W. (William) Haslam.

From death into life: or, Twenty years of my ministry online

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step, and also the altar tomb (which was built east and west,
not north and south). It was fallen, but enough remained
to show the original shape and height of it.

I put a notice in the newspapers, inviting people to come
and see the old church which had been buried for fifteen
hundred years ! In the presence of many visitors, clerical
and lay, we removed the stones of the altar, and found the



skeleton of St. Piran, which was identified in three ways.
The legend said that he was a man seven feet high ; the
skeleton measured six feet from the shoulder-bones to the
heel. Again, another legend said that his head was en-
shrined in a church forty miles away ; the skeleton corre-
sponded with this, for it was headless. Moreover, it was
said that his mother and a friend were buried on either side
of him ; we also found skeletons of a male and female in
these positions. Being satisfied on this point, we set the
masons to work to rebuild the altar tomb in its original
shape and size, using the same stones as far as they would
go. We made up the deficiency with a heavy granite slab.

The "Lost Church," as it AppfahI'D in 1845.

On this I traced with my finger, in rude Roman letters,
" Sanctus Piranus." Ihe mason would not cut those
crooked letters unless I consented for him to put his name
in better ones in the corner. I could not agree to this, so
his apprentice and I, between us, picked out the rude
letters, which have since (I have heard) been copied for a
veritable Roman inscription.


My name was now up as an antiquary, and I was asked
to be the secretary (for the West of England) to the Archceo-
logical Society. I was supposed to be an old gentleman,
and heard myself quoted as the "venerable and respected
Haslam," whose word was considered enough to settle a
knotty point beyond doubt. I was invited to give a lecture
on the old Perran Church, at the Royal Institution, Truro,
which I did ; illustrating it with sketches of the building,
and exhibiting some rude remains of carving, which are now
preserved in the museum there.

The audience requested me (through their chairman) to
print my lecture. This I undertook also ; but being very
young in literary enterprises, I added a great deal of other
matter to the manuscript which I was preparing for the
press. There was much in the book* about early Chris-
tianity and ecclesiastical antiquities. I imagined that this
parish was, in British and Druidic times, a populous place,
and somewhat important. There was a "Round," or amphi-
theatre, for public games, and four British castles ; also a.
great many sepulchral mounds on the hills, the burial-place
of chieftains. I supposed that St. Piran came here among
these rude natives (perhaps painted savages) to preach the
Gospel, and then built himself a cell f by the sea-shore,
near a spring or well, where he baptized his converts. Close
by, he built this little church, in which he worshipped God
and prayed for the people.

The words of the poet Spenser do not inaptly describe
this scene of other days : —

** A little, lowly hermitage it was,
Downe in a dale —
Far from resort of people, that did pas

* "The Church of St. Piran. " Published by Van Voorst.
+ This little building still remains entire, under the sand. Some
pieces of British pottery and limpet-shells were found outside the door.


In traveill to and fro : a litle wyde
There was a holy chappell edifyde,
Wherein the hermite dewly wont to say
His holy things each morn and eventyde ;
Thereby a crystall streame did gently play,
Which from a sacred fountaine welled forth away."

Here, then, more than fourteen centuries ago, people
called upon God ; and when their little sanctuary was over-
whelmed with the sand, they removed to the other side of
the river, and built themselves another church ; but they
still continued to bury their dead around and above the
oratory and resting-place of St. Piran.

When my book was published, there ensued a hot
controversy about the subject of it ; and some who came to
see the " Lost Church " for themselves, declared that it was
nothing more than "a modern cow-shed ;" others would not
believe in the antiquity I claimed for it : one of these even
ventured to assert his opinion in print, that " it was at least
eight centuries later than the date I had fixed;" another
asked, in a newspaper letter, " How is it, if this is a church,
that there are no others of the same period on record ? "

This roused me to make further research ; and I was
soon rewarded by finding in the registry at Exeter a list of
ninety-two churches existing in Cornwall alone in the time
of Edward the Confessor, of which Lam-piran was one.
With the help of another antiquary, I discovered nine in
one week, in the west part of the county, with foundation
walls and altar tombs, of which I published an account in
the "Archaeological Journal." This paper set other persons
to work, who discovered similar remains in various parts of
the country ; and thus it was proved to demonstration that
we had more ecclesiastical antiquities, and of earlier date,
than we were aware of.

Next, my attention was directed to Cornish crosses ;
about which I also sent a paper, with illustrations, as a good


secretary and correspondent to the same Journal. My
researches on this subject took me back to a very remote
time. I found crosses among Roman remains, with in-
scriptions, something like those in the Catacombs near
Rome — these were evidently Christian ; but I found crosses
also among Druidic antiquities. I could not help inquiring,
" Where did the Druids get this sign ? " From the Phoe-
nicians. " Where did they get it ? " From the Egyptians.
"Where did they get it?" Then I discovered that the
cross had come to Egypt with traditions about a garden, a
woman, a child, and a serpent, and that the cross was always
represented in the hand of the second person of their
trinity of gods. This personage had a human mother, and
slew the serpent which had persecuted her.*

Here was a wonderful discovery ! The mythology of
Egypt was based on original tradition, handed down from
Antediluvian times ! From further investigation, it was
evident that the substance of Hindoo mythology came from
the same source ; as also that of the Greeks, Chinese, Mexi-
cans, and Scandinavians. This is how the Druids got the
cross also : it was in the hand of their demi-god Thor, the
second person of their triad, who slew the great serpent
with his famous hammer, which he bequeathed to his

I was beside myself with excitement, and walked about
the room in a most agitated state. I then made a table or
harmony of these various mythologies, and when placed
side by side, it was quite clear that they were just one and
the same story, though dressed up in a variety of mytho-
logical forms, and that the story was none other than that of
the Bible.

