St Thomas, Launceston, Cornwall

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Feature Sets (3)


Originally a chapel of ease to its mother church of St Stephen, St Thomas's church lies midway between St Stephen's and Launceston. The church is built predominantly in the Perpendicular style. The Romanesque features of the church are a large font, a tympanum and a crude figure panel. 


The date of the foundation of the church is unknown because it is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey but Henderson states that it "witnessed both the rise and fall of its great neighbour", the Priory. The chapel may have thus pre-dated both the new Priory (1126) and Launceston Castle chapel (1136).  The cemetery was consecrated by Bishop Grandisson on November 6, 1333 'in Prioratu de Launceston'.  Sometime afterwards the church became parochial, which it remains, the parish being within the borough of Launceston.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


Figure carving

Of greenish stone, L of outer door of S porch.  Carved on the R of the block is a crude standing figure seen frontally, with disproportionately large head, hands clasped before his stomach and legs truncated at the knees by the lower edge of the stone.  The figure, severely battered and defaced, is known locally as the "Imp". Very primitive 11thc - 12thc work.

Height 0.39 metres
Width 0.39 metres



Of Hardwick stone, reset in lower E corner of S face of S porch. The edges of the tympanum have been trimmed to fit, and it is slightly cut into by a block on the upper R.  The frame is a plain flat band (w. 0.07m).  The field is carved in relief with a cross which has equal lozenge-shaped arms within a circle on L, an eight-runged wheel motif on the R and a crude Agnus Dei at the top centre, with the head of the cross overlapping the outer frame of the tympanum. Dated to the first half of 12thc.

Depth 0.19 metres
Height 0.68 metres
Width 0.99 metres




The square font is of Purbeck stone. It is an Altarnun type, situated towards the W end of the nave, opposite S door, on a modern granite step. The plinth is of almost the same dimensions as the top edge of the bowl, although neither is quite square. The upper part of the base is bulbous with incised diagonal lines forming cable ornament all the way around; below this are a cavetto moulding and thin rolls; spur ornaments appear in the form of a simplified leaf except in the NE corner which has a beast head with overall incised patterning, lentoid eyes, pointed ears and spiral nostrils.
The stem is a plain octagon and has been retooled; the bowl has four fine corner heads, bearded and/or moustached (SW and SW corners, moustaches only; NW corner, beard only; NE corner with both). The rosettes or stars in circles on the sides are all six-pointed; the serpents, which surround them have protruding tongues. The font is dated to c.1130.

Depth of bowl 0.34 metres
Diameter of bowl 0.68 metres
Height of base 0.34 metres
Height of bowl 0.55 metres
Height of font 1.11 metres
Height of stem 0.22 metres
Width at top of bowl 0.91 m x 0.87 metres
Width of plinth 0.91 m x 0.93 metres
Width of stem 0.53 metres


A drawing of 1958 inside the church shows the font, without the modern granite step, nearer to the W column of the S arcade.  It is said by Pevsner to be the largest in Cornwall and is certainly the largest of its type.  It seems certain that it came from the adjacent Augustinian priory's conventual church, especially as the parishioners of St Thomas's had been enjoined, prior to the Reformation, to use the baptismal font in the priory (3.).  Possibly, the tympanum also came from the priory which was moved here from St Stephen's in 1126, and of which only the foundations remain, adjoining St Thomas's churchyard. Sedding described the tympanum as being placed over the S doorway and cut to suit its position.  He also mentioned "two Norman stones" in the churchyard, which are no longer to be found.


  • C. Henderson, The Cornish Church Guide and Parochial History of Cornwall, D. Bradford Barton Ltd, Truro, 1925, 185-6.

  • The Parochial History IV, (1872), 220-2.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Penguin Books, 1951, 98.

  • E. H. Sedding, Norman Architecture in Cornwall, Ward and Co., 1909, 216-18.

Exterior, from SE.
Exterior, from NE.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SX 32793 85062 
now: Cornwall
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Cornwall
now: Truro
medieval: Exeter
now: St Thomas
medieval: St Thomas the Martyr (pre-Reformation)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Richard Jewell 
Visit Date
27 Aug 1991, 20 Jan 1992, 09 Nov 1992