Let’s face it, Tintagel is famous for its stories starring King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. Few people would conjure up images of Materiana when they think of Tintagel or its famous castle. But this saintly lady also has a presence here, thanks to a beautiful 11th century church up on the clifftop that overlooks the quaint village.
Little is known about Materiana. In fact, historians aren’t even sure exactly who St Materiana’s Church is dedicated to, although many believe she was Madryn, a fifth century princess from Gwent in Wales who is known to have preached in Cornwall around the year 500. However, it doesn’t matter because whoever she was has a strong presence here, with a ‘Hymn to St Materiana’ still in use and two memorials – a statue in the chancel and a stained glass window in the nave – portraying the saint.
Historians reckon St Materiana’s was founded as a daughter church to the nearby Minster Church in Boscastle. Some say the saint was buried there. The earliest church at the Tintagel site is thought to have been built in the sixth century, however the one you can visit today dates to the late 11th century, with parts of the building being added over the following centuries. There is a fourth century Roman milestone inside the church that was discovered in the grounds in 1889 before being moved inside. And a Norman font with grotesque heads at each of its four corners alongside serpent carvings also sits within the building. Outside, barely a stone’s throw away from the church tower, is an impressive Bronze Age standing stone.
Tintagel is proud of its myths and legends and St Materiana’s Church is no different. Whoever this saintly lady was, she is forever etched in the hearts and minds of the locals and, thanks to her memory, there’s a beautiful church in the parish that is open to visitors who want a slice of old English religious history to go with their epic trip to this famous village.