We took a look at some of the ages of art yesterday in our local churches, by visiting the 15th century Frescoes in Breage church and the Penzance and Newlyn school paintings in St Hilary. Each are well worth a detour if you are looking for a different interest on your 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.
Explore Breage Church – Ages of Art
Visit Breage church to see fascnating late Medeaval frescos uncovered in a renovation of 1890.
A succession of saints emerge and fade into the plaster around the walls and window reveals. The frescos almost seem to haunt the walls here. What a fascinating glimpse into the art of the late Medieval peoples of Breage.
About the Frescos of Breage
The 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.
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.
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.
The mighty figure of St Christopher, flanks one side of the door. St Christopher a popular figure amongst the Cornish and reputed to be a giant. He was charged with carrying travellers across fords and bogs. 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.
St Hilary Church – Penzance and Newlyn School art work
I 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 the blue bells and cow parsley sprang up, my curiosity was peaked to finally explore the church.
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!
St Hilary Church Art
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 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
The vibrant interior of St Hilary Church
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.
A small gallery of impressions of St Hilary Church
Explore the Heritage centre at St Hilary for more info
- Allow enough time to visit the Heritage centre next door in the Old School house and learn more!
- St Hilary church was built on the remains of a Roman Fort.
- There are both British and Roman crosses in the churchyard to discover.
- When the church was rebuilt, a Roman Marker stone was found in the foundations.
- We also saw a Roman marker stone in the north aisle of Breage church.
Two approaches to the ages of Church Art
We explored two very different churches in today’s blog yet both are graced by art work that spans the centuries.
We dipped into late Medieval Frescoes of Breage Church and the Penzance and Newlyn school painting in St Hilary Church.
The lovely old churches that grace the villages of Cornwall
Stop next time you see a path winding toward a heavy door. If there are not services in progress, tip toe in and take a look. Admission to the churches is free but a denotation is always appreciated.