A TOUR OF ST MARY’S CHURCH, WARWICK.
By Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography.
If you’re visiting the historic town of Warwick, be sure to make time to explore the Collegiate Church of St Mary in the Old Square. It truly is Warwick’s church of treasures, and for the next month there are even more treasures to see with the Shakespeare 400 exhibition running until 30th June. There is a host of events for all ages and all tastes: musical, choral, literary, theatrical and educational. There’s even Shakespearean fun for toddlers with a Silly Billy Shakespeare’s Hullabaloo.
An important part of Shakespeare 400 is the unique opportunity to see The King James Bible and The Shakespeare First Folio which contains all his plays, compiled by the Bard’s friends after his death in 1616.
The church of St Mary dates from the 12th century and is one of England’s finest. Its architectural grandeur is awe inspiring right from its 174 ft (53 metres) tower down to its Norman crypt. It’s a church steeped in history and contains Medieval and Tudor tombs of the rich and powerful. The magnificent tomb of Earl Richard Beauchamp, for example is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Medieval art. The effigy of the Earl in his suit of Milanese armour – the best money could buy in its day, is made of gilded bronze. His effigy rests on a tomb of Purbeck marble in the heart of the beautiful Beauchamp Chapel, arguably the finest chantry chapel in the country.
At the North Transept of St Mary’s is the Chapel of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment with its many regimental flags and banners. While in the Chancel is the tomb of Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and his Countess, Katherine Mortimer, their effigies made of alabaster. A more sombre tomb is that of Ffulke Greville located in the small Chapter House. His ghost is said to haunt the Watergate Tower in Warwick Castle. Down in the atmospheric Norman crypt which dates back to 1123AD you’ll find beneath its vaulted ceilings one of only two surviving Medieval ducking stools in England.
The original Nave of the church along with the transepts and the tower were destroyed in the great fire of Warwick in 1694, and what you see today was rebuilt at the start of the 18th century with the financial help of Queen Anne, whose royal coat of arms is on the north-western pillar.
While some of the magnificent stained glass windows were destroyed by the great fire and the Civil War, much is still intact, including panes depicting scrolls of music held by angels. The music is Gaudeamus, and is often played in St Mary’s, the acoustics of the church being renowned.
Music plays a major part of St Mary’s. There has been a choir there since the establishment of the collegiate church and continues today with Boys and Men’s Choir and Girls’ Choir. The choirs have earned a great reputation worldwide.
There are always volunteer tour guides at the church who are happy to show you around and talk about the history and the people associated with it – the Earls of Warwick, the Grevilles, the Dudleys and the Kings and Queens who have made their mark on the church throughout its rich and colourful history.
St Mary’s is open every day and entry is free. There are guide books available, a lovely gift shop and a brass rubbing centre. A thriving, active church, it has many active groups including bell ringers and youth groups. It extends a warm welcome to those who come to its services, concerts and events.
Back in Medieval times St Mary’s was at the heart of Warwick life and 800 years on it continues to play a major part in the town and surrounding areas. Next time you’re visiting Shakespeare’s Country by sure to see St Mary’s in Warwick. The Shakespeare 400 exhibition runs until 30th June 2016.
Further details: www.stmaryswarwick.org.uk