In my architectural journeys I used to entertain people

* These traditions came to the Egyptians from an ancestor who had
come over the flood with seven others.


with these wondrous subjects; and one evening I had the
honour of agitating even the Bishop of Exeter himself, who,
in his enthusiasm, bade me write a book, and dedicate it to
him. I did so. " The Cross and the Serpent " is the title
of it, and it was duly inscribed to his lordship.

It excites me even now to think about it, though it is
thirty-five years since I made these discoveries. The old
librarian at Oxford declared that I was mad, and yet he
could not keep away from the subject, and was never w^eary
of hearing something more about it. This reverend Doctor
said, " If you are right, then all the great antiquaries are
wrong." I suggested that they had not had the advantage
I possessed of placing their various theories side by side,
or of making their observations from my point of view.

Notwithstanding all these external labours, which en-
grossed my earnest and deep attention, I did not neglect
my parish. I felt, however, that my parishioners did not
know anything about ecclesiastical antiquities or architec-
tural science ; and that they knew nothing, and cared less,
about Church teaching. They did not believe, with me,
that in order to be saved hereafter, they ought to be in the
Church, and receive the Holy Communion — that there is
no salvation out of the Church, and no Church without a
Bishop. They were utterly careless about these things, and
from the first had been an unsympathetic and unteachable
people. I feel sure that had it not been for other interest-
ing occupations which engaged my mind, I should have
been altogether discouraged with them.

I tried to stir them up to a zeal worthy of their ances-
tors, who w^ere such good and loyal Churchmen, that King
Charles the First wrote them a letter of commendation, and
commanded that it should be put up in all the churches.
I had a copy of this letter well painted, framed, and placed
in a conspicuous part of my church. Then I prepared


an original sermon, which I preached, or rather read, to
inaugurate the royal letter.

My text was taken from Heb. xii. 22 — 24, "Ye are
come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living
God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable
company of angels, to the general assembly and church
of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to
God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made
perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and
to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than
that of Abel." I applied these words to the Church of
England, and rather reproached the Cornish people for not
being more loyal and scriptural !

I think I was more roused by my sermon than any one
else ; and no one asked me to print it, but I did for all that,
with a copy of the king's letter. I am sorry to say that the
public did not care sufficiently about it to buy copies enough
even to pay for printing.

It fell very flat, but I attributed that to the degeneracy
of the times, and of Cornish people in particular. The fact
was, they understood that text far better than I did, and
knew that " The Church of the first-born " was something
more spiritual than I had any conception of

From the commencement of my ministry I did not, as a
general rule, preach my own sermons, but Newman's, which
I abridged and simplified, for in that day I thought them
most sound in doctrine, practical, and full of good common
sense. Indeed, as far as Church teaching went, they were,
to my mind, perfect. They stated doctrines and drew
manifest conclusions ; but my people w^ere not satisfied with
them then ; and I can see now, thank God ! that, with all
their excellences, they were utterly deficient in spiritual

The author was one whom I personally admired very


much, but by his own showing, in his " Apologia," he was a
man who was searching not for God, but for a Church. At
length, when he grasped the ideal of what a Church ought
to be, he tried by the Oxford Tracts, especially No. XC, to
raise the Church of England to his standard ; and failing
in that, he became dissatisfied, and went over to the Church
of Rome.

Once, when I arrived at a friend's house in the Lake
district, I was told that there was a most beautiful view of
distant mountains to be seen from my window. In the morn-
ing I lifted the blind to look, but only saw an ordinary view
of green fields, hedges, trees, and a lake. There was no-
thing else whatever to be seen. In the course of the day,
a heavy mist which had been hanging over the lake was
dispersed, and then I saw the beautiful mountains which
before had been so completely veiled that it was difficult
to believe in their existence.

So it was with me. I could see ecclesiastical things, but
the more glorious view of spiritual realities beyond them, in
all their full and vast expanse, was as yet hidden.

Whether my extracts from Newman's Sermons were more
pointed, or whether I became more impatient with my con-
gregation, I cannot tell, but it was very evident that my
words were beginning to take effect at last ; for as I went on
preaching and protesting against the people and against
schism, my " bass viol " called on me one day, and said,
" If you go on preaching that doctrine, you will drive away
the best part of your congregation." " Excuse me," I
answered, "not the best part; you mean the 7

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Online LibraryW. (William) HaslamFrom death into life: or, Twenty years of my ministry → online text (page 3 of 23)