Despite over rigorous restoration in Victorian times, this village church has regained much charm after recent restoration programmes.
The present church was built in the early 13th century. In about 1100 St Stephen’s college was converted into a foundation of regular canons. Forty or so years later it was involved in disputes between King Stephen and the landowning barons. As a result the tower was destroyed by the Earl of Cornwall as it was being used as a currency store. Following this it was decided to build a new priory down in the valley by the river Kensey and the canons moved there in 1155.
St Stephen’s church was re-consecrated in 1259 and the tower was rebuilt in the early 1500’s with a legacy of forty marks from Dame Thomasine Percival, Lady Mayoress of London, and formerly Thomasine Bonaventure, a native of Week St Mary. Legend adds that she required the pinnacles to be big enough to be seen from Swannacott Farm in Week St Mary, some twelve miles away.
The church was clearly central to the evolving community for the village nestles around and below it. Formerly administered by the Duke of Northumberland’s estates, many of the properties are over 250 years old, Northumberland House was once an inn, whilst typical Cornish stone cottages; line Duke Street and North Street. The 1540 Act of Parliament granted continuance of the privilege of sanctuary to only eight places in England, St Stephens being one. Fugitives seeking refuge in church were legally protected unless accused of sacrilege or treason. Protection for life might be granted in return for an undertaking to leave the realm within 40 days. This Act continued until the early 17th century.