Living as I do in Mid Cornwall sometimes it can feel that I am a long way from anywhere in either direction. If I take a trip ‘down west’ then I like to make a day of it and take a picnic and the same must be said for the other direction too. There would be very little point in going ‘up the line’ to North Cornwall for just a couple of hours.
Yesterday however I did just that, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill in North Cornwall before an appointment across the border in Devon, so I took the opportunity to stop in the pretty town of Launceston.
Launceston, I think, has a lot going for it. The pretty narrow streets, old gateway, a lovely market square and a wonderful Norman castle looking down on it all.
The church however is truly something special. It was built between 1511 and 1524 and has hardly been altered since. I think it is the prettiest in the county! And I understand from the information booklet I purchased on my visit (I like a booklet and aim to get one from every church I go in!) that it was voted in the top 100 churches in the whole country!
As I wandered around listening to the almost deafening organ practice I have to say I fell in love all over again. Magical. But while I was taking another look at the outside something caught my eye.
The exterior of the church is really wonderful, the detail and extravagance of the sculpted granite is truly fabulous. There are plants and flowers, pomegranates, George and a scary looking dragon, saints, dogs and griffins. So much detail. But why was that reclining statue lying in a niche at the east end of the building littered with small stones? I referred to my handy information booklet. . .
It tells me the statue is the Mary Magdalene after whom the church is named. She is lounging on a cushioned bed, surrounded by choristers and minstrels, clearly Launceston quite liked this so called fallen lady. But why then the stones?
I read on . . .
The tradition continues among children and some adults in Launceston, that if you throw a stone that lodges [on Mary Magdalene] you will shortly have new clothes given to you.
Well, that has to be worth a go! . . . Luckily Mary’s face is very worn by time and weather so I can’t really see her expression. I wonder what she thinks about having pebbles lobbed at her by a 38 year old woman?! Sorry Mary!
For more stories of Cornish churches try: The Centre of Cornwall & a rather Mysterious Tail or for more interesting ladies try: Celia Fiennes: Through Cornwall, side-saddle! or Hannah Jory: Mother, Prostitute & Convict