North Devon Coast

National Landscape

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St Peter’s Church

The origins of the existing St Peter’s church in Berrynarbor date from the 12th century. As with many important sacred places, this site may have been adopted from an earlier sacred site, and from an aerial view appears to have a circular enclosure surrounding it. The church shares many similarities with it’s neighbour in Combe Martin, but unlike Combe Martin, the interior of Berrynarbor church is sparse. Outside, even the high mounted saint which was probably placed upon the tower plinth has been removed, suggesting the puritans of Berrynarbor were even more fanatical than most during the 16th century reformation.

“It is not unusual for high church symbolism to be removed where it is easy to do so. Examples are the colourful painted interiors many churches would have displayed, and the defaced bench ends at Abbotsham. To remove a statue which is likely to have been life-size from a plinth fifty feet from the ground, must have required considerable effort. Yet there is evidence to suggest that Berrynarbor may have been a hot bed of Puritanism from the earliest days of the reformation.

John Jewell was born at Bowden in the parish of Berrynarbor in 1522. It is likely that all his formative religious teaching would have taken place at Berrynarbor church, as the reformation was proceeding with a pace. He would go on to become bishop of Salisbury, and remembered as one of the principle architects in the re-establishment of Protestantism in Elizabethan England. He had the literary skill to rebuff Romanist interpretations of the scriptures, the political skill to appease moderate Catholics and the ruthlessness to dispose of any extremists.”

Of the graves in the churchyard another individual is also of interest. Roger Turpie was commander of the missionary ship ‘New John Williams’. He and his associates are credited with spreading Christianity in Polynesia, New Guinea and the South Pacific during the nineteenth century. He was a native of Kirkcaldy in Scotland, quite how he and his wife ended up in Berrynarbor is unknown.”