St Nectan's Church, Hartland
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Glorious 1450 carved and painted chancel screen
The church we see today was begun around 1170 and completely rebuilt in 1360. Its most obvious feature is the eye-catching tower, erected around 1420 and standing 128 feet high. Depending on which source you read it is either the tallest church tower in Devon or the second tallest. More practically, it was used as an aid to navigation by sailors along the treacherous North Devon coast.
It is one of the very earliest screens in Devon, dating to around 1450, and easily one of the finest. What makes the screen so fascinating is that each arch is different, in a unique pattern. There was no mass-production here; the woodcarvers created a masterpiece of medieval art, and even today it has the power to awe.
The pulpit is late medieval, possibly installed at the same time as the screen. The wagon roofs in both the chancel and nave are medieval, but one of the beams comes from the HMS Revenge, a battleship broken up at Appledore.
The church is full of historic memorials, including a small memorial brass in the Stucley Chapel to Anne Abbot dated 1610. Beside the Abbot brass are fragments of carved stone from the Benedictine abbey (now Hartland Abbey house) .
The stained glass windows are worth a closer look; many were inserted by one of the Stucleys of Hartland Abbey, who was fascinated by Arthurian romance. Here you will find a likeness of King Arthur, with Arthurian symbols, and a depiction of King Alfred, who held Hartland in the 9th century. Then there is William the Conqueror, lord of the manor in Norman times.
St Nectan's church is exceptional, a delightful country church in a wonderfully scenic location. It is full of historic interest and well worth a trip to see, especially if you plan on visiting nearby Hartland Abbey.
St Nectan of HartlandNectan was a 5th century holy man, a son of King Brychan of Brycheiniog (Brecknock, in Powys, Wales). Nectan was inspired by the story of St Anthony, and determined to emulate his way of life. Nectan sailed from Wales, vowing to settle wherever his boat chanced to land. It came ashore in North Devon and Nectan settled here with his followers. Nectan's cow was stolen, and when he tried to convert the thieves to Christianity they cut off his head.
St Nectan's Holy Well
According to the earliest written record, Nectan then picked up his head and carried it to his well, where he died. One of the thieves was so filled with awe and remorse that he buried him by the well. Miracles were reported at his tomb, and St Nectan's Well became a place of pilgrimage.
You can find the well just 300 yards from the lych gate leading to the church yard. A short path off the main road to Hartland leads you to a small, wooded dell, where a stone well-head protects the spring. The well itself is protected by an iron gate, but you can see into the chamber quite easily, and even scoop up a handful of the water if you're so inclined (I tried; its very cool, but I didn't dare to drink it).
About St Nectan's Church, Hartland
Address: Stoke Road, Hartland, Devon, England, EX39 6DU
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Hartland Abbey - 0.3 miles (Historic House)
Spekes Mill Mouth Waterfall - 0.9 miles (Countryside)
Docton Mill Gardens - 1.2 miles (Garden)
Clovelly, All Saints Church - 4.6 miles (Historic Church)
Clovelly Court Gardens - 4.6 miles (Garden)
Morwenstow, St John's Holy Well - 6.1 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Morwenstow, St John's Church - 6.2 miles (Historic Church)
Kilkhampton, St James Church - 8.4 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to St Nectan's Church, Hartland: