Britain’s oldest chapel to be re-excavated

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Archaeologists are set to excavate the buried remains of a sixth century chapel – which could be Britain’s oldest place of Christian worship.

Britain's oldest chapel to be re-excavated
St Piran’s Oratory in 1910 [Credit: Cornwall Council]

St Piran’s Oratory near Perranporth, Cornwall, has been encased in a concrete bunker for decades to protect it from the elements.

But experts have finally been granted permission to remove the casing so they can begin excavating and preserving the medieval site.

According to legend, St Piran, the patron saint of tinners, built the chapel and forged a white cross in a fire which went on to become the symbol of Cornwall.

Britain's oldest chapel to be re-excavated
Skeletal remains found in 1910 [Credit: Cornwall Council]

Engulfed by sand in the Middle Ages, the remains of the oratory were first discovered in the late 18th Century.

There were two major digs in 1835 and 1843 that uncovered a number of skeletons – including one of large, headless man.

However, the remains were buried and encased in a large bunker in 1910 to protect them.

Britain's oldest chapel to be re-excavated
St Piran’s Oratory, photo thought to be taken 1892-1909 [Credit: Cornwall Council]

The shell was further reinforced in 1980 but now the St Piran’s Trust has finally convinced authorities to let archaeologists tear down the concrete and explore the site.

Saint Piran was an early 6th-century Cornish abbot and saint from Ireland.

Legend has it that the heathen Irish tied him to a mill-stone, rolled it over the edge of a cliff into a tempestuous sea, which immediately became calm.

Britain's oldest chapel to be re-excavated
St Piran’s Oratory in 1910 [Credit: Cornwall Council]

He then floated safely over the sea to land upon the sandy beach of Perranzabuloe in Cornwall.

He was joined at Perranzabuloe by many of his Christian converts and together they founded the Abbey of Lanpiran, with Piran as abbot.

Ian Saltern, of the trust, said: ‘We are uncovering more than a building here. It is a cultural site of enormous importance. It is intricately tied to the history of Cornwall.

Britain's oldest chapel to be re-excavated
St Piran’s Oratory in 1910 [Credit: Cornwall Council]

James Gossip, an archaeologist at Cornwall Council, added: ‘This is a very important site and it will be amazing to see what is under the sand.’

The excavation is due to being in February.

Source: Daily Mail [January 15, 2014]

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