‘…beyond the remoteness of its position is of little interest’ (Charles Henderson) seems a harsh description for this tiny gem which is tucked into a fold of Bodmin moor.
We accept that it is strictly speaking a fake having been substantially built or rebuilt by Silvanus Trevail in 1883. Pevsner says that ‘At least some of the foundations were re-used …’ It would be interesting to know if the original was circular like other Templar churches. We will have to buy the fuller history, written by a former Vicar (price £5).
The result of the rebuild, with its strange little castellated tower so reminiscent of a Victorian railway station, has a distinct charm and avoids the over-restoration wrought by the Victorians elsewhere.
St Catherine’s has a long history having once belonged to the Knights Templar until their dissolution in C14 when it was passed to the Hospitallers. It then seems to have become Bodmin’s version of Gretna Green for, being outside the Bishops’ jurisdiction, it was a place where ‘many a bad marriage is yearly slubbered up’ and ‘a lawless church … where are wonte to be buried such as wrowght violent death on themselves.’ It sounds like a recipe for another Gothic novel similar to that about nearby Jamaica Inn.
Trevail made liberal use of the remains of the former church, including creating a small store house alongside the church. This uses some ancient pieces of masonry, including what looks like a re-used stoup. Two ancient crosses have been fitted as finials.
Inside, the church is very simple – no more than a single nave with a transept – white painted throughout except for the tower. The roof is an elegant Arts and Crafts/Late Victorian wooden affair. Symbols of the Knights Templar abound including a romantic image incorporated into a small window in the tower.
This is not a ‘typical’ Cornish church by any means but on a sunny day it was a joy to visit. We were left wondering how and why the Diocese found the money for such a complete rebuilding exercise in the late C19 and who they thought would attend a church as remote as this, seating perhaps 40 people when full.