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Bristol, St Mary, Redcliffe

Bristol, St Mary, Redcliffe. ‘The most famous, absolute and goodliest parish church in England’, declared Queen Elizabeth I. The church, of cathedralesque proportions, stone-vaulted throughout, is a monument to the piety of the inhabitants of Redcliffe, a wealthy suburb of Bristol. Its foundation goes back certainly to 1158 and possibly earlier, but the building that stands today is Gothic. The transepts and nave, completed by c.1376, are attributed to William Canynges the Elder, merchant, six times mayor and MP for the city. The east end was rebuilt by William Canynges the Younger, his grandson, also mayor and MP, who, after his wife's death, took holy orders and became dean of the college at Westbury-on-Trym. In the south transept are two effigies of William, one as a merchant with his wife, the other as a priest. At some time between c.1200 and c.1320 the church became the focus of a popular cult of the Virgin, which centred round an image housed in the north porch. This explains the curious double form of the porch. The inner porch of c.1200 housed the image: the outer porch of c.1320 was built around it to serve as a vestibule to the cult area and to the church as a whole. The spire was part of the original design but completed only in 1872. The young poet Chatterton worshipped in the church and is buried outside.

Lynda Rollason

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