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Modern Britain

Gallery: Churches of Berkshire

by Peter Kessler, 23 October 2019

Reading Part 1: Churches of Central Reading

Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, Reading, Berkshire

The Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, Reading, is on the eastern side of St Mary's Butts, with Gun Street at its southern flank. Also known as Reading Minster, its location also gives rise to the name St Mary's Butts. A church is believed to have stood on this site since the 600s, founded as a small chapel by St Birinus. In 871 King Aethelred of Wessex and his brother, Alfred, fought the Danes at Readingum, and Alfred may later have established a church here.

Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, Reading, Berkshire

Queen Ælfthryth, second wife of King Edgar, founded a royal nunnery here in repentance for murdering her stepson and her husband's successor, King Edward the Martyr, in 978. The round Saxon doorway at the entrance to St Edward's Chapel is all that survives of this, probably used by the nuns to attend services. Early in the 1000s the Danes sacked Reading, the nuns were expelled, and the nunnery was destroyed. Henry I founded Reading Abbey in 1121.

Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, Reading, Berkshire

Thomas Colney in 1372 founded the Colney Chantry where the present Lady Chapel now stands. The Jesus Chantry was also established in the 1300s in what is now the north transept. There is evidence that the church had fallen into disrepair between the Dissolution of 1539 and the year 1550 and was in need of extensive renovation. This work took place in 1551-1555 by robbing materials from the now-closed abbey. In 1863 a second extensive restoration took place.

Church of St Laurence, Reading, Berkshire

The Church of St Laurence, Reading stands at the northern end of Market Place with The Forbury on its eastern flank. On this site originally stood a small Norman chapel at the outer abbey gate, built in 1121. A market sprang up around it, as evidenced by the adjoining street name. The chapel underwent reconstruction in 1196 to create a full church building. Further rebuilds took place in the 1400s and 1800s. The tower was added in 1458. The church is now closed for services.

St James Roman Catholic Church, Reading, Berkshire

St James Roman Catholic Church is on the eastern flank of Forbury Gardens (seen here), with Forbury Road cutting in close on its northern edge. After the formation of a Catholic mission to Reading in 1791-1817 (thanks to Napoleonic War exiles from France), the church opened in 1840, built to a design by Pugin (better known for the Houses of Parliament). It is regularly visited by pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella in Spain.

Five photos on this page kindly contributed by Keith Murray, Julian Walker, Brian Roscoe, & Sam Weller, all via the 'History Files: Churches of the British Isles' Flickr group.

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