In Launceston, Throwing Stones at Mary Magdalene

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.

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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 and 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.

The poet Charles Causley actually recalls doing this with his friends as a young boy.

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 grown woman?! Sorry Mary!


Further reading

Charles Causley – a life in poems

The Centre of Cornwall & a rather Mysterious Tail

Celia Fiennes: Through Cornwall, side-saddle!

Hannah Jory: Mother, Prostitute & Convict

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6 thoughts on “In Launceston, Throwing Stones at Mary Magdalene

  1. We always used to visit Launceston for the otter park when I was younger. Looks like we were missing out on the town – I’ll make sure to visit it when I’m next down that way.

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