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Part of Launceston Priory 50m south-east of St Thomas' Church

A Scheduled Monument in Launceston, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.6408 / 50°38'26"N

Longitude: -4.3658 / 4°21'56"W

OS Eastings: 232813.161893

OS Northings: 85015.324611

OS Grid: SX328850

Mapcode National: GBR NL.8SHB

Mapcode Global: FRA 17RC.T4J

Entry Name: Part of Launceston Priory 50m south-east of St Thomas' Church

Scheduled Date: 6 April 1935

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1004511

English Heritage Legacy ID: CO 268

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Launceston

Built-Up Area: Launceston

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Launceston

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes the central area of the church and some ancillary buildings forming part of Launceston Priory, situated on the north side of Launceston, to the south of the River Kensey. Parts of the Priory church and buildings survive as low walls, up to 1.5m high, which formed part of the tower and choir and the east end of a chapel with tombs, pillar bases, the chancel steps, a newel stair, various scattered architectural fragments and other buried features and deposits. An arched gateway leads into the churchyard of St Thomas', and the whole is confined to a roughly rectangular enclosure and maintained as an open space.

The priory was built in 1127 as a house for Augustinian canons which replaced the earlier monastic institution at St Stephens. It was Dissolved in 1539. The site was rediscovered and excavated by OB Peter between 1886 and 1888 during the construction of the railway and a gas holder when the remains of un-mortared herring-bone coursed walls and floors of slate, overlain by encaustic tiles, were found at a depth of up to 3m from the surface. Painted plaster and debris from the North Chapel suggested it was St Gabriel's Chapel, and evidence from the Lady and South chapels suggested that the roof was tiled. To the north of the chancel was a cemetery for the laity with stone-lined and capped graves. A detailed plan was also created. Tiles and a circular cross head, re-used as a quern stone, were placed in Launceston Museum.

The buildings are Listed Grade II* (370061).

Sources: HER:-
PastScape Monument No:-436963

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life. Despite being partially excavated, the part of Launceston Priory 50m south east of St Thomas' Church survives comparatively well, since the Dissolution monastic remains have generally suffered somewhat differential preservation and systematic robbing and re-use of building materials over time has played a significant role. Further archaeological and environmental evidence relating to construction, destruction, function, religious, social and economic significance and the Priory's overall landscape context will remain.

Source: Historic England

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