Widdecombe-in-the-Moor Church was famously struck by a ball of lightning, bringing the tower crashing down into the nave; people still remember that event some 400 years later. A similar  occurrence at St Odulph’s, Pillaton, on Monday 21 January 2013, will be etched in the memory of Cornwall and the country for a similar period, writes Tony Rowe.

Just before midnight, a very short, very intense electric storm released three bolts of lightning, one of which struck the north-east pinnacle of St Odulph’s Church with such force that the whole structure and part of the main tower exploded, raining half ton pieces of granite far and wide.

A major piece struck the roof near the altar, another destroyed a bench in the forecourt of the Weary Friar pub, whilst the main fall pierced the roof in five places taking away the whole roof in the children’s area, destabilising the entire north-west corner of the church.

Debris and rubble filled most of the church as far as the choir stalls and a boulder lodged behind the main door which had to be forced aside.

Of all the dramatically damaged areas of the church, the most critical is the fall of massive granite pieces on the lead roof of the bell tower. As I write, it is difficult to see how they will be lifted down as the largest mobile cranes in the country may not be able to stretch to remove these half ton blocks (a thousand years ago they were raised by artisans and it humbles one to think of the effort that went into proclaiming their faith).

I didn’t believe I could be emotional about a building but I, in common with many others during the following day, welled up at the devastation which had been wreaked on our poor, dearly beloved heart of the village. But the speed and professionalism of the teams who have become deeply involved already has been magnificent.

The architect masterminding the whole project, the scaffolders who dropped their job and drove through a snow storm to get emergency roof covering on, the stonemasons who are going to piece together the shattered pinnacle, the main contractor who has been so caring and diligent, the stained glass expert who is assisting by removing a window to save further damage, the parishioners who spontaneously offered their help – the list goes on and on.

The church will rise again by the will of God to regain its place in our community. There are already movements to put together a major fund-raising campaign to raise monies to carry out all the other aspects, in addition to the basic restoration, required to equip the church as we, the parish, want it for the 21st century.

We were blessed today by the presence of Bishop Tim who has given his full backing to the restoration and put forward many innovative ideas as to how we can turn our disaster into a triumph; and, of course, Canon Andrew has been playing a crucial leadership role.

If you would like to offer help to the team in Pillaton, contact Tony Rowe at TnTRowe@aol.com or call 01579 350669.

A special meeting has been set up for 6pm on Thursday 31 January in the Weary Friar pub, adjacent to the church.