Morwenstow
Morwenstow Church
Bude
Cornwall EX23 9SR
 

A visit to this gorgeous little church is an emotional experience.  Sometimes known as ‘Hawker’s Church’, it is actually dedicated to the 9th century Celtic saint, Morwenna.
 
The church we see today is 13th century and it replaces a much older one.  We know this because in 1296 the Bishop of Exeter referred to the Church as “…an old and well-known structure”.
 
St Morwenna
Legend has it that Morwenna was brought up in the 9th century in the court of Welsh Celtic King Breachan and Queen Gladwys.  Morwenna grew up to be the wisest, most learned and holiest woman of her generation.  She was sought out by the Saxon King of Wessex, Ethelwulf who asked her to become the teacher of his daughters.
 
Morwenna accepted and spent many years in his service.  He was so pleased with the job she did that he said he would grant her anything she desired.  Morwenna stated "that she prayed that a place with a priest, altar and font could be established on a stately headland in far Cornwall called Hennacliff or Raven’s Crag"
 
And that is how a 9th century shrine to St Morwenna came to be built at Morwenstow
 
Accommodation - Search & Book through Expedia here:     External Link
 
The Church Graveyard holds the graves of Shipwrecked Sailors
The church nestles in a valley between 450 feet (137 metre) high cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean.  The little churchyard is filled with graves of the shipwrecked, poignant reminders of the dangers faced by 19th century sailing ships.  Rev. Robert Stephen Hawker and his parishioners would carry the nameless bodies up the cliff for a Christian burial in consecrated ground. 
 
As one enters the churchyard through the Lych-gate the visitor is drawn towards the mass grave of the captain and 9 of the 10-man crew of the Scottish sailing brig 'Caledonia of Arbroath' which foundered on 2nd September 1843. As well there are the graves of more than 40 unknown drowning victims, buried, side by side, beneath the trees next to the churchyard’s upper wall. 
 
The restored figurehead of the 'Caledonia of Arbroath' is mounted inside the church high on the north wall in rememberance of the shipwrecked sailors who lost their lives on the treacherous cliffs just below the church. A weather-resistant replica now serves as the grave marker.
 
There is an excellent description of the church and its surrounds in the web link in 'Contact & Further Information' below.
 
Church Interior late Norman with Early English Chancel
Much of the simple interior of the church is late Norman.  The westernmost arches of the north aisle are decorated with a zigzag pattern. Rev Hawker typically described the pattern thus “…those ripples represent the waves on the Sea of Galilee.”  The arches rest on sturdy pillars, the capitals decorated with fine medieval heads of birds, animals and humans.
 
The chancel and eastern parts of the aisle are Early English (c. 1220).  The southern aisle was built in the 16th century but some of it was rebuilt in the 17th century.  The oldest piece in the church is the Saxon font.  Its roughly hewn oval bowl is decorated with a primitive cable design.  The font is believed to have come from the earlier 9th century church. 
 
On the floor are two superb medieval monumental brasses which repay close inspection. 
 
The church has an ancient wagon wheel roof and beautiful oak bench seats c. 1568. The bench ends are carved with designs of flowers, leaves and flowing arabesques. There are several lovely 19th century stained glass windows, one commemorating Reverend Hawker. History and architecture combine to make this a most fascinating Cornish church to visit.
 
Refreshments
Beside the Church in a 13th century house is the Rectory Farm Tea Rooms whilst across the street is The Bush Inn – excellent places to enjoy a quite coffee or tea or hearty meal on that cold day.
 
The Vicarage B&B & Self Catering Cottage
Below the churchyard is the Vicarage built by Rev. Hawker and given to the benefice.  This unique building has most remarkable chimneys – they are all copies of various Church towers of places where he had worked.  Featured are the church towers of  North Tamerton, Morwenstow and Welcombe, Magdalen College, Oxford and his mother’s tomb adorns the old kitchen chimney. 
 
The Vicarage is now a private home, from which the owners operate a B&B and also a self catering cottage. For details go to: 
Website   The Old Vicarage B&B Morwenstow   External Link
 
Ancient St John's Well
The little path behind the church leads to the ancient St John’s Well.  The water from this spring is still used for Christenings in the church.
 
Hiker's Website
The following hiker’s website gives an excellent insight into the conditions that mariners and the Reverend Hawker experienced during those wild times in the 19th century  Web:  West Country Walks - Morwenstow    External Link
 
The comments on that website reflect the feelings that the cliffs and surrounding country gave us on our visit.
 
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Booking.com here:    External Link

 

 
Contact & Further Information
 
Getting There
- By Car  
From the A39 Barnstaple to Bude road, 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Kilkhampton follow the signposts to Morwenstow.  After approximately 2 miles (3.2 km), take the 2nd turn right to the village called 'Shop'.  Continue along this road for 1½ miles (2.4 km) until you reach 'Crosstown'. The Bush Inn is on the left, on the far side of the village green. 
 
The Morwenstow Church is some  219 yards (200 metres) further on.
 
Google Maps - Morwenstow Church