Lammana Chapel is an important historic site on the mainland near West Looe containing the stone foundations of a chapel, which was part of a medieval priory based on Looe Island.
A sacred place…
First recorded in a surviving document in 1144, the name Lammana contains the Cornish place-name elements ‘lann’ and ‘manach’, meaning ‘the early Christian enclosure or monastery of the monk’.
Historically, the name was first applied to an earlier chapel on Looe Island that was part of the large estate belonging to the medieval abbey at Glastonbury, Somerset. The island chapel was dedicated to St Michael and became a centre of pilgrimage during the medieval period. Looe Island is now a marine nature reserve managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
It is thought that the chapel on the mainland may have been built as a result of the number of pilgrims attempting to reach the island chapel on St Michael’s Day (29th September) sometimes in hazardous conditions.
The two chapels are precisely the same height above sea level and archaeologists believe that each would have been visible from the other. It is thought that the buildings may also have acted as landmarks for shipping and it has been suggested that the two chapels may have contained lights maintained to help guide sailors away from dangerous rocks and safely into the harbour at Looe, though this is not certain.
The past uncovered… Excavations at Lammana
Archaeologist C.K. Croft Andrew excavated the site in the 1930s and in 2008 Channel 4’s Time Team carried out excavations on Looe Island and the mainland chapel.
The Time Team investigations in 2008 found that the chapel lies on a platform cut into the slate bedrock. The building was rectangular and quite small – and had a square entrance porch on its south side, facing the sea. There was another entrance reached by steps on the north side.
The excavations found pottery dating between 1100 and 1600. Much of it came from Cornwall, particularly potteries at Lostwithiel and St Germans but there were also pieces from Devon and western France. Archaeologists also discovered pottery dating to the Roman period on the site, suggesting that there were people living or working there around 1500 – 2000 years ago, long before the monks came.
During the excavations, traces of burials were also found in the chapel. Bones from one of these – a man aged 35 – 55 when he died – gave a radiocarbon date in the period 1200 – 1280. It is thought that the people buried in the chapel may have been monks or members of the wealthy family living at Porthole across the field to the north of the site. The family bought the priory and its estate from Glastonbury Abbey in 1289 and appointed chaplains.
After this, the local community used the chapel, in the 1540s the chaplain gave services five or six times a year to people from three nearby hamlets.
Henry VIII closed the chapel and sold its lands in 1548 as part of his Reformation of the church.
The site was taken into the care of Cornwall Heritage Trust in July 2023.