THE Earl of Devon, Charles Courtenay, has backed plans to find a new use for a closed medieval church that was founded by an ancestor of his and where his great-grandfather was once rector.
The fate of the Grade II* St Michael’s, once the parish church of Honiton, Devon, had been in doubt since 2012, when Exeter diocese first suggested that it was no longer viable. The building finally closed for public worship earlier this year.
Last month, at a public meeting chaired by the Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Jackie Searle, several possible options for its future use were put forward, including a church plant, youth work, and use by schools. They will be discussed in greater detail with the Bishop shortly.
Before the meeting, Lord Devon, who is a patron of the benefice of Honiton, Gittisham, Combe Raleigh, Monkton, Awliscombe, and Buckerell, said: “Honiton holds a special place in my family, as my grandfather and his five sisters enjoyed a blessed childhood at the rectory, with many fond memories of the parish. Our medieval links to St Michael’s Church are also significant, and I am enthusiastic about encouraging a modern community use of this remarkable old building.”
St Michael’s was founded by Bishop Peter Courtenay in the late-15th century, and Lord Devon’s great-grandfather, Frederick Leslie Courtenay, was both Rector and Mayor of Honiton before succeeding to the earldom in 1935. In the 19th century, a new parish church, St Paul’s, was built in the centre of Honiton to serve the growing population, and St Michael’s became a chapel-of-ease.
The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, said that St Michael’s had a unique place in the town’s history and landscape. “I hope that, together, we can find a way to bring this ancient building back to life in the service of its community.”
A return to Christian worship has not been ruled out, and there are no plans to sell it on the open market. Discussions have already been held with secular and other church bodies, but no viable use has yet been identified.
Its maintenance is the responsibility of the Exeter diocesan board of finance, but it faces a £100,000 bill to bring the building back into use, reinstate the electricity supply, and install heating.