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St Constantine's chapel and holy well

A Scheduled Monument in St. Merryn, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.535 / 50°32'5"N

Longitude: -5.0138 / 5°0'49"W

OS Eastings: 186521.656896

OS Northings: 74915.994013

OS Grid: SW865749

Mapcode National: GBR ZJ.066K

Mapcode Global: FRA 07DN.6HC

Entry Name: St Constantine's chapel and holy well

Scheduled Date: 19 September 1947

Last Amended: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018569

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31827

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: St. Merryn

Built-Up Area: Constantine Bay

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Merryn

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a medieval chapel and holy well, known as St
Constantine's chapel and well, situated at Constantine Bay on the north coast
of Cornwall. Both structures are Listed Grade II.
The chapel, which is largely overgrown, survives as a large ruined structure
partly excavated from a large, grass covered sand dune which still surrounds
it. The structure is orientated east-west and consists of a tower at the west
end, nave, chancel and south aisle. The chapel measures approximately 25m
east-west by 15m north-south. The walls are constructed from the local slate.
The tower stands to a height of approximately 6m, and there is an arched
doorway into the tower.
The holy well is located 60m north of the chapel, and again is sited at the
centre of a large grass covered sand dune. It survives as a small rectangular
structure constructed of thick slate walls, the tops of which curve inwards to
form a barrel roof, although the roof does not survive. The well house is
orientated north-south and measures 4.55m long by 3m wide; the walls stand to
1.4m high and are approximately 0.85m thick. The entrance is at the north end
of the well, the rectangular well basin is at the south end and measures 1m
long by 0.8m wide and is 0.69m deep. The well basin is full of clear water,
which overflows and forms a narrow channel through the well house floor and
through the entrance. Above the well basin is a large niche or recess.
Another, smaller recess is set into the east wall. The floor of the well is of
slate around the well basin and there are the remains of low slate benches to
either side of the well house, along the walls. Both sides of the entrance
appear to belong to a later rebuild as they are of a darker slate than the
rest of the well structure.
Although St Constantine's chapel was a large and ornate structure it is not
well recorded. It was mentioned in 1390, in a letter of Bishop Braniyngham.
The chapel was rebuilt in the 15th century. It was probably desecrated at
the Reformation, possibly because sand had already overwhelmed the nearby
settlements. After the Reformation the chapel was converted into almshouses
for the poor, but by 1745 it was in ruins. In 1926 Penrose Williams excavated
the site and found the remains of a chancel, nave, south aisle, and chancel
aisle with a room at the west end against the tower. Many skeletons in slate
cists were found, some under the wall of the south aisle. Much of the finer
stonework from the chapel has been reused elsewhere, in Harlyn House and in St
Merryn Church, where the font now is.
St Constantine's holy well was traditionally a place to which pilgrims came to
bathe their feet as the water was believed to have miraculous powers. It was
first mentioned around 1700 by Hals, a local antiquarian; although in 1891 M
and L Quiller Couch could find no trace of it. In 1911 the sands shifted
sufficiently to reveal traces of the building and the well was excavated by
Penrose Williams. The well was buried again after the excavation, but was re-
excavated and restored in 1923. In the 1950s a slate shelter was built over
the well.
The slate shelter over the holy well, and the slate steps and path to the
shelter are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of
furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre-
Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were
generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation
for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and
contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built
between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for
the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish
church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial
lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status
residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were
established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some
chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of
which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their
communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry
chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in
the 1540s.
Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the
landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being
nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively
identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often
left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the
nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.

St Constantine's chapel and well survive reasonably well. Although the chapel
is an overgrown ruin, the tower stands to a substantial height and the remains
are probably well preserved and protected by the enclosing sand dune. The
chapel was one of the largest chapels in Cornwall. The well survives in a more
complete state, and is a good example of a holy well, with its well basin,
bench seats and well house. The chapel and well were an important site of
pilgrimage in the medieval period. The site is a good example of the impact
natural changes in the landscape have on early settlements, in an area of
shifting dunes, the settlements and church were abandoned when the area
was inundated with sand, and the people moved inland.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Henderson, C, The Cornish Church Guide, (1928)
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970)
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Consulted July 1997, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 21951.1,
FMW report for CO 115,
St Constantine's Church and Well information sheet,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 87/97; Pathfinder Series 1337
Source Date: 1981

Source: Historic England

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