Mawnan Parish Community Website
Cornwall, England



The Helford Estuary


The origins of St. Edward's Catholic Church, Mawnan Smith.


Like many Comish villages, Mawnan has an old tale about the building of its first church, many centuries ago, when all the villagers were Catholics and worshipped in one place. The parishioners chose a site on what later became the lands of Nansidwell, towards the Carwinion side, near where St. Edward’s now stands. They began piling stone there for building; but by night the piskies came and threw the stones into the Helford River. (If you know where to look, near Toll Point, you will see them there still.) After this had happened several times, the villagers gave up and looked for a place that would not displease the piskies -- which is why the old parish church was built where it now is, at the bottom of Old Church Road. Mass was celebrated there until the reign of Henry VIII.

After the Reformation, Mass was not celebrated publicly in Mawnan until 1952, when Canon George Ford became parish priest of Falmouth. Bishop Grimshaw gave him permission to say Mass on Sundays in the Mawnan Memorial Hall, provided that at least twenty people attended each week. Canon Ford came to celebrate the first Mass that summer. The hall soon proved too small for comfort, especially when there were many summer visitors.

After Canon Ford died, Canon Adrian Chapple came from Bournemouth to replace him. He first celebrated Mass at Mawnan in summer holiday season of 1962. It was one of the days when 120 worshippers overflowed the Memorial Hall. Much encouraged by this experience, Canon remarked during the Mass that there ought to be a permanent church in the district. He was glad he had ventured the suggestion, for immediately after Mass Mrs. Alice Rose Pilgrim, who lived at Nansidwell, offered him, as a memorial to her late husband, ‘Eddy’ (Edwin Albert Ezra Pilgrim), the very site the piskies had rejected many centuries before. Canon immediately set about obtaining the Bishop’s permission, getting local planning permission, and collecting the necessary funds. Money came in with remarkable speed. The parish established a planned giving scheme. Many gifts came from people all over the country who were grateful for being able to attend Mass in Mawnan during their summer holidays, and from former parishioners who, like so many of the Cornish, had emigrated to distant places.

Canon Adrian Chapple knew about the piskies. Following an Irish custom, he threw a medal of Our Lady into the meadow, and this time the piskies gave no trouble. Building work began on Monday 27th April 1964. The design was by Waldo Maitland, a Catholic architect practising in Falmouth, who went on to build the Catholic churchs at Helston and Truro, also the chapel at Tremough Convent. The contractors were Gray Conoley and Co. Ltd. also of Falmouth. The church was finished by 8th December and the bishop came to open it on the 19th December. The total cost of construction was £14,200.

The roof is borne on six timber Portal Frames, which relieve the cavity-block walls of weight (although the east wall also bears the weight of the roof, allowing the possibility of extending the building in that direction). The narthex is divided from the nave by a glass screen. The original warm-air heating system, fuelled by an oil-fired boiler, was replaced in October 2000 by quieter and cleaner water-filled radiators and a paraffin-fired boiler.

Local workmanship and materials were used as far as possible. The Catholic Women’s League of Falmouth presented the altar of Cornish granite in memory of Canon Ford. The blacksmith of Mawnan Smith, Dryden James, who was still at work in the village, shoeing the few remaining horses, made the altar rails. (He died in 1994.) The big stained glass window of St. Edward, however, given by Mrs. Alice Pilgrim in memory of her husband, was obtained from Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd. of Dublin.

As was then required by canon law, a handsome tester or baldacchino was suspended over the altar. The statue of our Lady Star of the Sea was given as a memorial to merchant seamen who were lost in the two world wars of the 20th century. The font for the baptism of Mark Pilgrim in 1965 was provided by his family.

The imposing white statue of the Sacred Heart that stands outside the church was rededicated by Canon Bede Davis on the feast of the Sacred Heart, 30th June 2000. It was given by the Daughters of the Cross when they sold their convent at Tremough, near Penryn – which is now a University. For many years it had stood in one of the Tremough meadows, a gift from Fr. Lynch, a chaplain in the US Navy, who enjoyed visiting the convent while his ship was in the River Fal during 1945.

St. Edward’s congregation has lost none of its vigour and plays a full part in the ecumenical and social life of Mawnan Smith. It is still common to have 120 or more, worshippers at Mass in high summer, and at least half that number in the chilly damp of Cornish midwinter.

The dedication of the church was suggested by ‘Eddy’ Pilgrim’s name (Edwin). Saint Edward the Confessor, king of England from 1042 to 1066, was the much-loved patron saint of England before King Richard I placed his crusading, army under the protection of St. George at the end of the 12th century.

Before the Norman Conquest of 1066, during a time of political strife and instability on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, Saint Edward kept England at peace with her neighbours for twenty years. A tall bearded man with a ruddy complexion and fair hair, his generosity to the Church and to the poor was legendary. The people believed he had a gift of curing scrofula by laying on of hands -- as a result of which the monarch of England continued to ‘touch for the King’s Evil’ for nearly eight centuries. (Queen Anne was the last to perform the rite.) After his death pilgrims flocked to his tomb in Westminster Abbey, which he had virtually founded. His relics still lie there intact in a great shrine behind the high altar.

The name of the civil parish is derived from the patron saint of the old parish church, St. Mawnan. This name may be derived from mavuanus meaning ‘monk’, but nothing at all is known about him. Possibly he was a local leader in the 6th or 7th century. The village at the centre of the parish has been called Mawnan Smith since at least the 17th century, most likely because of a smithy at the road junction. Work is at last underway, soon to be opened as a working museum, controlled by the “Anvil Trust”. See details on this site.

History originally written by Vincent Evans. He was a very well known journalist who, as an
army war correspondent, was the first writer to enter Belsen after its liberation.
In 2003 Canon Richard Rutt brought the information up to date while leaving the
main story as it was.

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