Wednesday, 9 January 2013

History of St.Anthony’s Chapel, Penzance

The History of the Town and Borough of PENZANCE                                  by P.A.S.Pool, M.A., F.S.A., Hon.Research Fellow, Institute of Cornish Studies.      Forward by The Mayor of Penzance, Councillor David Pooley.                                                          Published by The Corporation of Penzance, 1974. 
Excerpt from pages 1 – 2

About three quarters of the way between Marazion and Newlyn a low rocky headland extends south-eastwards into the bay.  The southern termination of a ridge between the Chyandour  and the Lariggan streams which can be traced northwards right across the peninsula past Madron and Ding Dong to Bosigran Castle on the Zennor cliffs.  This headland in Mounts Bay provided a firm rock foundation close to sufficiently deep water, and also shelter from the prevailing westerly winds, for the construction of a small quay for fishing boats, and here grew up the fishing village which became, eventually, the Town  of Penzance.
  The Town owes not merely its existence but also its name to this little headland.  The name is found first in 1284 and regularly thereafter as Pensans,  with the variant form Pensant (1368),  Pensauns (1482), Pensance (1555), Pensanse (1620) and Penzanz (1698);   its meaning has been variously interpreted by Richard Carew as “the Saint’s Head”, by John Norden as “the Head of the Sand”, and by Thomas Tonkin as “the Head of the Bay”, but there is really no doubt that the correct interpretation is “Holy Headland:, in Cornish pen sans (the noun preceding the adjective).  Of the two elements in the name, pen in Cornish means ‘head’, ‘top’ or ‘end’, and is also regularly found in names meaning ‘headland’;  sans or sant means holy or sacred, and is found much less frequently in names than pen, but occurs also in Lezant (lan sant, holy enclosure), in Tresance in Cardinham parish (either tre sant, holy farm, or tyr sant, holy land), and in Elgosant (eglos sans, holy church), a former name for Sancreed.  Penzance was so called because a chapel was built on the end of the headland just inland from the quay, and later another chapel, a little further inland and fifty feet above sea level, where St.Mary’s Church now stands.  The name should be compared with its English equivalent Holyhead, in Wales, and anyone who doubts its appropriateness to Penzance has only to look at the town from east or west along the shore;  the most prominent feature is the headland with the Church, occupying the site of one of the old chapels, standing proudly above the buildings of quayside Penzance. 

Excerpt from pages 12 – 15:

