Building » Launceston – St Cuthbert Mayne

Launceston – St Cuthbert Mayne

St Stephen's Hill, Launceston, Cornwall

A fine and complete early twentieth century church, built in local stone but in an exotic (for Cornwall) Byzantine-Romanesque style. The church is the national shrine to St Cuthbert Mayne, martyred at Launceston in 1577.  

The mission at Launceston was established in 1886 at Kensey Villa (the present presbytery) by the Rev. Charles Baskerville Langdon, an Anglican curate at St Mary’s Plympton before his conversion to Catholicism in 1883. In 1887 a temporary iron church and stables were built next door to the presbytery, a building which survives today, although derelict.

The permanent church was built in 1911 from designs by Arthur, the brother of Charles Langdon. It is in the Byzantine Romanesque style, no doubt influenced by the design for Westminster Cathedral, which had been completed ten years earlier. No other works in architecture by Arthur Langdon have been have been identified by the writer; he appears to have been above all an antiquary, whose best-known publication was Old Cornish Crosses (1896). However, he also designed some new memorial crosses in Celtic style, including those in the churchyard at St Stephen-by-Launceston and a large Boer War memorial of Polyphant stone at Haverfordwest, Dyfed (1904). His presumably is also the design for the memorial to his brother in the form of a Celtic cross outside the Lady Chapel at St Cuthbert Mayne.

In 1921 Fr Richard McElroy organised the first national pilgrimage in honour of Blessed Cuthbert Mayne, who was ordained at the English seminary at Douai in 1575 and martyred at Launceston two years later. The pilgrimage formed part of a campaign for the martyr’s canonisation. Fr McElroy also set about providing a fitting shrine in the chapel that Canon Langdon had built on the north side of the church, but not furnished. The shrine includes a relic of the martyr’s skull and the ‘Inspeximus’ issued by the Crown to Sir George Carey in 1581, giving details of the charge against Cuthbert Mayne. The altar was installed and consecrated in the shrine in 1922. In 1933 a Lady Chapel was added, giving off the south side of the nave, and two years later Bishop Barrett consecrated the church, dedicating it to the newly-canonised St John Fisher and St Thomas More, and to the Blessed English Martyrs.

In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the 40 English martyrs, including Mayne, and the church was rededicated to St Cuthbert Mayne in 1977. The church is the national shrine to the saint.


See list description, below. This is fairly detailed, but contains one or two inaccuracies and omissions. Although listed in 1993, the church is identified under the previous dedication to the English Martyrs. The list entry implies that the church was built in one phase in 1911, whereas the Lady Chapel dates from 1933. It also refers to ‘wall memorial panels, depicting the crucifixion story, to Carol Langdon’; a more accurate description would be ‘Stations of the Cross, in memory of Charles Langdon’.

List description


Catholic Church. 1911. By Arthur Langdon, brother of donor Canon Charles Baskerville Langdon; mason was F. H. Nicholls of Lewannick; carpentry by J.H.Harry; oak doors by Mr Clifton of Ashwater; plumbing including copper dome by T.Chapman (Jun) of Launceston; lighting by Lord and Sland Ltd; work completed by Rallings and Tonar after Langdon’s death. Slatestone and other dressed stone including Polyphant to give polychrome effect; dry slate roofs with coped gable ends and moulded eaves cornices or exposed rafters plus copper dome at east end; leaded half-dome at west end and flat roof over S chapel. Plan: Nave/chancel; central N chapel; N (2-storey) vestry over organ and boilerhouse (partly underground); S porch and chapel. Romanesque style.

Exterior: 4-bay S elevation has porch on left with 3-light window (doorway to right-hand return); next bay and right-hand bay with traceried 2-light window under round arches; all with shouldered headed lights, other bay with interlaced rose window. N elevation has 2-light window, similar to the 2 south windows, between boilerhouse and chapel; 3-light window to right-hand return of chapel and 2-storey vestry wing on left with 4-light window to ground floor with pair of doors on its right. East end has 4 small lights to apse and west end has smaller semi-circular projection with 2 small lights; bellcote over right-hand (SW) corner.

INTERIOR: dressed Polyphant walls; plaster barrel vault over moulded cornice with billet enrichment; detached columns to round chancel arch with carved imposts; round-arched doorways and Diocletian window with reticulated tracery over doorway to vestry. Fittings: medieval holed stone in porch otherwise original or slightly later fittings including granite altar table on 2 turned polished shafts to chancel; marble altar to each chapel; N chapel with aedicule framing carving by Cuthbert Mayne; S chapel with round glazed ceramic of Virgin and child also carved wooden figures of Christ, Christ with child, St.Stephen and 2 of St Peter; round polished Polyphant stone font by architect with interlaced carving to bowl over shaft with fishes; wall-mounted organ pipes; movable pine pews with numbered ends and painted and carved wall memorial panels, depicting the crucifixion story, to Carol Langdon 1886-1913.

Subsidiary features: porch forecourt with low granite-coped walls; vestry approached by granite steps and bridge on half-segmental arch. A robust and strongly-articulated design.

Listing NGR: SX3258585441

Heritage Details

Architect: Arthur Langdon

Original Date: 1911

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II