St James Church in Jacobstowe, Devon

Historic Devon church find ‘as rare as hens’ teeth’

The remains of an ancient structure described as being “as rare as hens’ teeth” has been uncovered under the floor of a Devon church.

Excavations at St James Church in Jacobstowe have unearthed the ruins of what is believed to be the building’s original foundations, complete with a rear Western apse formation.

Only two other similar structures have been recorded in Britain – including one at Canterbury Cathedral – and on-site archaeologists say it could provide new insight into the South West’s church-building history.

Rod Lane, who is overseeing the excavations, said the “shock” discovery could date the church back as far as pre-Anglo-Saxon times.

What has been uncovered are the foundations of a western apse, together with the foundations of the former Eastern limit of the early church,” he explained.


This takes our knowledge of the development of church history in the southwest back much further than is currently known.

We know that Irish monks were coming to the West Country in the 5th-7th centuries so perhaps they came here too and formed a Christian community.

We really didn’t expect to find this when be took up the floors – it’s a find is as rare as hens’ teeth.”

The remains were exposed during works to replace St James’ pew platforms, which have been threatening to collapse for several years.

The refurbishment project only recently got the go-ahead after the church secured financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Devon Historic Churches trust.

But when the floor and topsoil were removed, they revealed the building’s original Eastern wall and a semi-circular wall – or apse – at the Western end.

The potentially significant find has already attracted specialists from across the country, including teams from English Heritage.

But Mr Lane said the church was hoping to use it as an opportunity for residents to learn about local history.

We want to get the word out and involve the wider community,” he said.

In April work will start and the remains will be covered up, never to be seen again. So before that we want to hold a open day to allow people who are interested to engage with their heritage.”


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