We now consider the evidence for the development of Penzance prior to 1500:  first its ancient chapels, then its markets and fairs, and finally its quay and harbour.  The word ‘chapel’ is here used in the sense of a building other than a Parish Church used for Christian worship, not in its much later sense of a place of worship used by a sect dissenting from the Established Church.  No chapel could lawfully be used without a License from the Bishop, and many were so licensed, either as domestic chapels for use by some important figure and his family and household, or as chapels of ease for people who lived inconveniently far from their Parish Church;  but in Cornwall many chapels existed for which no license can be traced, and some of these at least may have been Celtic foundations.  In Penzance we must consider the chapels of St.Anthony, of St.Gabriel and St.Rafael, of St.Mary, and of St.Clare.
The chapel, presumed to have been dedicated to St.Anthony, at the corner of Barbican Lane and Coinagehall Street just above the quay, is of such importance as regards the site and name of Penzance that the evidence concerning it must be considered in some detail.  First is that of Cornwall’s greatest scholar, Dr William Borlase of Ludgvan, who noted c.1750:
The ancient chapel belonging to the town of Penzance may be seen in a fish cellar near the key;  it is small and as I remember had the image of the Virgin Mary in it.
Next came the Rev. John Whitaker, contributing in 1804 to Richard Polwhele’s ‘History of Cornwall’:
This town originally rose from a few fishermen settling near the present pier, and building themselves a chapel dedicated to St.Anthony, that universal patron of fishermen.  The chapel continued within these three years, when it was rebuilt into a fish cellar.  It was only small, however, but had the statue of its saint in a niche.  Tradition preserved the name of the saint, and antiquarianism has saved the statue of him.  It is merely a bust, and of alabaster.
 {Note:  J.Whitaker, ‘Supplement to Polwhele’s History of Cornwall’, 1804.  St.Anthony of Padua was believed to have preached to fishes, and was therefore regarded as the Patron Saint of Fishermen.  The site of this chapel at Penzance should be compared with those of St.Anthony in Meneage, St.Anthony in Roseland, and East Anthony;  Charles Henderson suggested (Cornish Church Guide, 1928) that the names might contain a Celtic word for “Promontory”.}
The next evidence is that of J.S.Courtney in 1845:
The remains of a chapel said to have been dedicated to St.Anthony still exist near the end of Barbican Lane.  A rude image of the saint cut in granite is the principal relic;  it was to be seen a short time since, but is now hidden from view by a hog stye or some such erection.
In 1862 Richard Edmonds wrote as follows:
The walls of St.Anthony’s Chapel were standing, not a century since, on the west side of Barbican Street leading from the quay to the battery, but were soon afterwards taken down and a fish-cellar erected in their place, on which occasion a cross which had stood on a bracket or projection from the western wall of the chapel and near the font was used as common building-stone.  When the cellar was rebuilt in 1850 the relic was. . . preserved from further desecration, and may now be seen in St.Mary’s churchyard.  It is a very rudely carved piece of Ludgvan granite (with a mica of silvery hue), bearing on the one side, it may be, a seated figure, and on the opposite side a crucifix. . . {R.Edmonds, The Lands End District – 1862}
But the fullest account is that given by G.B.Millett in 1880:
There are some slight vestiges of ancient masonry which are pointed out as having formed part of the chapel of St.Anthony.  The site is at the south-west corner of Barbican Lane, where it occupies the summit of a little eminence. . . It was a small oblong structure, pointing directly east and west, of about 30ft in length by 15ft in breadth.  A fragment of it only now remains in situ, consisting of the north- west angle, which has the appearance of being old work.  It is roughly built of irregular masses of greenstone. . . and amongst them some red bricks of unusual shape and size, smaller and flatter than any ordinarily in use. . .  Within the memory of persons living, the four walls were comparatively perfect.   The entrance was from the south, and towards the west.  In the interior, in the east wall, there stood in a niche, a figure said to have been of St.Anthony, rudely carved in that. . . variety of granite known locally as Ludgvan stone.  About 50 years ago it was removed from its original position; and made useful in forming part of the wall of a pig stye, but the chapel had previously about 1800 been converted into a fish cellar. . . At the time of its removal from the chapel, the stone had the rude representation of face and hands upon it, but one day a stranger. . . chanced to see it in its degraded position; taking a fancy to the stony countenance and rough hands, they were. . . broken off and carried away as relics. . . This last piece of vandalism served to call attention to the now mutilated stone, which in 1850 was removed to St.Mary’s churchyard. . . The mason who removed the stone told me. . . that he “popped St.Raffidy into a wheelbarrow and trundled him off to the chapel yard. .”
Though differing in detail, these accounts concur in recording a dismal tale of the neglect and desecration of the oldest site of Christian worship in Penzance.  With one possible exception, considered below under the Chapel of St.Gabriel and St.Rafael, there is no documentary reference to this chapel earlier than those mentioned above, and the supposed dedication to St.Anthony, first mentioned by Whitaker, seems to depend entirely on tradition and may be groundless.  A small public garden adjoining the site of the Chapel was in 1933 named “St.Anthony’s Gardens”, and contains an archway believed to have been taken from the chapel site.
The stone from the Chapel mentioned in all the above accounts has remained in St.Mary’s Churchyard where it was taken in 1850;  it is a piece of granite four feet high showing on one face a defaced figure of Christ in loincloth, with feet, arms and head missing, and on the other a seated Maddona, throned, holding a child.  Each side of the shaft is surmounted by an uncertain figure, possibly an angel, and the head, which was apparently a cross of Latin form, lacks both arms, which apparently carried Christ’s arms in high outstretched position.  This stone, dated by Prof. Charles Thomas as early 12th century, is certainly one of the most important relics of old Penzance, and well deserves the tribute paid to it by G.B.Millett in his poem ‘Vox Lapidis (the voice of the stone): A Plaint heard in St.Mary’s Churchyard, 1882.

Some wonder what I am, or say
I’m but a block of stone;
‘Tis true, I am, ah well a day!
Unheeded and unknown:
From Ludgvan’s rock hewn long ago
When saints were Cornwall’s glory,
But can you in this borough show
A stone with such a story?

In 1492 Bishop Lacy licensed for Divine Service the Chapel of St.Gabriel and St.Raphael at Penzance;  {F.C.Hingeston Randolph:  Exeter Episcopal Registers}  nothing more is known of any such chapel, and it is possible that the license marked re-dedication of the chapel traditionally ascribed to St.Anthony;  there is a great temptation to claim, as supporting evidence for this, the name ‘St.Raffidy’ given to the stone from St.Anthony’s Chapel by the mason who moved it.   
Recent developments at St.Anthony’s Chapel Site.

In August 2009 the remaining 3 massive pieces of masonry were removed from the  site of St.Anthony’s Chapel, on the Holy Headland of Penzance.  The largest of these objects was similar in size and shape to an  altar-stone, such as the one at Madron Baptistry.  Repeated letters and Freedom of Information Requests to Cornwall Council have not been able to disclose the whereabouts of this archeologically important material.  Following removal of these massive stones, the area around the chapel site was fenced off and turned into a temporary car-park.

Links to previous blogs and articles in ‘The Limpet’, journal of Save The Holy Headland:

Statue from St.Anthony’s Chapel, showing vandalized Christ figure.

The other side of the cross shows Mary with the infant Jesus.

St.Anthony’s  Chapel Site in April 2012.   To quote the words of historian Peter Pool:  “a dismal tale of the neglect and desecration of the oldest site of Christian worship in Penzance.”   

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