Stokenham Parish Church
The parish is well served by Christian churches and organisations which considering its small population of some 2000 souls are very well supported. See list at bottom of page.
St. Michael & All Angels
The site of Stokenham
church was undoubtedly established by the presence of a holy well, the waters of which
were used for baptism. The
dates from 1431AD and is said to be one of the largest in the
county. The first church to be
established was probably Norman, as indicated by the existing font and by the fact that
the church was originally dedicated to St. Humbert the Confessor who died in 1188AD. It may be seen from the
Taxatio of Pope Nicholas, issued in 1291AD that
the medieval church was under the jurisdiction of the Pope.
From the year 1302AD registers provide a list of Vicars holding the living from the Crown, as they do today except for a short period when they were appointed by Bisham Priory.
In 1342AD the Archdeacon inspected the church and reported that 'The defects of the vicarage are-all is vile, inadequate, lost or in ruins, a barn excepted". Also from the registers we learn that Archbishop Courtney in 1385AD visited Woodleigh Deanery on Saturday, 23rd April and Sunday. April 24th in this parish.
St. Michael & All Angels
The Rectorial tithes of Stokenham were given to Anne of Cleves in 1539 for her support after the dissolution of her marriage to Henry VIII.
During the reign of Elizabeth I it was compulsory for everyone to go to church on Sunday or pay a fine of one shilling equivalent to about f10 today! Church Houses were built from the early 16th century to provide a place of rest for people who came to church from a long distance. Here they might stay between services, bringing their own food. Drinks were available and profits from these Houses helped to defray church expenses.
The present church was begun in the late 14th century, soon after the country had recovered from the effects of the Black Death, and was completed in 1421 when the church was rededicated.
In the 15th century the interior would have been ablaze with colour. The plastered walls were painted with biblical pictures. After the Reformation the rood and its loft were abolished as they were thought to be idolatrous, and churchwardens were instructed to provide a pulpit for the use of the clergy.
In the middle ages the nave was used for civil as well as religious purposes and was the centre of village life. Pews had not yet been installed and here magistrates dispensed justice, folk dancing was not uncommon, and food was often provided.
Arms were stored in the church and it is said that bows and arrows were found amongst its roof timbers. Folklore has it that in early times a wedding took place in the church at which the bride was held at sword point.
During the 1920s a dispute arose concerning the validity of an entry said to have been made in the register of weddings in 1673 so as to lay claim to a vast fortune- the inheritance of the Angel estate, one of the wealthiest in London, which had an annual rent roll said to be f1.000,000. The Vicar and churchwardens attested that the entry was not seen by them when the register was last inspected and they signed a declaration to this effect. Further more, the vicar contended that the entry had been made with a steel pen, not a quill. Here the matter rests as far as the church registers are concerned.
It was in the church that the meeting of the whole
village took place in 1943 to discuss the evacuation of the area in order that that it
might become a training ground for U.S. forces.
The church, as it stands today, is a fine example of the Perpendicular style of medieval architecture, built on the side of a hill so that its whole length can be seen from below. It is dedicated to St. Michael & All Angels which was common practice for churches on an elevated position. It was, however, at one time dedicated to St. Barnabas. The area immediately in front of the church, now used as a car park, was originally the village duck pond which received the overflow from the holy well.
The church is now approached through the gate from the car park. The finely bedded slate stone from which it was built was quarried locally. The tower, a good specimen of the South Devon type, is about 85 ft. high. The main entrance to the church was formerly at the west end through the tower. On the south side of the church on the wall of the south transept is a sundial dated 1811 which has the unique distinction of possessing a hexagonal base.
Returning to the south
porch and upon entering the main church door, observe a cross cut in the stonework of the
left-hand door jamb. This could be a votive cross made by someone in the middle ages to
remind him, every time he went to church, of a vow taken.
The church has a Mothers Union and a thriving 'Junior Generation'. Services of Worship at the church follow the traditional pattern of Anglican Churches.
For further information please contact:
The Church Secretary: Mrs Sue Ward Tel: 01548 531747
The Reverend Pam Kemp
The Benefice Office Tel: 01548 580860
Other churches and places of worship in the parish
St. Andrew's Church, Beesands
Community of The Glorious Ascension
Chillington Methodist Chapel
South Hams Christian Fellowship
Inter-Church Worship Group
Torcross Congregational Chapel