Much has been written about Shrewsbury’s most famous religious building, the Abbey, and I feel that this magnificent church of St Mary’s has been overlooked as a result. It is without doubt one of the most interesting of English churches and has a fascinating architectural history.
A church has stood on this site since Saxon times and the remains of the Saxon church are still present in the foundations of St Mary’s, though there is nothing left above ground. The Saxon church was reputed to have been founded by King Edgar in 960AD.
The tower as seen today was built in two stages. The red sandstone lower half was constructed around 1150 and the white stone upper part and spire dates from the 1400s. Some of the red sandstone was robbed from the ancient Roman city of Viroconium (Wroxeter). The tower is said to be the tallest church spire in England at 42 metres (138ft) in height and it has a peal of ten bells, eight of them dating from 1775.
The church underwent gradual development from 1150 onwards. The southern end was added in the 1200s and much of the building was completed by then. In 1477 the last of the major building and alteration was carried out and the timber ceiling dates from that time.
At the entrance to the church is a plaque commemorating the attempt by Thomas Cadman, a Shrewsbury man and steeplejack, to cross the River Severn in 1739 by sliding on a grooved board on a rope from the windows of the spire to fields on the other side of the river. Unfortunately for him he fell to his death.
Inside the church there are many old artefacts including a Saxon tomb slab, a font in the west end of the nave that dates to 1400, the stone tomb of Simon de Leybourne – depicted in his knight’s armour – which dates to the 1300s, and the tomb of Admiral Benbow who was a native of Shrewsbury and died in 1702.
The floor is Victorian and was laid in 1864-5.
At the end of the nave, past Norman arches, is the Jesse window, one of the finest English stained glass windows in the country and a rarity. It dates from between 1330 and 1353 and was made for a monastery that stood on the banks of the river by the English Bridge. When the monastery became a casualty of the Dissolution in the time of Henry VIII the window was placed in Old St Chad’s. However, the steeple of St Chad’s collapsed in 1788 destroying much of the church so the window was taken to St Mary’s instead.
It is called a Jesse window as a Biblical reference to the line of descent from Jesse, father of David, to Jesus.
There are many other stained glass windows in St Mary’s, dating from the 1400s to the 1500s – the latest date for one window is from the early 1600s. Some are from Germany; others were brought to England from Belgium and Holland. All of those windows were installed after 1792.
The oak ceiling dates from around 1477 and features angels carrying musical instruments, country scenes and foliage as well as some grotesque faces and a dove, a pig, a bull and a nest with fledgling birds.
Some of the ceiling collapsed during a storm in 1894 and was painstakingly preserved and rebuilt.
The recess in the wall (on the right in this photo) shows a Norman sedile, or priest’s seat, in the chancel. It dates from the 1100s.
The church is usually open during the week from 10am to 4pm or 5pm.
See the website below for more information:
By the side of St Mary’s church is this timber frame building with a raised, narrow and short ‘shut’ or passage on one wall. It is said to be a haunted house.