The Church Under The Sands

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A more beautiful and remote site a hermit could not have hoped to have found.

Enodoc was a hermit. He liked his privacy and not talking to people was not a problem, and so he chose a site next to the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of an estuary, deep in North Cornwall.

Those who live at Daymer Bay know it can be a balmy heaven on a summer’s day: these days houses have grown up all around and the privileged classes run their matchstalk dogs joyfully across the vast sandy beach.

But in the teeth of a winter gale the waves can hurl frozen sands in great giant’s fistfuls at the coastland. Enedoc must have been a singular kind of aesthete, combining the very beautiful and the uncompromisingly spartan; but then, I’m sure he knew how to keep warm.

He died and drifted into hearsay, but the sea kept flinging sand at the shore. By the 12th century, someone had dubbed him a saint and built a church in his name, right where he lived, out of slate and rubble. They built them well in those days, and St Enedoc Church sat squat and staunch with a jaunty wizard’s hat for a spire.

It was not perturbed by a bit of sand. They make them tough in Cornwall.

But over the centuries the dunes rose like the waves had done before them. Gradually, the sand covered the church almost entirely.

By the 15th century local church powers-that-be were worried. The sand was covering much of the roof. One cannot collect tithes from parishioners of a giant-sized sand dune.

And so they decided that once a year, the vicar and parishioners would let themselves in through a hole in the roof using a length of rope, for a hasty service in the ‘Sinkininny’ church.

And that went on for centuries. Until in the mid-nineteenth century someone decided the little church should be exhumed, and so it stands there today, with dunes hemming it in on all sides, dug out of their centre and now really quite a celebrity.

The church is a celebrity for many reasons. It has novelty, for now it sits at the ninth hole of St Enedoc Golf Course within the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the hollering ‘fore” from enthusiastic golfers.

But above all it is where one of our greatest poets, John Betjeman, chose to be buried.

It is a truly sacred place, and when I wandered in on Friday it was decked in flowers from a wedding the previous Saturday. It was really and truly beautiful, and Enedoc the Hermit, whilst possibly concerned about the amount of people who swarm to the site, must be quietly congratulating himself on the cloak of peace and serenity which swathes the place come what may.

In Betjamin’s words:

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,

And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blesséd be St Enodoc, blesséd be the wave,
Blesséd be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee…


John Betjeman: Trebetherick

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35 thoughts on “The Church Under The Sands

  1. Do you have a shot of the whole church and steeple from a distance? Hard to get perspective.
    Oh, and a golfer’s foreplay is to yell, ‘Fore!’ I believe? 🙂

  2. What a splendid place for a wedding–or to live as a hermit. 🙂 I am sure that a pilgrimage to such a gorgeous, remote spot would indeed take on a sense of wonderment and profound spirituality. Gorgeous photos, Kate!

    1. Oh, Penny, you always make me smile :). It is indeed wondrous. I haven’t said until now but for a numbers of reasons I thought for a long time I would never be able to go back there. It was so sweet to stand there once more.

  3. A hermit, a beautiful wee church, a poet laureate, a golf course, even a few cows in the background of a photo — what more could you have possibly woven into this charming tale?

    Because of the term “matchstork” (sic — I’m sure it was auto-correct created) in the original post as received in my email inbox, I went searching. Had I come here and seen all of the comments first, I would have saved the search, but missed the delightful video which introduced me to your LS Lowry; different than the one you posted here, since the artist’s works changed in the background to accompany the tune, rather than the lyrics being displayed. So, I had the pleasure of your tale, learned of an artist, whose work I found charming and somewhat like that of our American artist, P. Buckley Moss, all accompanied by a clever little tune which will now echo through my afternoon.

    Thanks!

    1. Karen, only you could have taken this on such an adventure. So glad you went searching and found such a gem. Lowry was a curmudgeon, but just summed up our northern city in an era which is gone now.

      1. Thanks, Kate. You are one of only a very few who regularly tempt me to such adventures. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday, following a carrot our friend Andra dangled, and I haven’t gotten to a satisfactory conclusion yet, but I sure learned some things while trying! 🙂

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