Simon Jenkin's England's Thousand Best Churches

This article is an extract from Sir Simon Jenkins's book England's thousand Best Churches (We have requested permission to publish it)

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Such is the celebrity of this church in a cleft of Bodmin Moor that we should understand what it is not. Blisland is not a pre-Reformation survival of the Old Religion in a part of England long resistant to Protestantism. The church retains the Catholic ritual but its pre-eminent design is that of Victorian restoration. The architect responsible was F C Eden who, like the Sedding brothers, rebuilt Cornwall's churches with sensitivity and was a particular favourite of John Betjeman

Blisland is mainly a Norman structure. Its Bodmin granite walls, green and moist, appeal to have slithered downhill from the village green. The tower is set oddly against the north transept, as if trying to hold the place steady Grinning faces in the vaulted porch are like theatrical masks preparing us for the drama within. The interior is dominated by the Eden Gothic screen of 1896-7. It seems to fill the entire church, ablaze with bold colouring. Tin one weakness is the carving of the rood characters themselves. Religious art at that time seemed unable to avoid insipidity

The church is small and the north aisle truncated, so the screen seals the chancel and side chapels from the nave and aisle. This priestly enclosure is enhanced by the furnishings. The north chapel is almost a private alcove, with a crude slate memorial of 1624. The chancel reredos is by Comper, but this time in early classical style, with dainty shell-head niches and decorated pilasters. Surrounded by mosaics and fronted by black-and-white tiles, it is a composition more appropriate to a London oratory than Bodmin Moor

The nave cannot match this. Its piers bend and buckle before Eden's chancels, distorted by medieval burials beneath the nave. The struts of the wagon roof are so out of line as to resemble crazy paving. Edward Collins was the Victorian rector who commissioned Eden, collaborating with him in respecting existing work. Eden also restored the late 17 century pulpit, which stands at the junction of the nave, carved in the style of Grinling Gibbons and crowned by the sternest of testers

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