Pillaton's lightning strike church falls silent

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Media captionThe lightning struck close to midnight "shook people from their beds"

A village church which was struck by lightning has fallen silent because the bell tower was "critically damaged".

A pinnacle on St Odulph's Church, Pillaton, was hit during a "tremendous" thunder storm on Monday night, causing blocks of granite to rain down on the Cornish village.

Blocks of up to half a tonne smashed through the church's roof and lodged in the bell tower.

Damage to the Grade I listed building is expected to cost about £500,000 to repair and will leave the bells hanging silently for six months.

Bell ringing captain Richard Warwick said: "One of the four pinnacles on the roof exploded and the main part of it has made a huge gaping hole in the body of the main church.

Helicopter rescue

"Some large granite blocks fell into the tower roof but fortunately none hit the bells.

"The problem of course is getting the boulders off. They couldn't be lifted by man."

The topic of how to get the stone down is a hot one in Pillaton, especially for parishioner Tony Rowe who is heavily involved in the restoration.

He said: "We have a huge problem, we have the largest ring of bells in Cornwall, they're world class, and a huge rock, half a tonner, is sitting in the middle of the roof above it and we're not sure yet how to get it off.

"We've talked to crane companies and even the largest crane in England we don't think would have the stretch.

"We've asked RNAS Culdrose if they can help [with a helicopter] but under budgetary constraints they can't do that.

"One of the amazing things is 1,000 years ago they built this church and they got the bits of rock up there and here it is in 2013 and we're having difficulty getting it down."

As for the rest of the church Mr Rowe said the repair work was going "brilliantly".

"We've got the temporary roof covering, one of the holes has been mended with slate, we've got cleaners coming in to deep clean and to get some coverings on the Victorian tiles."

Image caption The parishioners of Widdecombe-in-the-Moor suffered a similar, but worse, fate in 1638 which resulted in several deaths during a Sunday service

The extent of damage to the north western corner of the church, the worst affected part, is not yet known, but where possible stone masons will repair what they can.

The people of Widdecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon have also offered a helping hand after experiencing a similar, but worse, fate in 1638.

During Sunday service on 21 October the church tower was struck by lightning causing a pinnacle to fall through the roof - four people were killed and 60 injured.

Mr Rowe said: "People still remember this event some 400 years later. The events of Monday 21st January 2013 will be etched in the memory of the county and country for a similar period.

"I didn't believe I could be emotional about a building but I, in common with many others welled up at the devastation which had been wrecked on our poor, dearly beloved heart of the village."

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