St Mary de Castro, ‘St Mary’s of the Castle’, Leicester is a stunning Grade 1 listed church.
It is located on Castle View, and used to be within the Bailey of Leicester Castle, a collegiate church where monarchs and visitors alike could worship whilst at the castle.
I love it for it’s Norman architecture, unusual nave and it’s connection to History.
Closed after the Spire had to be taken down due to it being unsafe, I am thrilled that it is now once again open for services and to the public.
It is possible that originally a Saxon church existed on the site traditionally said to
have been founded by Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great.
However the current church dates to 1107 when King Henry I granted the land to Robert de Beaufort, who also became the Earl of Leicester.
It is thought to have been completed by 1143.
Robert was a companion of William the Conqueror and it was said he was one of the wisest men of the time.
He fought in the Battle of Hastings, and commanded part of the Norman infantry. He was also present when King William Rufus was killed in the New Forest, and he pledged allegiance to the dead King’s brother and successor Henry I.
During the foundation of the church he appointed a Dean and twelve Canons in honour of the Virgin Mary, and for the souls of William the Conqueror, William Rufus, Henry I, himself and family. He went on to endow four other churches in the Leicester area.
Robert died in 1118, the last surviving Nobleman who had fought in the Battle of Hastings.
After his death, the estate passed to his son Robert le Bossu, who went on to found Leicester Abbey. He transferred all the endowments to the new Abbey in 1143, but happily a few years later the Abbot restored a Dean and clergy to St. Mary de Castro.
St. Mary de Castro became a parish church as well as a collegiate and remained throughout the years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries when the collegiate was dissolved in 1548 under the Chantry Act of Edward VI.
The patronage of the parish remained in Crown hands until 1836 when it was included in the Diocese of Peterborough. In 1928 the bishop created the Diocese of Leicester.
The Current Church
The church consists of a nave, north and south aisles, chancel, tower, vestry and south porch. Much of the original architecture remains, with an arcade of Norman arches on the west wall, and Norman windows at the west end of the south wall and chancel. The door that you enter through on the North side dates from the foundation of the church.
In the early 13th century, a rectangular chapel was built in the south transept, along with the south aisle, and by the close of the century the chapel was extended and a tower built in the west end.
The north aisle is not mentioned until the 19th century, when it was rebuilt by the famous Sir George Gilbert Scott who was also responsible for renovations at many churches and cathedrals, including the cathedrals of Peterborough, Chichester and Gloucester. You can view his impressive resume on his Wikipedia page
St. Mary de Castro Spire Appeal
The church had to be closed when it was found that the 14th century Spire (rebuilt in the 18th century) had developed cracks and was unsafe. It was taken down in 2013, and St. Mary de Castro is fundraising to replace it, and repair the tower. I hope the attention since the reburial of King Richard III will bring more visitors to contribute to this fund. You can also donate online here.
Visiting St. Mary de Castro
St. Mary de Castro is located slightly outside the city centre and is reachable via a lovely walk, passed the Magazine gateway, through Turret gateway, and located by the site of Leicester Castle.
I recommend checking on its website to check for opening hours, as the first time I visited it was closed.
You won’t be disappointed. It’s quiet and peaceful, and the light that comes through the stained glass windows is glorious. There is much to see, including original floor tiles, and a 13th century font.
If you would like to see more of my photos of St. Mary de Castro, and my visit to Leicester, please visit my flickr
Next post: The Historical Connections of St. Mary de Castro