biggest surprise inside is the strange grey pointing. During the Victorian restoration (by St Aubyn), the walls were stripped of their plaster and the church was re-pointed with a strange grey mortar. The result is fussy and confusing. Even Pevsner is moved to pass comment to the effect ‘If there is one church in Cornwall that should have its plaster restored it is St Just’.

There are several delights. Two wall paintings have survived: Christ of the Trades or the warning to Sabbath breakers (see Breage) and St George attacking his dragon. The latter has been ‘restored’ and has a distinctly romantic, late C19, face.

There are also two ancient stones.

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The Selus stone

The Selus stone is probably C5 and appears to be a burial marker for Selus, Selvan or Silvanus: possibly St Just’s brother also known as St Levan. This is elegantly presented in the north aisle.

The other seems to be the shaft of a former cross – with Hiberno-Saxon interlacing – re-used as a lintel, probably C8 or C9.

Outside, in the churchyard, is the head of the former market cross. Another lies at the base of the porch.

If only it did not have grey pointing …

If you are passing then don’t miss out on the Plain-an-Gwarry or Playing Place in the centre of town. It is just next to a small clock tower. It is possibly a re-used round which would later have been used for medieval mystery plays. When we saw it, children were appropriately using it as a playing place.

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A journey through the landscape and history of Cornwall