Building » Bodmin – St Mary and St Petroc

Bodmin – St Mary and St Petroc

St Mary's Road, Bodmin, Cornwall

Bodmin was the centre of Catholic missionary activity in Cornwall in the late nineteenth century, when the Canons Regular established and served many missions. It is now served by a diocesan priest. The present church was started before the war and not completed until 1965, and even then the west front remained incomplete. It is in a simplified Gothic style, which became more simplified as building progressed. The interior has a calm and devotional atmosphere, enhanced by a fine collection of windows from the Buckfast Abbey studios.  

The name Bodmin has a Cornish derivation, believed to mean ‘home of monks’ (bod: abode, mench: monk). St Petroc had established a monastery at Padstow in the early sixth century, and this became a place of pilgrimage after his death. After a Viking raid in 981 most of the community moved to Bodmin, bringing St Petroc’s relics with them. In about 1136 the Canons Regular of the Lateran (Augustinian Canons) established a priory in Bodmin, which became the largest religious house in Cornwall. The priory was suppressed in 1538 and the priory buildings lost, except for the church which in due course became the Anglican parish church.

In 1549 the Cornish rebelled against the loss of the Latin Mass and the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer in English. An army set off from Bodmin for London but was defeated and the leaders executed, including the Mayor of Bodmin.

The revival of the Catholic mission in Bodmin owed its beginning to Fr William Young. Arriving from Ireland, he established the mission at Penzance in 1840, before moving on to Bodmin, where he built a presbytery and a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in 1845. Fr Young soon moved on again and the mission was served periodically from Plymouth and, from 1877, from Liskeard.

In 1881 the diocese placed the mission in the care of the Canons Regular of the Lateran. The Canons Regular extended Fr Young’s church in 1885, with a new nave measuring 46 ft by 36 ft, with refectory, cellars etc below.

The priory at Bodmin was given the status of an abbey in 1953.  The foundation stone of the present church was laid on 24 June 1937 by Bishop Barrett but the onset of war brought delays and it was not until 1965 that the church was completed to a reduced design, and consecrated on 24 June by Bishop Restieaux.

The Canons Regular were responsible for founding the many if not most of the present Catholic churches in Cornwall.  Members of the community are buried in a cemetery adjacent to the church.  The present parish priest is the first diocesan priest to serve in Bodmin since 1881.


The church is orientated northwest-north-east, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar faced east.

The church is faced in randomly coursed blocks of local red sandstone with grey granite window surrounds and slate roofs. The unfinished west front appears to be built of painted blockwork. The church consists of a nave and aisles, and a chancel with north and south chapels. Externally, the ridge over the chancel is higher than those over the nave, aisles and side chapels. On the north elevation facing the road there are raised gables in two bays of the nave, each containing a large four-light window with Y-tracery, with hoodmoulds over. On the south elevation there is one raised gable and three plainer flat-topped trefoil headed windows. There are similar three-light windows to the chancel chapels, while the east wall to the chancel itself is windowless. There is a clear break in construction, visible on the north wall at the junction of the aisle and chancel chapel.  Set low into the wall of the north aisle at this point is a slate tablet in a granite surround recording the laying of the foundation stone by Bishop Barrett in 1937. The white painted west front has three-light windows to the west end of the aisles, and a projecting central porch with a flat roof and central doorway of Perp character.

The interior is wide, and the proportions low, apart from in the raised sanctuary. The internal walls are faced in light grey sandstone, and there is a moulded nave/sanctuary arcade of four bays, with alternating cylindrical and octagonal piers. There are timber and plaster panelled wagon roofs over the nave and aisles. The sanctuary occupies the two western bays of the nave, and is contained by a low wall in the arcades on either side. Beyond this, the (later) chancel walls are more plainly treated, with unmoulded pointed arches and square clerestory windows punched through the masonry. The chancel is devoid of furnishings, and in general the church is sparsely, but elegantly furnished. The most notable element of the internal fitting out is the extensive provision of coloured abstract glass from the Buckfast Abbey workshop, in the north and south aisles and in the side chapels of the chancel. The main altar is a simple granite piece, Post-Vatican II, and the benches in the aisles face towards this. Behind the benches in the south aisle are confessionals in the wall (in a flat-roofed addition on this side). At the west end of the south aisle, the octagonal font (which appears to be that from the nineteenth century church) lay rather forlornly amongst various stored items at the time of the writer’s visit.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1965

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed