St Mary’s Church, Rye

1128 Reviews

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Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

October, 2021

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On your own

Reasons for trip

St Mary’s Church built on the highest part of the town, acted as the town lookout until Ypres Tower was built.

The church was built in the early C12th on the site of an earlier Anglo Saxon building. Side aisles were added in the C13th. Its size reflects the status and importance of Rye at the time. It is the only building of that age to survive.

There was a devastating French raid in 1377 when the town was looted and set on fire. The church was damaged and the roof fell in. The bells were stollen and taken to France. The following year, men from Rye and Winchelsea set sail to Normandy to recover the church bells and much of the loot.

During repair work, flying buttresses were added to the south east end of the chancel.

Following the Reformation, services were held in the nave and the chancel and chancel chapels were cut off. Guns and stores were kept in the South chancel chapel and later it was used as a school room. The north chancel chapel housed the town’s fire engine and is rumoured to have been used for hiding smuggled goods.

The clock on the tower was installed in about 1561 and is one of the oldest church turret clocks in the country still functioning. The present exterior clock face and the original ‘Quarter Boys’ (so called because they strike the quarters but not the hours) were added in 1760. The inscription above the clock dial reads “For our time is a very shadow that passeth away”. The pendulum hanging in the crossing dates from 1810 and replaces an earlier one.

By the late C17th, the church was in such poor condition, people were afraid to attend services. There was an extensive restoration in the late C19th.

It is a large church and almost impossible to photograph. It is equally as large and impressive inside, particularly the stained glass.

Entry is through a porch leading into the north transept. The remains of round Norman arches can be seen on the wall. Immediately facing is the glorious stained glass Benedicite window in the south transept.

In the nave, columns of round Norman pillars support transitional arches decorated with nail head carving. The Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne is above the chancel arch. At the west end is the font, a Victorian copy of a Norman font. The West window was donated by the author EF Benson who lived in Lamb House, in memory of his parents. It depicts the Nativity with angels above.

There is a lovely Burne Jones window depicting the Adoration of the Magi in the north aisle.

In the south aisle is the Rye Millennium Embroidery. The panels show scenes from the history of the church and town. The fabric has been specially stained to make it look ancient.

The chancel is simple with carved screens separating the side chancel chapels. The south chancel chapel is now the Choir Vestry. The The North Chapel, the Clare Chapel, is used for private prayer. On the wall is a statue of St George. The two original quarter boys from the tower clock are on the window ledge.

This is a lovely church and well worth visiting, as well as climbing the tower for 360˚ views of the surrounding countryside. The church is open daily. Roads around the church are very narrow and cobbled. There is parking for a couple of cars by the east end of the church, otherwise the only parking is in the public car parks round the edge of the town centre. The nearest post code is TN31 7HF.



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