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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

St Thomas' Chapel Bodmin

A ruined chapel first licenced in 1377, built in the grounds of St Petroc's Church in Bodmin, Cornwall.

This is the third church in a month that I have stumbled upon that is dedicated to Thomas Becket the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. This chapel is a Chantry, an endowed church which supports a dedicated priest who celebrates Mass for the founder's soul. In the medieval period it was common for wealthy church patrons to pay for a chantry. The evidence of the particular endowment here is lost. We'll never know if the founder entered heaven or if he did if he was shown the door when the building fell into disuse.

The chapel went out of use after the Reformation, another casualty of the failed marriages of Henry VIII. Those buildings that were spared usually had other uses and in many cases as schools, as was the case here, and this chapel became a grammar school in 1566. The list of school masters is complete up to 1853 when it fell into disuse. It soon after lost it's roof.

There is old graffiti carved into the stones, possibly by idle school boys. It is a rare survivor of this type of building and so it is Grade 2* listed.

Facing the east window and there are two pillars below it which are the base of a missing altar. The east window is a very rare Cornish survivor. The 14th century tracery (carved stone detail) is beautiful and for its size is regarded as the best in the county, of this age, even in this condition. Most Cornish church architecture is 15th century or later. It has been described as the "most complete example of a Decorated chapel in Cornwall".

The window is carved from Pentewan Stone, a fine grained igneous rock from the south coast of Cornwall.

Facing west and the church tower can be seen through the ruined window.

In the south wall are fine examples of a triple Sedilia and a Piscina. The Sedilia are seats near the altar for priests and deacons. A Piscina is a shallow basin for washing Communion vessels. These are fine examples and rare to see even in churches that have survived with intact roofs. A metal roof has been inserted above to protect them from the weather.

Below the main building is an undercroft or crypt. This was used as a Charnel House until the 17th century.

Charnel House - A charnel house is a vault or building where human skeletal remains are stored. They are often built near churches for depositing bones that are unearthed while digging graves. The term can also be used more generally as a description of a place filled with death and destruction.

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John Durham
John Durham
Aug 13, 2023

An amazing find! That carved window is fantastic and the condition of the structure, on the whole, is remarkable. Great catch!

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Aug 13, 2023
Replying to

Thanks John.

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