Church of St Mary Magdalene

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This is a big church, almost too big to photograph. Its glorious spire towers above the market place with its brightly coloured stalls.

It is worth walking round the church before entering. Not only does this give an impression of its size, it also gives chance to admire the workmanship of nave and chancel with their carved battlements and crocketed pinnacles. Unfortunately the tower was partially hidden by scaffolding the day we visited.

This is the third church on this site. There was a small Saxon church which was replaced in the C12th. The present church was built in the C14th and took nearly 200 years to complete. The town guilds each had a chapel with an altar, although these were swept away during the Reformation. The church was restored by Sir Gilbert Scott in the C19th and the stained glass windows date from 1859-1930 and are memorials to local people.

We used the south door. Tall slender pillars with carved capitals of foliage and heads, including a green man, soar up to pointed arches separating nave and side aisles. Between the arches are carved angels holding musical instruments. Above, the wooden ceiling is painted deep brown and has painted angels and roses.

Hanging on the wall opposite the south door is a huge painting of The Rising of Lazarus which was originally above the altar until it was removed in the C19th restorations and placed here.

At the back of the south aisle is the font. This was damaged during the Civil War by the Iconoclasts who destroyed the bowl and broke the shaft. The base with the bottom of the angels is C15th. The join where the top of the angels and the bowl were replaced in 1660 is very clear. On the south wall by the font is the Markham monument, with Anne Markham and her seven children.

The glorious rood screen is perpendicular and the pillars end in fan vaulting with gilded roundels. The C16th heavy dark wood choir stalls with their carved arms, fronts and sides are also perpendicular as is the carved parclose screen separating the chancel and side aisle chapels.

On the chancel column are painted monuments to Thomas Atkinson (d1691) and Robert Ramsey (d1639). In the north aisle is a similar monument to John Johnson, an alderman and twice major of Newark who established a charity for poor widows as well as the maintenance of the church windows.

The chancel floor is covered with Minton tiles. The wooden ceiling is painted pale blue with more angels and Tudor roses. The golden reredos behind the high altar was designed by Sir Ninian Comper in 1937 and has scenes from the life of Mary Magdalene and statues of other saints.

On either side of the chancel are small chantry chapels with a small altar. That on the south side contains two panels with depictions of the Dance of Death. On the left a dancing skeleton flourishing a carnation (a symbol of mortality) and pointing to the grave. On the right is a well-dressed young man with his hand on his purse. The message “As I am today, so you will be tomorrow” was a popular theme in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately there was a service in the south chapel, so we didn’t manage to see these.

Neither did we see the crypt, all that is left of the Norman church and now housing the treasury. It is under the High Altar and reached by a stair from the south aisle.

At the end of the north aisle is St George’s Chapel which was established as a memorial chapel after the First world War and contains the Roll of Honour and flags. On the floor nearby is the Fleming Brass dating from 1363 and one of the largest memorial brasses in England. It is in fact made up of smaller a panels joined to form the whole. The image is now very worn and it is difficult to make out much of the engraving. The bottom part of the right panel has been restored giving an indication of what it once looked like.

As a parish church this must be one of the biggest in the country and fully deserves the 4* rating given to it by Simon Jenkins in “England’s Thousand Best Churches”. As you leave the church, look out for the tall brick chimney a few yards away which was part of the C19th church heating system.

The church is open daily although may close at lunchtime.

It is fully accessible for disabled visitors.

Disabled visitors can be dropped off near the door, but there is no parking here as it is a special access permit area only. These have to be obtained from Nottinghamshire County Council and are not interchangeable with the Blue Badge scheme.

There are two disabled parking bays on Kirkgate. The nearest car park is Mount Street Car Park, 200-300m north of the church off King Street.

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