St Mary Redcliffe | Attraction Guides | History Hit

St Mary Redcliffe

Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Sarah Roller

03 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Chris Dorney / Shutterstock.

About St Mary Redcliffe

St Mary Radcliffe is an Anglican parish church in Bristol, UK: it is currently Bristol’s tallest building at 89m high, and believed by many to be the biggest parish church in England.

History of St Mary Redcliffe

The first church on the site is believed to be almost as old as the port of Bristol itself, built in Saxon times. Seafarers would pray for blessings there before a voyage, and go there to give thanks on their safe return. It became a key site in early Bristol, and received donations from wealthy Bristol merchants who paid for building work, decoration, and masses to be sung for their souls.
The oldest existing parts of the current church date to the early 12th century, although the majority of it is late 13th / 14th century Gothic. Patrons, such as the five times Mayor of Bristol William I Canynges, helped fund construction and decoration, including ornate interiors and stained glass windows.
In 1446 the spire was struck by lightning, causing major damage (both to the spire and the church’s interior, which bore the brunt of the fall). It took over 400 years for the spire to be repaired.

St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School was founded in 1571 and still operates today, albeit next to the church rather than in a chapel on its grounds.

The interior was completely refitted in Baroque style during the Queen Anne period: much of the original decoration had been destroyed during the Reformation and later the English Civil War.
The spire was eventually reconstructed in 1872, following a long fundraising campaign which garnered £40,000from the community. Subsequent repairs were needed in the 1930s due to environmental pollution (St Mary Redcliffe lies in the heart of the city, next to a major roundabout).
The church survived the Bristol Blitz relatively intact: the only damage was a rail from the tramway being blown from nearby into the churchyard. Today, a plaque commemorates the spot.

St Mary Redcliffe today

The church is normally open for private prayer and visitors every day of the week. Look out for the remnants of Gothic architecture (particularly the layout, nave and carvings over the doorways) as well as the redesigns inside. There are occasional art installations inside the building which are worth looking out for.

Getting to St Mary Redcliffe

The church is approximately a 10 minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads station (twice hourly connections to London, extensive connections with the South West, Wales and the Midlands) and a 5 minute walk from the Harbourside and 15 minute walk from the city centre.

It lies between the A370 and A4044, and whilst it is easily accessible by car, parking in Bristol City Centre remains somewhat scarce. Several bus routes stop outside on Redcliffe Way.

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