Saint Mary's History
Since I took over as Verger here, I have had many enquiries from people looking for burials of ancestors. There have been no new burials here after 1851 and little remaining of earlier grave markers, and no records are held here.
There are many burials in the registry as StMary's burials which are in fact at Wembdon Road Cemetary. Please go to our links page to find more useful resources.
A church existed at the start of the twelfth century and the first vicar was recorded in 1170. Saint Mary's was often extended and modified.
In the thirteenth century it was extended westwards and aisles added. In the following century, when work was done on the tower, transepts were also added. By 1400 it had three chapels as well as the high altar and the rood, and eight priests served it.
In the fifteenth century much work was done modifying the nave, rebuilding and extending the chancel, making three more chantry chapels and a rood screen.
The surviving churchwardens' accounts, now in the Somerset Record Office, show that local people equipped the church with elaborate painted woodwork, statues, wall paintings, vestments, bells, organs and plate, nearly all of which was destroyed at the Reformation. Saint Mary's accounts for 1447 list silver crosses, candlesticks, censers, chalices, embroidered vestments in blue, green, white and gilt, altar hangings and illuminated service books. In later medieval times more chantries were built.
The Reformation swept all this away, and Saint Mary's was altered again. The rood and chantries were removed. A pulpit was built against a pillar in the middle of the church, where the preacher could be heard by all the people. By 1620 pews were built for the Corporation facing west. Box pews were later installed and during the eighteenth century various galleries were built.
In 1775 the Church became the home of the Spanish or Italian painting of the Deposition from the Cross. It was given to the Corporation by the Hon. Anne Poulet, MP for Bridgwater (1768-95).
The Victorian Rebuilding
Saint Mary's was radically rebuilt from the late 1840's as the result of the impact of the Tractarian movement on Anglican liturgy. The galleries were removed, as well as the box pews. The Corporation pews were removed to their present position. The nave was fitted out with numerous pews in gothic style. More work was done in the 1870's.
More information on the history of St. Mary's can be found at http://www.bridgwaterheritage.org.uk/friarn/StMary/index.htm
The Twentieth Century
The vestry was built in 1902 and in the early 1920s a memorial chapel was formed
to the south ofthe chancel in memory of the dead of the First World War. During the 1930's much simplification of the elaborate Victorian ornamentation at the east end of the Chancel was carried out.
In 1980 a proper ringing chamber was made and in 1992 the ground floor of the tower was fitted out as a Benefice office. A nave altar was constructed in 1996. In 2006, a new meeting room and office was fitted in the choir vestry, and the choir was moved to the base of the tower. In 2007, a toilet for the disabled, with baby-changing facilities, was installed on the ground floor of the tower.
The 21st Century Re-ordering.
After eleven years of planning and fund-raising the work to bring life back into a tired and dark Saint Mary's began in June 2016. Over the next year the pews were re-built and made movable. The floor was levelled, and heating and lighting were all renewed. The church was completely re-wired and sound, audio, and internet connectivity were all installed. It was a long and expensive project delayed by unexpected archaeological debris left by the Victorian rebuild, but the finished article never fails to impress or inspire awe in those who enter this space.
Despite all the changes that have happened here, Saint Mary's is a place where you can sometimes literally feel God at work and His presence in the soul and body of the church reaches out to you.