St Mary, Callington, Cornwall

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Feature Sets (2)


St Mary's is an impressive church that dominates the town centre. The church guide states it was built in 1438, whilst Pevsner gives the date of consecration as 1458. The church originally comprised a nave and chancel with piched roof and battlements, S and N aisles, and a fine S porch.  It also has an attached three-stage tower. The whole building was constructed from large, rough granite blocks. The current church remains as a fine example of 15thc architecture, and both the mid 19thc restoration and the slightly later N aisle expansion have preserved this character.

 Callington is a busy small town, rather than a village; the presence of an imposing Romanesque font indicates that its importance was already established in the 12thc.

The church contains a granite Altarnun-type font.


No church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Callington Church was originally a chapelry to Southill; the present ambitious building dates from 1438, when Callington first obtained the right of burial. 





The font is located in front of the S entrance, on W side of W column of S arcade. It is a good example of the Altarnun type, and has a bowl square on the outside and semi-spherical and unleaded inside. It has a square top and the four sides are semi-circular in shape.  The four upper angles are decorated with stylised human heads. The W and N semicircular sides of the font are decorated with rosettes within circles, surrounded by double-headed dragons.  The S and E semicircles have a tree or plant decoration, comprising splayed leaves either side of a central stem. 

There is a flat, narrow cable moulding around the bottom of the bowl, which rests on a stumpy hexagonal shaft set on a high, flat-sided, circular base with a chamfered top edge.  The whole is set on a hexagonal stone base with a kneeler stone, formed from several pieces of a different, lighter stone.

Some of the human heads on the angles are worn or damaged, although those on the NE and NW angles are in better condition and, despite their simplicity, are quite full of character.  There are several repairs: large ones affect the top of the E side, including the two trees; and the bottom of the S side. There is a small repair to the top of the W side, and patches on the font base.

Depth of basin 0.24 m
Diameter of basin 0.47 m
Height of bowl 0.40 m
Height of font 0.47 m
Height of stem 0.51 m
Length of bowl 0.75 m
Width of bowl 0.75 m
E face

This has a pair of symmetrical many-branched tree motifs separated by an incised line; single examples occur commonly on Cornish fonts, e.g. at Southill, Callington's mother church.

N and W faces

These have incised rosettes within circles (also common on Cornish fonts), surrounded by double-headed dragons.

S face

This has a simple symmetrical plant/tree motif with an incised Latin cross at the top centre, its stem forming the central axis of the plant. 


The church fell into disrepair in the 19thc and was restored by J. P. St Aubyn in 1858/9.  An outer N aisle was subsequently added with sensitivity by J. D. Sedding in 1882.

According to Henderson, documents show that there was an earlier chapel on the site in 1384, and the Romanesque font may be the only remnant from this structure. The font is presumably a relic of the original Norman chapel; Sedding dates it as between 1100 and 1130.

Sedding believed the stone to have come from Hicks' Grey Mill quarry in Lewannick.

Sedding pointed out that the geometrical patterns on the font 'in this case are cut with fillets, instead of the usual sharp arris, on the raised lines of the patterns, thereby giving it a separate place among others of its kind. The fillets are about a quarter of an inch wide'. The use of rosettes and 'Trees of Life' on different sides of the same font is unusual amongst Cornish churches.

This may be because the E and especially the S face appear to have been recut at a later date.


  • F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, London 1899, III, 75.

  • P. Beacham and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England – Cornwall, Yale University Press, 2014, 132-133.

  • C Grenfell, The Parish Church of St Mary's Callington, Parochial Church Council, 2003.

  • C. Henderson, The Cornish Church Guide and Parochial History of Cornwall, D. Bradford Barton Ltd, Truro, 1925, 37-38.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Penguin Books, 1951, 38.

  • E. H. Sedding, Norman Architecture in Cornwall, Ward and Co., 1909, 51-53.

Exterior, from S.
Exterior, from S.
Interior view of church from west
Interior view of church from south west with font


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SX 358 696 
now: Cornwall
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Cornwall
now: Truro
medieval: Exeter
medieval: St Mary
now: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Andrew Beard, Richard Jewell 
Visit Date
27 Sept 1998, 21 June 2016