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Devon churches and ecclesiastical architecture

Devon has more than 626 traditional churches that are still regularly used for worship, according to the Church of England register. Historians, antiquarians and genealogists will all enjoy exploring some of these local churches, and their graveyards can be a wonderful place to find local stories that are stranger than fiction! Here are some of the most unusual and special churches in Devon to hunt for during your stay.
Churches have been part of Devon’s heritage since the early 11th century, in the case of Exeter Cathedral, and probably much longer. Much of Devon’s history and ancestral records are closely connected with churches and their records, making them interesting places to visit either by prior arrangement or when open. Graveyards are also a surprising source of entertainment, amusement and local family history.

The Church of England has over 600 active churches in Devon and there are many more churches belonging to other denominations. Hundreds of churches and chapels have closed through lack of support and the buildings have been converted into charming residences.

One of the best known landmarks in Plymouth City Centre is the “bombed church” now on a traffic island on the approach to Armada Way. Charles Church was an important part of the spiritual life of Plymouth for 300 years until World War II, when it was entirely burnt out by incendiary bombs. It was decided to keep the shell of the church as a living memorial to the lives lost during the air raids on this naval port city. Now the stone spire, vestry, east window, porches and 17th century pointed doorway remain along with a memorial plaque.

Nicknamed the “Cathedral of the Moor”, Widecombe St Pancras Church is an impressive sight as you drive around Haytor Rocks on the B3387. Built in the late 1300s, it has a perpendicular tower which can be seen for miles. Look up at the roof bosses inside the church and spot the Tinners’ Rabbit symbol (three rabbits linked by their ears on a dark green boss) which reminds of the village’s tin-mining past.

Church exhibits also tell the story of lightning striking the church during the service in October 1638. A fireball passed through the church and part of the tower fell through the roof, killing four people. Next to the church is the National Trust owned Sexton’s Cottage and 16th century Church House which was once used for parish socialising.

Brentor St Michael de Rupe Church stands like a beacon on top of North Brentor on Dartmoor, 1100 feet (335m) above sea level. Its outline is silhouetted against the sky. A walk to this famous landmark will reveal a simple 12th century building with awesome views across Dartmoor National Park.

Other Devon churches of note are St Petroc’s Church next to Lydford Castle and gorge; St Leonard’s Church at Sheepstor, near the scenic Burrator Reservoir; St Mary’s Church at Hennock with its colourful mediaeval paintings on the rude screen, the large Bovey Tracey Church dedicated to St Peter, St Paul and St Thomas of Canterbury, and the splendid Buckfast Abbey Church, circa 1018.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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