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Description and History of Brent tor Church

At a very exposed 325mtr above sea level with no hill or tree top in site to provide shelter from Dartmoor's gales it seems an odd place to build a church. There are many legends that claim to know how it came to exist. All of them follow a similar theme.

The story goes that a wealthy merchant was caught in storm of violent proportion with towering waves in the English channel. He battled his way trying to navigate his ship to a safe port, but the visibility was poor and he could not find land. He was desperate to be saved an prayed to god that should he be saved he build a church on the first piece of land he saw. With this his prayers were answered and above the towering waves and beneath a tumultuous sky Brentor was revealed to him. He steered his ship towards the distance tor and after battling the raging sea he eventually beached his ship and was saved. As soon as he could could he pushed marched in land to find the tor that saved him and built his church. Other legends follow a similar story line with raging seas and ships but the battle is between good and evil with the Devil stirring up the waters and St. Michael struggling against him to save the sailors.

In reality or as far as we can tell from surviving records the building of the church has much more ordinary beginning. It is first mentioned in the Woburn Muniments in 1155 and 1162. Robert Gifford - Lord of Lamerton and Whitchurch built the church. He gave the church and surrounding lands to Tavistock Abbey. Was Robert Gifford the wealthy merchant? No one knows why he built it so maybe there is some small truth in the legend.

Brentor Church dedicated to St. Michael Derupe sits on top of a 325mtr Volcanic Cone. But it is not alone and shares the site with a more ancient structure. At the base of the tor there are the remains of an Iron Age Hill Fort (150BC - 50AD). Brentor has not survived the centuries without several restorations. During one of these 39 burials found under the church floor. This is not unusual as we all know from the many engravings on church floors that the noble, rich and pious have been entombed beneath these hallowed floors for centuries. What is strange is the skeletal remains were orientated North - South; this indicates a pagan burial, the norm is for the body to be laid to rest in East - West orientation. Why then not here? Why a Pagan burial in a Christian church? The most likely explanation is that the church was built on top of a pagan site as the British Isles were converted to Christianity.

I like to link these facts known fragments of legend and wonder if the original church was built by a wealthy merchant, his prayers being answered and settling upon the land he saw the pagan settlement of Brentor protected by the remains of an ancient Iron age fort. To pay tribute to his chosen god and spread the Christian word he vowed to do battle with the devil convert the settlement to Christianity. Being successful in his mission he built the church on top of the pagan burial site and driving the devil from the land.

There are many photographic opportunities on the site. Various compositions of the church are possible and can look very impressive side lit in the evening with the backdrop of a stormy sky. But the church is well documented in books and websites so with a little more thought capturing the intimate corners and hidden details may produce original photographs telling the story in their own way.

Photographs of Brent Tor Church

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The Author and Photographer does not accept any liability for loss, damage or injury resulting from the use of this website. The descriptions and maps are designed to be an aide to finding good photographic locations in the Dartmoor National Park and should not be use as the sole method of navigation. Take care on Dartmoor, the weather can change fast, the landscape is often featureless and difficult to navigate. Ensure you carry an Ordinance Survey Map and compass at all times and that you can use them. Wear good supportive footwear ideally walking boots and always carry waterproofs drinks and snacks.