Somewhere down in the depths of Cornwall, where sea meets land, and crumbling castle ruins cover the landscape, there’s one medieval hermitage that deserves to be seen. Demands it, even. For, perched precariously atop an independent slab of granite, the ruins of Roche Chapel, a place of worship dedicated to Saint Michael, dominates the landscape surrounding it…
A brief history of the Chapel of St Michael Ruins in Roche
In an unassuming field on the fringes of Roche, a mountain of granite slabs lie, the unlikely remnants of geographical activity tens of thousands of years ago. The town itself has a population of just under 4000 and its name pronounced ‘roach’. In Cornish, ‘Roche’ is ‘Tregarrek’, meaning ‘homestead of the Rock’.
The now ruined chapel was likely constructed during the 15th-century by a hermit or monk, although little is known of its origins. However, its unique façade means that it has since become incorporated into many a local myth and legend, tales which transcend its murky past. Most notably, the story of Jan Tregeagle (a 17th-century magistrate), and that of Arthurian lovers Tristan and Isolde.
Tristan and Isolde
Those who are familiar with medieval love stories no doubt know of the fated tale of French lovers Abelard and Heloise. And while there is no doubt that two such characters really existed in history, back in England another couple (albeit fictional) rose to fame in the Arthurian Legends.
Isolde (also known as Iseult) and Tristan was a tale inspired by the Celtic legend in the 12th-century. The story goes that Tristan was a brave knight who was to bring back the beautiful Isolde for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to marry.
However, on their return to the King, they both managed to drink a magical potion, leading them to fall madly in love. It’s said that the two fated lovers hid in the Chapel at Roche, also referred to as Ogrin’s Chapel, when trying to escape the clutches of the King.
Tips for visiting Roche Chapel of St Michael
Snapping photos and climbing the monument aside, there is little else to see when you venture to Roche Chapel. As such, I highly recommend visiting Roche Chapel en route to somewhere else, perhaps the nearby Eden Project or picturesque town of Fowey.
The chapel itself is best seen on a sunny day when the light is shining down and it’s easier to get around the often muddy field (so make sure to wear suitable footwear). Though the chapel is always open, it’s worth visiting in the daytime so that you can ascend the steep iron ladder which will take you up into the remaining chapel ruins.
Attractions near Roche Chapel
Fowey: The picture-perfect fishing town of Fowey is well worth a visit on any Cornish Adventure. Surrounded by the sea and once home to acclaimed writer Daphne du Maurier, you can’t go wrong by dedicating a couple of hours to exploring this coastal gem. Nearby sandy beaches are home to Henrician sea forts and breathtaking coastal walks.
St Austell: Best known for the locally brewed beer of the same name, Roche is approximately six miles from the coastal settlements of St Austell. Aside from sampling beverages, St Austell is close to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, the Eden Project, and the renowned sandy stretch that is Polkeriss Beach.