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Excavation of St Piran's Oratory could begin by the autumn

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 05, 2013

St Piran's oratory is said to be more than 1,000 years old. In 1980 the monument was encased in sand to help preserve it

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A chapel built more than 1,400 years ago and encased in tons of sand in Perranporth is to be uncovered following ten years of campaigning.

The St Piran Trust says work to finally reveal St Piran's oratory should begin in the Autumn.

It has contracted Cornwall Council's historic environment service to begin exploratory works which it is hoped will lead to the full excavation, preservation and interpretation of the ancient site.

The trust wants to use the site, reputed to be the oldest four-walled Christian edifice on mainland Britain, to bring St Piran's story to life and highlight Cornwall's ancient history.

In 1980, on the advice of the then Department of Environment the oratory, at Gear Sands, was buried for its own protection.

But in 2011 English Heritage, the body charged with the protection of scheduled ancient monuments, placed the oratory on its 'At Risk' register fearing its burial maybe damaging the structure.

According to local tradition the chapel was built by St Piran himself, in around the early fifth or sixth century.

The trust's founder and general secretary, Eileen Carter, said: "It has taken more than ten years of careful, and at times frustrating, negotiation with a range of statutory bodies to reach the point where uncovering the oratory might be possible."

St Piran trustee, Ian Saltern added: "The oratory sits in one of the most sensitive environments in Cornwall, home to a number of important plant species, some of which only grow here. Undertaking the excavation of an ancient building in such an environment has to be very carefully planned."

In 2010, the St Piran Trust and Perranzabuloe Parish Council, which owns the site, were awarded a 'development grant' from the Heritage Lottery Fund to investigate the feasibility of uncovering the oratory.

Mr Saltern said: "More negotiation and planning must take place before a spade can be put in the ground, but with luck, we hope to commence excavation in October or November of this year"

At the same time the trust said it will submit a further lottery bid to pay for its long- term protection.

Colin Retallick, the trust's treasurer, added "We will also be creating a range of opportunities for people to get involved with the project such as a community excavation of the wider cemetery site, exhibitions, activities with local schools and, of course, a momentous St Piran's Day play".

It is hoped that the project would be completed in time for St Piran's Day 2015.

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