Widecombe-in-the-Moor, St Pancras Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Medieval Three Hares roof boss
The 14th century church of St Pancras in the pretty Dartmoor village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor is known as 'The Cathedral of the Moor' for its size and its striking 120 foot high tower. St Pancras church is thought to be the most visited parish church in England.
The church was built in the 14th century using granite from local quarries. It was extended several times over the following 200 years, reflecting the prosperity of the Dartmoor tin-mining trade. The most obvious reminder of the tin trade is a famous roof boss in the chancel, painted to resemble a circle of three hares sharing three ears between them. The Three Hares symbol was often called the Tinners Rabbits.
Tragedy struck St Pancras church in 1638 when it was struck by lightning during a service, damaging the nave and chancel, killing 4 people, and injuring another 60.
The striking tower rises in 3 stages, supported by offset buttresses topped by decorative pinnacles. There are more pinnacles at each corner of the crenellated top of the tower.
The interior has wagon roofs throughout, and the nave and aisles terminate in the lower part of medieval wooden screens, painted with Biblical figures. There are several very nicely carved 17th century grave slabs, but the real treasure here has to be the painted medieval roof bosses. Designs include a goat, a Tudor rose, a chicken, a bearded man, and two examples of a Green Man. One of the Green Men figures is unusually shown in profile rather than facing the viewer.
The most interesting memorial is a wall monument to Mary Elford, who died in 1650. The memorial has a touching inscription by her husband John Elford that reads;
"As Mary's choice made John rejoice below,
So was her loss his heavy cross most know,
Yet lost she is not sure, but found above,
Death gave her life, to embrace a dearer love"
In the church porch are several ancient stone crosses, and a curious 18th century carved stone known locally as The Tucker Stone, which bears the coat of arms of the Tucker family lords of the manor at Natsworthy. The Tuckers gave sizeable sums of money to the upkeep of the church and intended the stone to be incorporated into the pulpit. The vicar and churchwardens decided that having a family coat of arms built into the pulpit was a bit over the top, at which point the stone mysteriously disappeared.
The stone was lost until 1930 when it was discovered buried under a wall in the vicarage garden. It disappeared again, only to turn up in a broom cupboard at the National Trust's Church House. It was finally put on display in the church porch some 120 years after it was carved. The stone depicts thew Tucker arms; a blue chevron with 3 silver sea horses beneath a lion's arm holding a battle axe.
Widecombe parish covered a large area of the rugged Dartmoor landscape. his caused great hardship for people travelling to worship, who had to walk great distances.
Address: Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon, England, TQ13 7TA
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the B3387 in the centre of Widecombe. Parking available. Usually open to visitors.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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