The early Norman church was rebuilt in the 14th century by Thomas Beauchamp, father and son, the first Beauchamp Earls of Warwick. The first Thomas Beauchamp financed his building of the chancel with money obtained from the ransom of a French archbishop. The chancel, vestries, and chapter house were rebuilt in delightful Gothic style, making of St Mary one of the most attractive town churches of its day. The alabaster memorial to Thomas, who died of the plague during the siege of Calais, and his wife Katherine lies in the chancel.
But the work of Thomas Beauchamp was about to be outdone by his descendant, Richard de Beauchamp (d.1439), who provided funds in his will for the creation of a chantry chapel in St Mary's. This, aptly dubbed The Beauchamp Chapel, is one of the great Gothic architectural achievements in England. The executors of Beauchamp's will spent over £2400, an enormous sum in those days, creating a masterpiece of Gothic style which took over 20 years to complete.
The chapel, which is dedicated to Our Lady, is composed of three bays, at the centre of which is the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, raised on a pedestal and surrounded by an iron fence. The effigy of Earl Richard is set upon a chest of Purbeck marble, with a canopy above, and latten (gilded in copper alloys) weeping figures below.
Beside the tomb of Earl Richard is that of Ambrose Dudley (d. 1590), whose effigy wears a gilded iron coronet, added in the 18th century. But the grandest tomb of all in the Beauchamp Chapel is that of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (d.1588), and his wife Lettice (d.1634). Dudley, the brother of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. His tomb is set into the north wall of the chapel, beneath a gilded canopy.
The 17th century nave was built to give a sense of great height, something it achieves beautifully. The pillars are very high, in Perpendicular Gothic fashion. On the wall of the south aisle are two 'bread cupboards', or 'dole shelves', where, until quite recently, loaves of bread were handed out to the poor of the parish.
An unexpected delight is the small Dean's Chapel, or vestry, just beside the Beauchamp Chapel. This small chapel has fancifully painted Gothic vaulting painted white, with blue between the vaulting ribs. Squints look through the wall of the Dean's Chapel into the much larger and grandiose Beauchamp Chapel.
Without doubt a church that deserves to be visited, St Mary's is one of the highlights of a visit to Warwick, and is easy to reach from any of the car parks in central Warwick, and from Warwick Castle (5 minutes walk). There are free guidesheets available which describe the history and major features of the church. The tower can be climbed in season, and there is a brass rubbing centre and shop in the church.
Entry: Free, but donation requested
Dean's Chapel vaulting
Tomb of Thomas Greville
12th century Norman crypt
Address: Old Square, 21 Church Street, Warwick,
England, CV34 4AB
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At the top of church Street, in central Warwick
Website: Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick
Phone: (0)1926 403940
OS: SP282 649
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12th century (Time Period) - 14th century (Time Period) - 17th century (Time Period) - 18th century (Time Period) - brass (Historical Reference) - castle (Architecture) - chapter house (Architecture) - Christopher Wren (Person) - collegiate church (Historical Reference) - Medieval (Time Period) - Norman (Architecture) - Perpendicular (Architecture) - Queen Elizabeth (Person) - Tudor (Time Period) -