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Churches of Warwickshire

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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Warwickshire

by Peter Kessler, 28 February 2010

West Warwickshire Part 1: St Mary's Church Warwick

The Collegiate Church of St Mary

The Collegiate Church of St Mary stands at the north-eastern corner of Northgate Street and the Old Square in the 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 that was founded.

The Collegiate Church of St Mary

All Saints was demolished at some point after it was superseded by St Mary's, while St Sepulchre & St Helen seems to have been lost in the piecemeal construction of St Sepulchre's Priory on the same site from 1109 onwards.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 Collegiate Church of St Mary

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 Collegiate Church of St Mary, Beauchamp Chapel

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.

The Collegiate Church of St Mary, Beauchamp Chapel

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 Collegiate Church of St Mary

The crypt still remains from the original Norman building. It houses a rare example of a medieval ducking stool. The chancel, vestry and chapter house were rebuilt in the 1300s 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 kindly contributed by Aidan McRae Thomson.



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