Ages of Art – Ancient Frescos of Breage and Newlyn School Paintings of St Hilary

Detail St Christopher - Breage church fresco


We took a look at some of the ages of art yesterday in our local churches, visiting the 15th century Frescoes in Breage church and the Penzance and Newlyn school paintings in St Hilary – well worth a detour if you are looking for a different interest on you holiday in Cornwall.

We’ve been meaning to visit the frescos in Breage Church  and a recent visit to Godolphin House to see the Bluebells proved the perfect catalyst as we “passed” Breage on the way home.


About the Frescos of Breage


wall painting thought to be Henry VI in coronation robesThe ancient frescoes of Breage church were most probably painted on to the wet plaster when the church was rebuilt in the mid fifteenth century although a very small trace of the early 12th century Norman Church still remains. The frescos were white washed over in 1549 and have lain quietly forgotten over the centuries, until they were rediscovered in a church restoration in 1890.



frescoes of st christopher carrying the Christ child and The warning to the sabbath breakers


These powerful evocative frescos have recently been restored to as near to their original state as possible and nobody know what other wall art might be discovered, quietly waiting under the white wash when funds permit.

Two figures provide a powerful presence as you enter the church and the first sight is quite arresting, so they must have had a profound influence on the parishioners of the day.


St Chistopher a legendry giant carrying the Christ child

The mighty figure of St Christopher, who was very popular and reputed to be a giant amongst the Cornish, flanks one side of the door. He was charged with carrying travellers across fords and bogs and in this depiction he is carrying the Christ child safely upon his shoulders. The second equally arresting figure warns of labours on the Sabbath for the largely illiterate population and shows his body being wounded by tools used on the Sabbath. This version is called Christ of the Sabbath, with a second school of thought claiming he is blessing the tools of the trades. Given his thoughts on money lenders in the temple I don’t think the cards shown would have found favour but I am no expert merely an interested visitor for a few hours.

Church interior with faded Frescoes

A succession of saints emerge and fade into the plaster around the walls and window reveals almost haunting the surface and lending a fascinating glimpse into the lives and art of the late Medieval peoples of Breage.

St Hilary Church – Penzance and Newlyn School art work

St Hilary ChurchI often glance across to the distinctive spire of St Hilary church as I drive towards Penzance and more frequently ride under the dapples shade of the trees that line St Hilary avenue towards the church but I’ve never been inside. This year as I watched the snow drops fade clothe the churchyard and the blue bells and cow parsley spring up my curiosity was peaked to finally explore the church.

wildflowers St Hilary churchyard

In the back of my mind there is an idea that the original church was built by the same order of monks that constructed the Abbey on St Michael’s Mount but on line I only found references to “close links” so maybe that idea needs further exploring! The church we see today was largely rebuilt around the remains of the 14th century tower and spire and the wealth of artwork from the Newlyn School  artists who were invited to add their work to the interior by the Anglo Catholic priest of the day Father Bernard Walke.

The rich palette of the Penzance and Newlyn School artists

We spent a happy hour with the paintings of Annie Walke, (St Joan) Ernest Proctor – (St Mawes, St Kevin and St Neot) for the pulpit and the altar of the Dead. Annie, Dod and Ernest Proctor, Gladys Hynes, Alethea and Norman Garstin and Harold Knight.

Church art - st joan - st hilary church


vibrant art in st hilary churchThe interior glows jewel bright with their works, a lasting testament to a great era within Cornish Art, framed within a naturalised churchyard rich with wild flowers in the spring sunshine.

Allow enough time to visit the Heritage centre next door in the Old School house and learn more about this church site built on the remains of a Roman Fort with both British and Roman crosses in the churchyard to discover.

During the rebuilding a Roman Marker stone was discovered in the foundations of the earlier church and it is now displayed in the church and by coincidence we saw a Roman marker stone a few days earlier in the north aisle of Breage church.

A small gallery of St Hilary church

The lovely old churches that grace the villages of Cornwall provide a lasting time capsule to the lives of the people and their art and this week, we dipped into late Medieval Frescoes and Penzance and Newlyn school painting in just two of them. Stop next time you see a path winding toward a heavy door – provided there are now services in progress, tip toe in and take a look. It is completely free but a denotation in the collecting box would always be appreciated. Two very different churches in today’s blog but both graced by art work spanning the centuries.

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About Christine Taylor

Christine has written a weekly blog about life at Ednovean Farm and interesting places to visit in West Cornwall for over ten years now, concentrating on those off the beaten track places that only the locals find. Charles and Christine Taylor have hosted Luxury Bed and Breakfast at Ednovean Farm Nr Penzance in West Cornwall since 1991 and live there with three cats and five horses, including a Spanish Stallion called Danni. Ednovean Farm has been awarded AA five star gold for Bed and breakfast and is included in The Michelin Guide and The Alastair Sawday Guide . The Farmhouse and gardens has been featured in BBC Homes and Antiques, Homes and Gardens. Period Living and 25 Beautiful Homes as well as being used as a film and photo shoot location.

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