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Gallery: Churches of Warwickshire
by Peter Kessler, 28 February 2010
West Warwickshire Part 1: St Mary's Church
The Collegiate Church of St Mary stands on the
north-eastern corner of Northgate Street and the Old Square in the
ancient centre of the county town of Warwick. St Mary’s was founded
on its present site in 1123 by Roger de Newburgh, earl of Warwick.
Up until that date, Warwick's mother church seems to have been
All Saints, within the castle precincts, while the church of
St Sepulchre & St Helen was granted to St Mary's College
when the latter was founded.
All Saints was demolished at some point after it
was superseded by St Mary's, while St Sepulchre & St Helen
seems to have been lost in the piecemeal construction of St Sepulchre's Priory
on the same site from 1109 onwards. St Mary's Church dominated the
town from near the highest point within the walls, and round it lay
the canons' houses, the college of vicars choral, and the choir
school which formed 'an area like a cathedral precinct in the heart
of the town'.
The college strengthened its rights in 1367 when
the bishop ordered that the churches of St John, St
Michael, St Lawrence, St Peter, and St James
- mostly in a ruinous condition or lacking churchyards - need no
longer be repaired. Their parishioners were instructed to attend St
Mary's and all burial grounds were to be closed except those of St
Mary's and St Nicholas'. The nave and tower were destroyed in the great
fire of Warwick in 1694, and rebuilt in 1697-1704.
The construction of the glorious Beauchamp Chapel
(seen here) between 1442 and 1462 necessitated the removal of the
Dean's house which had stood on the site, and also a rearrangement
of the churchyard boundaries. The chapel housed the tomb of Richard
Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, one of the richest and most powerful people in
Warwickshire's history, and is a magnificent example of the European
ecclesiastical architecture of its time.
Also present in the Beauchamp Chapel (seen here
from the outside) are the tombs of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester,
his brother Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick, and Robert's son, the
'Noble Impe'. The church's college building passed into private hands
after its dissolution in 1540, and was gained by the town in 1669, when
it became a grammar school until new buildings were opened for Warwick
School at Myton in 1879. The old buildings were sold and demolished.
The crypt still remains from the original Norman
building, and houses a rare example of a medieval ducking stool.
The chancel, vestry and chapter house were rebuilt in the fourteenth
century by Thomas Beauchamp, and this section of the building
represents one of the highest peaks of English Gothic architecture.
The tomb of Thomas Beauchamp stands in front of the high altar, and the
tiny figures around its base give a fine depiction of fourteenth
century English fashion.
All photos on this page contributed by Aidan