The massive Church of St Mary dominates Warwick with its very tall tower. This was the burial place of the Earls of Warwick who wanted a church to reflect their power.
The original church was built in the C12th by Roger de Newburgh, the second Earl of Warwick. All that survives of his church is the crypt with its massive supporting pillars. The church was rebuilt in the C14th by Thomas Beauchamp, the first of the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, using money obtained from the ransom of a French archbishop. Thomas is buried in the chancel with his wife Katherine. The Beauchamp chapel was added in the C15th by Richard Beauchamp for his tomb and and is a wonderful example of Perpendicular architecture. It cost £24000, a phenomenal sum in those days. Robert Dudley and Ambrose Beauchamp are also buried here.
The nave was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694 which consumed most of the old town. The nave and transepts were completely rebuilt in the C17th. While maintaining a modern C17th look, it was carefully designed to complement the earlier work.
It is a very impressive church inside and is BIG with an arcade of slender pillars and pointed arches soaring to the ceiling. The massive plain glass windows in the side aisles make the church feel very light. Don’t miss the bread shelves on the south wall of the nave, which were used to distribute bread to the poor.
In the north transept is the Memorial Chapel of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment with their regimental colours hanging from the ceiling. This is now used for private prayer.
In the south transept beside the entrance to the Beauchamp chapel is the First World War cenotaph to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment which also lists their campaigns in South Africa. Near this is the splendidly carved pulpit which was presented by local Freemasons to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The chancel feels quite dark compared with the nave. The ‘flying ribs’ of the roof from the walls to nearly the central point are most unusual and one of the best examples of this style in England.
The high altar has a colourful reredos featuring the Nativity with the shepherds and the Magi. In pride of place in front of the altar is the alabaster tomb of Thomas Beauchamp (1313-1369) and his wife Katherine. He is dressed in armour and has his feet on an ox. Her feet rest on a ram. The weepers round the base of the tomb give a picture of C14th fashion
The lovely Perpendicular Beauchamp chapel is the highlight of a visit to St Mary’s Church and was built for Richard Beauchamp as a suitable resting place for his tomb. It is reached down a short flight of stairs and through a splendid carved stone archway with the Bear and The Ragged Staff, the symbol of the Earls of Warwick. On the wall to the left of the archway is the metal plate from the tomb of Thomas Beauchamp, the father of Richard, and his wife Margaret. Their tomb stood in the middle of the transept and was destroyed in the Great Fire.
The chapel cost £2400 to build and is a suitable setting for the tomb of Richard and other family members. It is sumptuous with its black and white marble floor and beautiful rib vaulted ceiling. Above the west archway is a C17th wall painting of the Last Judgement. Figures on the right are heading for salvation. Those on the left to hell.
In front of the altar is the tomb of Richard Beauchamp (1382-1439) set on a raised pedicel and surrounded by iron railings. His effigy of gilded bronze is set on a chest of Purbeck marble with a canopy above and gilded copper alloy weepers round the base. These represent the Earl’s relatives and include Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the kingmaker.
Behind it is the tomb of Ambrose Dudley (1528-1590) and regarded as one of the finest alabaster carvings in the country. Round the base are painted coats of arms.
On the north wall is the magnificent tomb of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Ambrose’s brother, with his second wife Lettice.
On the south wall by the altar is the tomb to ‘The Noble Impe’ the only son of Robert Dudley and Ambrose’s heir, who died aged three.
Steps by Robert Dudley’s tomb lead up into the delightful small C15th Dean’s Chapel with its fan vaulted ceiling. Off it is an even tinier oratory , with a grille looking out onto the chancel.
The church is unusual as it has a tiny Chapter House, the only surviving one in a parish church. Round the walls are the stone seats used by the dean and cannons for meetings. The space is now almost completely filled by the tomb of Fulke Greville (1554-1628) who was granted Warwick Castle by James I. This is quite plain and stark compared with the tombs in the Beauchamp chapel.
Steps from the vestry lead down into the crypt. This is the only part of the Norman church to survive. It has massive stone columns designed to support the weight of the building above it. On the left are the locked wooden doors to the Greville vault. This was used as the burial vault of the Earls of Warwick from the C18th.
Beyond is the two aisled extension which was built in the C14th to support the weight of the chancel above. Windows at the east end are the only source of light.
In the crypt is the tumbrel, all that remains of one of only two ducking stools to survive. The ducking stool was attached to the end of a long plank. The offender was fastened to the chair by iron bands and wheeled through the streets. The chair was repeatedly immersed in a nearby pond.
The church is open daily from 10-6. There is disabled access to the nave, shop and Regimental Chapel only but not to the rest of the church.
There is more information and lots more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/warwickshire/mary_warwick/index.html