In the last years of the Catholic church’s primacy in England there was a boom in church building and restoration. Cornwall too had its share of church re-building beginning in the 1400s. Bodmin, the largest church, was rebuilt between 1469 and 1491. St Mary Magdalene at Launceston is another major example, rebuilt between 1511 and 1524.This rash of investment in churches, reflecting the economic recovery of the fifteenth century, was cut short by the Reformation of the 1530s and 40s. It was not to be repeated on such a scale until the Victorian age.
Investment in the local parish fabric was not confined to the larger towns. In the village of St Neot, snug in its valley sheltered from the north and west by the moors, the church was rebuilt in the 1420s. Later, in the early 1500s, stained glass windows were put into the aisles, paid for by prominent local families and local guilds or groups. The windows tell the stories of Noah, the creation and the fall from paradise as well as recounting the more local legend of St Neot.
What makes St Neot unusual is the survival of its windows. In Protestant and Puritan thinking, stained glass windows, ornate statues and decorative commemorations of local saints were a mere distraction from the Word of God, as written in the Holy Bible. Instead, the best context for spirituality was a simple one, freed from the superstitious mumbo-jumbo of a previous age. Crosses were beheaded, statues destroyed and windows smashed, especially in the mid-seventeenth century when religious anxieties were at their height. But St Neot’s windows were hidden under whitewash until the storm had passed, eventually undergoing a major restoration in the calmer 1820s.