Widecombe in the Moor
Some Old Devon Churches
By J. Stabb
London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)
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.
WIDECOMBE-IN-THE-MOOR. St. Pancras. The church is cruciform in shape and consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, north and south transepts, south porch, and a tower which is the glory of Dartmoor; it contains six bells of various dates, the earliest 1632, and is said to have been erected by some tin miners as a thanks offering for their success in finding tin. There is a well-carved roof with many of the original bosses: one has a goat, another a lion, a third the pelican, a fourth three rabbits, each with a single ear uniting in the centre to form a triangle, supposed to be an emblem of the Trinity; other explanations have been given of this symbol, one being that it is an alchemical symbol called the "Hunt of Venus". The tower was erected and the church enlarged in 1537. The church is so large, it has been called the "Cathedral of the Moor", in winter the larger portion of the nave is screened off.
The rood screen [plate 253a] has been cut down to the sill level; on the lower panels are a good series of paintings including St. Apollonia, St. Sebastian, St. John, St. Philip, St. Matthew, St. Jude, and St. Thomas.
In the north and south transepts are old paintings of Aaron [plate 253b] and Moses.
On Sunday, October 21st 1638, during a terrific thunderstorm, the church was struck by lightning. In his Worthies of Devon, Prince gives the following account:- "In the afternoon in service time, there happened a very great darkness, which still increased to that degree, that they could not see to read, soon after a terrible and fearful thunder was heard, like the noise of so many great guns, accompanied with dreadful lightning, to the great amazement of the people; the darkness still increasing, that they could not see each other, when there presently came such an extraordinary flame of lightning, as filled the Church with flame, smoke and a loathsome smell, like brimstone; a ball of fire came in likewise at the window, and passed through the Church, which so affrighted the congregation that most of them fell down in their seats, some upon their knees, others upon their faces, and some one upon another, crying out of burning and scalding, and all giving themselves up for dead. There were in all four persons killed and sixty-two hurt, divers of then having their linen burnt, tho' the outward garments were not so much as singed. ... The Church itself was much torn and defaced with the thunder and lightning, a beam whereof breaking in the midst, fell down between the minister and clerk, and hurt neither. The steeple was much rent, and it was observed where the Church was most torn there was the least hurt was done among the people. There was none hurt with the timber or stone, but one man who, it was judged, was killed by a fall of stone."
The registers date: baptisms, 1570; marriages, 1573; burials, 1560.