Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England

St Brannock


A great deal of speculation surrounds St Brannock, the namesake of Braunton’s parish church. Even his method of arrival in Braunton is disputable. Some suggest that he arrived during a raid made on the North Devon Coast by the Welsh Celts, who during the fifth century raided the coast quite frequently. Others suggest that he rode into Braunton on a donkey and still more tales report that he floated across the Bristol Channel from Wales in a stone coffin. This coffin could have been a ‘lech’ or tombstone which all the Celtic saints supposedly carried with them on their pilgrimages.

St Brannock's Influence

St Brannock, perhaps with his favourite cowHowever he arrived, his influence on Braunton was significant. At that time, the village we know now didn’t exist – the whole area was still virgin forest or scrubby woodland and the small Pagan community who lived here were housed in small farmsteads around Chapel Hill. St Brannock named the place Brannockstood and set about teaching the natives who greeted him more productive farming methods, while at the same time converting them to Christianity.  Being Pagan, the natives believed in, and worshipped, the nature spirits who lived in the tress and rivers. They were known to sacrifice young children in order to appease the spirits and St Brannock must have found it difficult to persuade them out of such practices. He succeeded however and went on to build them a church – the very first in North Devon. 

Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill was selected for this historic building and work commenced but, no matter how long or hard everyone laboured, come the next morning some inexplicable force had torn down their hard work during the night. What the native people attributed this strange occurrence to will never be known but, as if to reassure them, St Brannock was soon visited by an angel, who told him he should go and seek a meadow in which he would find a gently flowing stream. There, he would find a white sow suckling her seven piglets and, having investigated, St. Brannock found that the angel was right. It was believe that any spot in which you found a sow with her piglets was very lucky, as pigs were believed to be a symbol of protection for the ‘mother church’. Satisfied that St Brannock knew what he was talking about, work on the top of Chapel Hill was abandoned and recommenced on the site where today’s parish church stands.

St Brannock's Cow

St Brannock’s reputation spread and stories soon emerged about the time he had spent in Wales. While there, St Brannock seems to have made some enemies and one day, they captured and killed his favourite cow. They chopped her up into pieces, put them in a pot of water and hung it over the fire to boil. Mysteriously though, the water refused to boil or even become warm.  At this point, St Brannock discovered their evil deed and, taking the pot from the fire, he breathed life into it and miraculously revived the cow. This is, perhaps, why the Braunton crest now features St Brannock with a cow resting meekly behind him.

Burial

When St Brannock died, his mortal remains were buried at Braunton, where they have remained to this day. This fact makes Braunton unique, for very few churches can claim to possess the whole body of their patron saint. During the reign of Elizabeth I it was discovered the Braunton held not just St Brannock’s body but other relics as well. On 26th June every year, in accordance with tradition, these relics were paraded through Braunton to celebrate the anniversary of St Brannock being interred beneath the high alter of the church. During the Second World War, work was being carried out on the high alter and, much to the horror of those doing the work, a stone coffin was discovered full of bones. The lid was replaced and the hole covered in, but it does make us wonder if these were the remains of our own St Brannock.

St Michael's Chapel

It is worth mentioning the ruined chapel that today stands at the top of Chapel Hill, which should not be confused with St Brannock’s early attempts to build a parish church. It is called St Michael’s chapel and was built in the fifteenth century as a votive chapel for sailors and fishermen, where prayers were said for them and a look-out kept. It was a conspicuous landmark from the sea and the ruins are still clearly visible today at the top of the hill. Throughout it’s history, a figure in clerical garb was supposed to have been seen moving among the ruins of the chapel. At one time, a local photographer turned this story to financial profit by making faked photographs, which he sold to credulous villagers.


 
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