In August 2008, as we always have done, we spent our family holiday in Cornwall. On August 14th, in the late morning, we went to visit the parish church in Germoe, a tiny, tiny village, between Penzance and Helston in the very west of the county. Look for the orange arrow:
The church, like every ancient church in this part of the world, is built on or near the site of a pagan sacred well, in this case St Germoe’s Holy Well, which was renamed in honour of the patron saint of this little church, St Germoe:
Germoe was a young Irishman from around 450 A.D.. This was just after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the so-called “Dark Ages”. Germoe was one of the disciples of St Patrick who came, or perhaps more probably, were sent, to convert the bloodthirsty savages of West Cornwall, such as their fierce War Chief, Teudar, to Christianity. Almost seven hundred years after this, in the eleventh century, the Normans built a church on the site. This original church was then in its turn replaced by a second church in the fourteenth century. The churchyard contains a strange little arched building known as St Germoe’s Chair. Supposedly, it was a shrine covering the bones of St Germoe, which sounds lovely, except that we know that there is no trace whatsoever of anybody’s bones under the structure:
On either side of the church door are the quaintly carved “Germoe Monkeys” which supposedly represent long tailed monkeys of some kind and are said to ward off evil. As far as I can trace, nobody has ever thought it at all unusual that the peasant builders of a remote fourteenth century church should have a knowledge of monkeys:
Perhaps they are not monkeys! It’s very hard to tell after so many centuries of erosion. Most of it since 1900.
At this time, of course, Cornwall was a place where English was not spoken. Few, if any roads connected this Celtic speaking area with England, and the inhabitants of the county regarded themselves as a separate country. So how did they know about monkeys?
Most spectacular of all in the church, however, is the font. Nothing is known about its origin except that it is very, very ancient:
The stone structure is certainly pre-Norman Conquest (1066) and equally, cannot really be connected to the Celtic era of St Germoe. At this time, deep in the Dark Ages, baptisms are known to have taken place in the Holy Well, as a demonstration to the local pagans of the superior powers of the Christian faith. Any fonts were placed in as low a position as possible, because a baptism in this era always included the washing of the feet.
In my humble opinion, as they say, the font is not at all a Christian font but an object of veneration from a much. much older religion, forgotten for countless centuries, and perhaps older than even the Romans. The faces carved on the side. I believe, are those of their gods, these unknown people from so long ago.
One face has a chip on it, which looks like a tear and must surely represent the sadness of a long forgotten entity who knows that he is divine, but who now has no worshippers to emphasise that fact:
The other face is much more intriguing and always seems so very, very poignant.
To me it always looks like a sad alien, marooned here for ever, unable to return to his own planet.