Holy Trinity Church

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Things to do


Date of travel

May, 2016

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For many people, Stratford upon Avon is William Shakespeare and they come in their thousands to see the place where he was “born”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/england/westmidlands/birthplace/index.html and buried. Holy Trinity Church is very much on the tourist tick list of people who come, take a picture of themselves by Shakespeare’s tomb and then move on to the next sight. This is a great shame as they completely miss some of the best bits of the church, including the font where he was baptised. There’s a lot more to see here than Shakespeare. Don’t miss the wonderful misericords or the Clopton Chapel with its magnificent tombs.

There has been a church on this site since Saxon times. The present building dates from 1210 and the transepts, crossing and tower date from then. The nave was lengthened in the early C14th when the arcades and north and south aisles were added.

In 1331 John, Bishop of Winchester founded a chantry for five priests in the Thomas Becket Chapel in the south aisle. The priests were housed in a stone house, referred to as a college, close by the Church. The collegiate status of the church was confirmed by Henry VI.

The Clopton Chapel at the end of the north aisle was built by Sir Hugh Clopton in the late C15th for his altar tomb. Sir Hugh was a wealthy benefactor who provided money to rebuild the “Guild Chapel,”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/warwickshire/guild_stratford/index.html a new bridge across the river and also New Place which later became the home of William Shakespeare.

Between 1480-1520 the chancel was rebuilt making it much larger and the clerestory was added as well as the north porch. The College of canons were supported by tithes, or money donated to the church.

The College was dissolved by Henry VIII during the Reformation. The chantry, rood screen and much of the carving as well as the glass was destroyed. The responsibility for the upkeep of the nave fell on the townsfolk. The right to collect tithes was sold off. A share in them was purchased in 1605 for £440 by William Shakespeare. This, and not his ability as a poet and playwright, gave him the right of burial in the sanctuary. This was inherited by his family. Anne Hathaway his wife, his daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall and Thomas Nash, husband of Shakespeare’s grand-daughter are buried in the chancel alongside him.

The wooden spire was replaced by a stone spire in 1763. and the church was carefully restored in the C19th without destroying its ambience.

The church is next to the river and well away from the main shopping area. It is surrounded by trees making it almost impossible to photograph. There used to be a small charnel house on the north wall of the chancel. Bones from old graves were dug up and placed in here to make room for later burials. This may explain the message on Shakespeare’s tomb stone about not disturbing his bones.

An avenue of lime trees planted at the end of the C20th, leads to the north porch. There are twelve on each side representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.

The central boss in the porch was hacked off during the Reformation as it it was a representation of the Holy Trinity. The wooden doors are C15th when the porch was added. The sanctuary knocker on the smaller door is probably C13th.

The nave is big and flooded with light by the huge Perpendicular clerestory windows, which dwarf the earlier pillars below them. The elongated angels mark the transition between the earlier Decorated and later Perpendicular styles.

All that is left of the chantry chapel of Thomas Becket at the end of the south aisle is the three seater sedilia on the wall. Behind the simple altar with its bright yellow cloth is a splendid C19th carved panel. The green marble pulpit with the lovely alabaster insets of saints and bishops was given to the church in 1900.

At the end of the north aisle is the splendid Clopton Chapel. This was built in 1490 by Sir Hugh Clopton for his massive altar tomb, set between the arches of the nave and the chapel. He died in London, so isn’t buried here, but the chapel is filled with the splendid tombs of his descendants. It was originally called the Lady Chapel, only changing its name to the Clopton Chapel after the Reformation when the cult of the Virgin Mary was suppressed.

On the left is the magnificent tomb of William and Anne Clopton who died in 1590. The frieze on the wall above them represents their seven children. Three died in infancy and are shown wrapped in swaddling clothes.

On the east wall is the even more splendid tomb of their daughter Joyce and her husband, Thomas Carew. He was Master of Ordnance for James I and on the bottom of the memorial are cannons, cannonballs and flags.

St Peter’s Chapel is in the South Transept and is reserved for private prayer. On the west wall is the tomb of Richard Hill 1593 who was a draper and bailiff of the town. On the opposite wall is the memorial of those who died in the First World War.

The north transept is the choir vestry. The original rood screen now closes it off from the rest of the church. This is a lovely piece of C15th carving. The two ‘masks’ came from the original chancel roof and have been mounted here for safekeeping and display.

The rood screen separating the chancel from the rest of the church is C19th. The rest of the chancel is much as it would have been when finished in 1490. It is a wonderful example of Perpendicular architecture.

It was built by Thomas Balsall and his splendid altar tomb can be seen against the north wall. The carvings round the base were damaged during the Reformation. On the wall above is the C17th memorial to Richard and Judith Combe

On the south wall is the Priest’s door into the chancel. The chained King James Bible displayed near the door is a first edition. On the north wall, near Shakespeare’s tomb is the door that would have lead to the charnel house.

The five Shakespeare graves are arranged in a line in front of the sanctuary.

On Shakespeare’s grave are carved the lines
“Good friend for Jesus sake forebeare
To dig teh dust encloased heare
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes bones
And curst be he yt moves my bones“

On the wall above is the memorial to Shakespeare placed here just after his death and thought to be an accurate representation of him. Above is the coat of arms granted to Shakespeare’s family in the late 1590s

There are copies of the pages recording Shakespeare’s baptism and death. Near them is the font where Shakespeare was christened. This was removed from the church in the C18th and was used as a water cistern for many years, before being returned to the church. The font at the back of the church is a Victorian copy.

The C15th choir stalls with their misericords carved with fabulous beats and faces are one of the glories of the church, but completely ignored by many visitors. The arm rests are decorated with carved angels.

The church is open daily from 8.30-6. Entry into the nave is free, but there is a donation of £3 to visit Shakespeare’s grave. Before you complain about this, it is worth mentioning that this was the first church in England to charge an entry fee of 6d in 1906.

The post code of the church is CV37 6BG and the grid reference is SP 201543. There is on street parking around the church with level access through the south door with a push pad to open. The inside of the church is fully accessible.

There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/warwickshire/trinity_stratford/index.html


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