St Mary’s Church

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Fairford is an attractive small Cotswold town whose wealth derived from the wool trade. The church was rebuilt at the end of the 15thC at the expense of john Tame, one of the wealthy wool merchants. Unfortunately he died before the church was completed. It is a superb example of a perpendicular wool church but what makes it really unique is that it contains a complete set of medieval narrative glass covering history of Christian church.

It is a big church with large central tower with an open carved balustrade and double crocketed pinnacles The nave, side aisles, chancel and south porch are battlemented with many tall crocketed pinnacles. It is worth walking round the outside of the church to admire the stonework. Don’t miss the gravestone near the south porch to Tiddles, the church cat, 1963-1980.

Entry is through the south porch, with a statue of Mary and Jesus set in a niche under an ogee arch. Inside it has a fan vaulted ceiling and an old door studded with nails.

Inside it is a big and impressive church. Light floods through the stained glass windows filling the church with colour. The detail and imagery is amazing. The glass was installed by Edmund, John Tame’s son. The windows around the side aisles cover the Bible stories. The Crucifixion and Passion is in pride of place in the east window. The Lady chapel covers the life of the Virgin Mary, and the Nativity. To the south of the east window and into the Corpus Christi Chapel is the Resurrection.

On the west window is the Last Judgement with the judgement of Solomon and the Judgement of David on either side. The rest of the windows in the side aisles contain images of Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles and saints.

The windows in the clerestory include persecutors of the church as well as more saints.

Having been wowed by the windows, we then turned our attention to the rest of the church. The central crossing has pointed arches with bell ropes hanging. On either side of the crossing arch are the remains of a wall painting with angels. The arcades have tall slender fluted arches with low pointed arches. Above are clerestory windows. The wood beamed roof has carved stone angles with shields at the ends of the beams.

Pews have carved end panels. The 16thC rood screen has carved base panels and tracery above. The choir stalls have carved end panels and fronts as well as beautifully carved misericords. The altar has a bright scarlet curtain round with gold angels holding candles at the corners. There are 16thC carved parclose screens round the chapels.

The Lady Chapel has a cloth reredos with a painted image of the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St John. Beneath the parclose screen is a large tomb chest of John Tame who died in 1500. In the north east corner is the Lygon tomb of Ketherine Denys d 1584 and the widow of the grandson of John Tame. She remarried Roger Lygon and the effigies are of Katherine and Roger.

Simon Jenkin’s in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches” gives this his highest rating of 5*. It is definitely a 5* church. The glass is amazing and there is some excellent woodwork, especially the medieval misericords.

The church is open from 10-5 in the summer (4pm in winter). There are welcoming stewards on duty who gave us a leaflet with details of the stained glass windows. There is a large free car park opposite the church. It has everything going for it. It is also wheelchair accessible….

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