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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Chivelstone Church 1

I recently paid a visit to Chivelstone Church which recently underwent another phase of restoration. Since we moved to the area just before the first lockdown the church has been covered in scaffolding and inaccessible. It is now open again. The first set of photos show the exterior and some interior details. The second set focus on the artwork in the church, namely the screen paintings and the carved pulpit.


Chivelstone Church, St. Sylvester's, is early 15c with a carved medieval screen and pulpit. The rood screen is unusual in having paintings of Saints in the middle section and arabesques on the outer sections.


The earliest reference to Chivelstone as a named place is in Domesday Book, where Cheveletone is listed as one of three manors, all held by Juhel de Bretagne, Lord of Totnes. In 1288, in the Taxatio of Pope Nicholas, the church is recorded as belonging to Totnes Priory.


The main part of the church dates from somewhere between 1536 and 1549. The tower and the chancel predate this, but the nave and aisles were rebuilt at that time, replacing an older structure which probably had no aisles, but might have had a transept. eastprawlehistorysociety.org


Taxatio - The Taxatio Ecclesiastica, often referred to as the Taxatio Nicholai or just the Taxatio, compiled in 1291–92 under the order of Pope Nicholas IV, is a detailed database valuation for ecclesiastical taxation of English, Welsh, and Irish parish churches and prebends. Wikipedia

The unusual Spider and Web design of this lamp over the entrance had me puzzled. I had never seen this imagery in a church before.


The spiritual meaning of spiders in the Bible is attributed to a higher calling. The spider is seen as small, but exceedingly wise, and with extraordinary abilities: such as weaving it’s web. In Biblical terms, the spider is a call for you to fulfill your dreams and purpose, by weaving your own web of excellence. In life, and in the Bible, the spider only does the next thing in front of it. The spider is small, humble, extremely patient, and wise. (unifycosmos.com)

The entrance porch only recently restored. The front part had broken away and was subsiding, endangering the rest of the building. Piles have now been driven down to the bedrock to support the front corners of the solid granite walls.



In the photo below, you can just make out what appear to be two door handles, one above the other. In fact the upper metal ring is not a door handle but a Sanctuary Ring.


The sanctuary ring was a metal ring attached to the door of a church. A fugitive from the law had only to touch the knocker in order to claim the right of sanctuary. This allowed him to stay in the church, free from prosecution, for a period of time, usually 40 days. Some are very ornate but a sanctuary knocker could equally well be a simple iron ring, usually set on a round iron plate affixed to the door. The right of sanctuary was abolished by law in the early 17th century.


Sometimes the criminal had to get to the chapel itself to be protected, or ring a certain bell, hold a certain ring or door-knocker, or sit on a certain chair (“frith-stool”).


Church sanctuaries were regulated by common law. An asylum seeker had to confess his sins, surrender his weapons, and permit supervision by church or abbey organization with jurisdiction. They then had forty days to decide whether to surrender to secular authorities and stand trial for their alleged crimes, or to confess their guilt, abjure the realm, and go into exile by the shortest route and never return without the king’s permission. Those who did return faced execution under the law and/or excommunication from the Church. (eastprawlehistorysociety)

The side benches in the porch.

Looking out of the porch is part of the farm below and the hill opposite. The church is situated on a steep slope in a narrow valley.


It was decided to ‘place a Parish Memorial in the Churchyard to our men who have fallen in the War,’ and in February 1920: We had a goodly muster of people from all directions at the Dedication of our War Memorial. After Evensong in Church, at three o’clock we passed into the Churchyard, where the Rural Dean offered appropriate prayers. A wreath was placed at the foot of the monument which is surmounted by a Celtic Cross, with the names of the men in letters of gold. They gave their best for us and we should give our best for them. The muffled peal added a note of solemnity suitable to the occasion.


Parts of the interior walls are still awaiting the next restoration phase.

Some of the exterior window stonework has been replaced. It was discovered that small birds were eating the soft sandstone. The exterior was pock marked with peck marks.




Zacharias and Elsabeth, parents of John the Baptist.



The Tortoise Stove by Charles Portway

There is limited historical information on the current Charles Portway website, the manufacturer of this iconic stove, relating to where you can find surviving examples of it.


The stoves, as featured in the sales brochure, were manufactured in Halstead, Essex in the late 1800's. The stoves were very popular in village churches throughout the UK. The stoves were renowned for their slow burning, hence the name, and efficient heat output. The design was inspired by the enclosed stoves that were in use in the United States in the 1700's


The Christogram IHS is a monogram symbolizing Jesus Christ.

From Greek it is an abbreviation of the name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Jesus). In the Western culture there exist the compositions: "IHS" and also "IHC". The abbreviation in form "IHS" appeared in first time on the coins of Justinian II on the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries.













Over the nave and aisles the medieval wagon roofs survive,although somewhat restored.

St. Sylvester's Chivelstone is the last resting place of many a shipwrecked sailor lost off the nearby treacherous coastline.


The blizzard and great storm of 9 and 10 March1891 was extremely severe. A 36-hour blinding snowstorm, drifts up to 26 feet deep, roads blocked for over a fortnight, coaches stuck.


During the snowstorm on Monday evening the steamship Marana ran on the Blackstone Rocks just off the Start Lighthouse. Thirteen crew and passengers drowned with at least eight of them being buried in Chivelstone Churchyard.

A China tea clipper ship, of 735 tons register, was wrecked in December, 1868, (near Prawle Point) and thirteen lives were lost. There was a strong south-west breeze, and a heavy sea. … Watched by the coastguards, who, under the orders of their chief officer (Mr Pengelly) had got out a rocket apparatus, and conveyed it to the point nearest to the wreck. The crew were so terrified that they were unable to perceive the preparations being made for their rescue, and several of them jumped overboard to swim ashore. Most of these, however, perished in the attempt; but all who maintained their position were brought ashore by the rocket apparatus.


The Captain was seen to lash his bride of just two weeks to a spar in the hope that she would stay afloat. For a time the two of them clung to the storm tossed bit of wood until the sea took them. Apparently their bodies were washed ashore shortly after. The gravestone is in St Sylvester’s Church, Chivelstone (Captain John Thomson and his wife Barbara Kerr)

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4 comentarios


David Nurse
David Nurse
05 abr 2022

What a great place and well worth the restoration. Enjoyed your narrative as always and the images are great. Shame that the Stained Glass windows all have the need of protective bars on the outside.

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
05 abr 2022
Contestando a

Thanks David, I agree on the wire mesh. Some places it is less obvious, acrylic sheet probably a better solution, a real shame.

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John Durham
John Durham
05 abr 2022

A beautiful church with such wonderful details, but that spider almost looks like a Modern Art piece - fascinating!

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
05 abr 2022
Contestando a

An old man working at the church when I was there chatted to me about it. He said he had remade it from one that was there which had turned to rust as most things do around here in the sea air. I have never seen such a thing on a church before. He has done a beautiful job.🙂 When he helped repair the roof on the tower and they removed the weathered lead, the timbers underneath bore the name of a relative of his from over a hundred years ago.

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