Holcombe Burnell


Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 121

Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters

Full text available at


Prepared by Michael Steer

Between 1908 and 1916, John Stabb, an ecclesiologist and photographer who lived in Torquay, published three volumes of Some Old Devon Churches and one of Devon Church Antiquities. A projected second volume of the latter, regarded by Stabb himself as a complement to the former, did not materialize because of his untimely death on August 2nd 1917, aged 52. Collectively, Stabb's four volumes present descriptions of 261 Devon churches and their antiquities.

HOLCOMBE BURNELL. St. John the Baptist. The church consists of chancel, nave, north aisle, south porch, and west tower with four bells, with the following inscriptions:- (1) Soli Deo Detur Gloria. T. P. 1636; (2) Plebs ois plaudit ut me tam sepius audit; (3) Est michi collatum Ihs istud nomen amatum; (4) Robert-Church-Wardens J.P.-1654.

On the north side of the chancel is an object of great interest: the Easter Sepulchre [plate 121]. It is in a remarkably good state of preservation, the carving of the Resurrection at the back being almost perfect. The figure of our Lord is just emerging out of the tomb, His left leg inside, and His right foot resting on the knee of one of the sleeping soldiers outside; His left hand holds a staff with a banner. The soldiers' figures are well carved, the expression on the face of the one at the left hand side of the tomb (the spectator's right) is especially good. On each side of the central carving their are mermaids holding shields without coats of arms. On the lower part of the tomb are four larger shields, also blank. On the left side over the arch is a merman holding a scroll; on the frieze are naked figures of boys playing with fish; on the ledge beneath the shelf is carved an anchor. It would almost seem as if it was the tomb of someone who had been connected with the sea. It is supposed that one of the members of the Dennis family was buried here. Lysons [says], "The Dennis's of Holcome Burnell were descended from Thomas Dennis, Esq., of Bradford, by a second wife. After a continuation of five descents at Holcome, the co-heiress of the Thomas Dennis, who married a daughter of the Marquis of Winchester, married Sir Henry Rolle, and Sir Arthur Mainwaring. Sir Thomas Dennis, grandfather of the last Sir Thomas Dennis of Holcombe, was Sheriff of the County, seven, or according to Sir William Pole, nine times."

The altar is a handsomely carved oak chest which came from Culver House. In the chest is preserved an old altar cloth, the cloth itself is comparatively modern, but it is enriched with fleurs-de-lis and angels, which were most probably taken from a pre-Reformation cope, or chasuble. The angels bear a striking resemblance to those on the chasuble which has been lately restored to Barnstaple Church, and which was referred to in an inventory of church goods made in 1560.

The church retains its old box pews, and there are some old bosses in nave and aisle; those over the chancel are coloured and gilt. The tower is cut off from the nave, and the organ is placed across the tower arch. On each side of the organ is preserved all that remains of the rood screen, consisting of 8 of the lower panels, with paintings, 4 panels on each side of the organ. On the left side are:- (1) St. Catherine, with her wheel; (2) St. Barbara, with the tower; (3) St. Margaret, with dragon; (4) problematical, may be St. Thecla. On the right hand side of the organ are:- (1) St. Nicholas in mitre with nimbus behind; (2) St. John the Baptist, with Agnus Dei resting on a book; (3) the Angel Gabriel holding a scroll inscribed "Ave Maria Gratia Plena"; (4) the Blessed Virgin kneeling at a desk with her hands clasped on her breast; a dove is approaching her lips, and near her is a flower pot holding a lily.

The font is old, the sides of the bowl are carved with geometrical patterns, there is a blank shield beneath the bowl, and the shaft is ornamented. There are 10 sides to the bowl, a rather uncommon number. The south doorway has a band of carving over the arch, with a human head in the centre and at each end. In the churchyard is a shaft of stone, apparently the remains of an old cross.

The registers date from 1657.