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Lightning bolt strikes church in Cornwall

01 February 2013


St Odulph's: a churchwarden inspects damage

St Odulph's: a churchwarden inspects damage

IN 1638, the church tower of St Pancras's, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, was struck by lightning. Four worshippers were killed, and the building was severely damaged. Within a week, a pamphlet had been published in London, describing the "most strange and lamentable accidents" as evidence of "God's visible judgements, and terrible remonstrances"; within 20 years, the incident was being cited in a pamphlet addressed to Oliver Cromwell attacking steeples as "idolatrous".

Fortunately for the congregation of St Odulph's, Pillaton, Cornwall, responses to lightning strikes are more measured in the 21st century. Nevertheless, descriptions of the bolt that struck the church tower at 11.30 p.m. on Monday of last week would probably satisfy the 17th-century taste for drama.

"There was a tremendous storm over Pillaton which took out lots of the telephones and computer systems right through village," one of the churchwardens, Graham Palmer, said on Monday. "The church tower got struck, and it was a huge thunderbolt that people heard for miles around - an incredible flash and tremendous crash. The lightning struck the north-east pinnacle of the tower, and it literally exploded - it was a 20-foot-high granite pinnacle . . . and a huge chunk came down and damaged the church roof, the nave, and the aisles. The biggest hole is 15 foot across."

Although there is a "huge amount" of debris in the church, and a couple of pews were smashed, Mr Palmer reported that "not a single pane of glass was broken."

Braving the "dreadful weather", builders, scaffolders, and church architects came together immediately to secure the church, and a temporary covering was used to make the church as waterproof as possible.

Mr Palmer said that the church's insurers, Ecclesiastical, had confirmed that the repairs, estimated to cost about £1.2 million, would be covered. An assessment process has now been begun at the church, which is Grade I listed. Both the diocesan architect and English Heritage will be consulted, and a specialist-cleaning company has been employed to retain "as much material that can be possibly used in repairs". Some items are being stored in parishioners' homes.

St Odulph's is not expected to reopen for at least six months.


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