St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds

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St Mary's Church, Bury St. Edmunds
Bury St Edmunds - Church of St Mary.jpg
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusparish church
LocationBury St Edmunds, England
St. Mary's with St. Peter's

St Mary's Church is the civic church of Bury St Edmunds and is one of the largest parish churches in England. It claims to have the second longest aisle, and the largest West Window of any parish church in the country,[1] it was part of the abbey complex and originally was one of three large churches in the town (the others being St James, now St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and St Margaret's, now gone).


The present church is the second building to stand on the site, the first being built in the 12th century by Mr Hervey. However, nothing survives of the Norman church and the oldest part of the existing building is the decorated chancel (c. 1290). There was a major renovation between the 14th and 16th centuries and it is at this point that the nave, its aisles and the tower were built, it is also at this time that Mary Tudor, favourite sister of Henry VIII, died and was buried in the church. Her tomb is in the sanctuary directly to the north of the Lord's table; the church, however, is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and not, as some mistakenly believe, to Mary Tudor.[citation needed]

During the 16th century, John Notyngham and Jankyn Smyth, two wealthy local benefactors, died and left large amounts of money to the church;[2] these funds contributed to building the north and south quire aisles, now the Lady Chapel and Suffolk Regimental chapel, two chantry chapels and a north and south porch. The south porch was removed during a restoration in 1830s, and St Wolstan's chapel was added on the north-west side; the interior has been updated with modern utilities since then as well.[citation needed]

The church is awarded three stars by Simon Jenkins in his 1999 book England's Thousand Best Churches.[3] Jenkins writes:

The interior has one of the largest and most exhilarating naves in the country. Arcades of ten majestic bays march towards the chancel, each rising on continuous mouldings with only the tiniest of capitals; the unusually wide hammerbeam roof is a marvellous survival. Eleven pairs of angels guard the space below, attended by lesser angels on the wallplates and by saints, martyrs, prophets and kings, 42 figures in all. On the frieze a medieval menagerie takes over, with dragons, unicorns, birds and fish. ... The south chapel is littered with pleasant brasses; the north aisle by the tower has its memorials spectacularly displayed. They climb up the wall to the ceiling, a valhalla of Bury worthies.[3]

The Choirs[edit]

St Mary's Church has a traditional Anglican choir of boys and gentlemen, with a history dating back to as early as 1354, after which there are many references to singers and ‘child’s with a surplys’; this tradition is believed to have remained untouched even during Puritan times. The choir has more recently toured Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Malta, France, Belgium and Germany, and has sung evensongs at cathedrals including Canterbury and St Paul's; the Choir is affiliated to the RSCM, and choristers are trained using the RSCM ‘Voice for Life’ scheme. 2010 saw the inception of St Mary's Ladies' Choir, and the Girls' Choir began in 2015. Although they are quite separate from the Church Choir, they join together for large services, namely Easter, Harvest, Advent and Christmas.

Organs and Organists[edit]

There is evidence for an organ in St Mary’s as early as 1467, in the will of John Baret which states that ‘ye pleyers at ye orgenys ( to be paid) ij d’. Another bequest from 1479 grants the organist 10d; the main organ is a four-manual instrument with 79 speaking stops. Built initially by John Gray of London in 1825, rebuilt and enlarged in 1865, 1885 and 1898 by J W Walker. Later rebuilds by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1931, John Compton in 1959 and Kenneth Canter in 1988, the latter included providing a mobile console. A separate four-stop chamber organ, possibly by John Harris (c. 1677 - 1743) is placed in the Royal Anglian Chapel and is ideal as a continuo instrument where the main organ would be inappropriate. More details of the main organ can be found at the National Pipe Organ Register [1] or on the St Mary's choir website; the current Director of Music and Organist is Adrian Marple, former Organ scholar of Hatfield College, Durham. The assistant Director of Music is Christopher Moore.


The west window of the church
  • Ralph Guest 1796–1822
  • Robert Nunn 1822–1863
  • A. Lease 1863–1864
  • Thomas Bentick Richardson 1864–1893
  • Mr Kingston 1893–1896
  • George W. Boutell 1897–1909
  • Edward Percy Hallam 1909–1937
  • Clifton C. Day 1937–1942
  • Dr Adcock 1942–1948
  • Norman H. Jones 1948–1969
  • John Fear 1969–1980
  • David Ivory 1980–1982
  • Peter Tryon 1983–2015
  • Adrian Marple 2015–

Other notable burials[edit]


  1. ^ "Welcome to St Mary's Church". St Mary's with St Peter's, Bury St Edmunds. Retrieved 2010-09-16.
  2. ^ "Bury St Mary". Retrieved 2015-10-22.
  3. ^ a b Jenkins, S. (1999), England's Thousand Best Churches, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-029795-9
  4. ^ See transcript of his will and other biographical details at this probate record

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°14′33″N 0°43′02″E / 52.2424°N 0.7172°E / 52.2424; 0.7172