St Constantine's chapel and holy well


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Merryn
National Grid Reference:
SW 86524 74919

Reasons for Designation

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre- Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in the 1540s. Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.

St Constantine's chapel and well survive reasonably well. Although the chapel is an overgrown ruin, the tower stands to a substantial height and the remains are probably well preserved and protected by the enclosing sand dune. The chapel was one of the largest chapels in Cornwall. The well survives in a more complete state, and is a good example of a holy well, with its well basin, bench seats and well house. The chapel and well were an important site of pilgrimage in the medieval period. The site is a good example of the impact natural changes in the landscape have on early settlements, in an area of shifting dunes, the settlements and church were abandoned when the area was inundated with sand, and the people moved inland.


The monument includes a medieval chapel and holy well, known as St Constantine's chapel and well, situated at Constantine Bay on the north coast of Cornwall. Both structures are Listed Grade II. The chapel, which is largely overgrown, survives as a large ruined structure partly excavated from a large, grass covered sand dune which still surrounds it. The structure is orientated east-west and consists of a tower at the west end, nave, chancel and south aisle. The chapel measures approximately 25m east-west by 15m north-south. The walls are constructed from the local slate. The tower stands to a height of approximately 6m, and there is an arched doorway into the tower. The holy well is located 60m north of the chapel, and again is sited at the centre of a large grass covered sand dune. It survives as a small rectangular structure constructed of thick slate walls, the tops of which curve inwards to form a barrel roof, although the roof does not survive. The well house is orientated north-south and measures 4.55m long by 3m wide; the walls stand to 1.4m high and are approximately 0.85m thick. The entrance is at the north end of the well, the rectangular well basin is at the south end and measures 1m long by 0.8m wide and is 0.69m deep. The well basin is full of clear water, which overflows and forms a narrow channel through the well house floor and through the entrance. Above the well basin is a large niche or recess. Another, smaller recess is set into the east wall. The floor of the well is of slate around the well basin and there are the remains of low slate benches to either side of the well house, along the walls. Both sides of the entrance appear to belong to a later rebuild as they are of a darker slate than the rest of the well structure. Although St Constantine's chapel was a large and ornate structure it is not well recorded. It was mentioned in 1390, in a letter of Bishop Braniyngham. The chapel was rebuilt in the 15th century. It was probably desecrated at the Reformation, possibly because sand had already overwhelmed the nearby settlements. After the Reformation the chapel was converted into almshouses for the poor, but by 1745 it was in ruins. In 1926 Penrose Williams excavated the site and found the remains of a chancel, nave, south aisle, and chancel aisle with a room at the west end against the tower. Many skeletons in slate cists were found, some under the wall of the south aisle. Much of the finer stonework from the chapel has been reused elsewhere, in Harlyn House and in St Merryn Church, where the font now is. St Constantine's holy well was traditionally a place to which pilgrims came to bathe their feet as the water was believed to have miraculous powers. It was first mentioned around 1700 by Hals, a local antiquarian; although in 1891 M and L Quiller Couch could find no trace of it. In 1911 the sands shifted sufficiently to reveal traces of the building and the well was excavated by Penrose Williams. The well was buried again after the excavation, but was re- excavated and restored in 1923. In the 1950s a slate shelter was built over the well. The slate shelter over the holy well, and the slate steps and path to the shelter are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Henderson, C, The Cornish Church Guide, (1928)
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970)
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Consulted July 1997, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 21951.1,
FMW report for CO 115,
St Constantine's Church and Well information sheet,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 87/97; Pathfinder Series 1337 Source Date: 1981 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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