High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam
Islanded in Severn stream;
The bridges from the steepled crest
Cross the water east and west.
A.E. Houseman, A Shropshire Lad
Mr Houseman was right. One of the first things you notice when you step off the train is that the churches of Shrewsbury are a defining feature of the historic town. As well as having their own distinctive characters they chart Shrewsbury’s history from Saxon to Victorian and beyond.
When I recently spent the day discovering the secret side of Shrewsbury, I knew I simply had to write a blog post about the beautiful churches of Shrewsbury. I really hope you’ll be tempted to visit and see some of these treasures with your own eyes!
St Mary’s church
St Mary’s Church is the only remaining medieval church in Shrewsbury. You can’t miss it – it has the third highest spire of any parish church in England, standing at 68 metres tall, which can be seen from miles around.
St Mary’s is a proper mish-mash of medieval architecture – its mostly 15th Century with a bit of mid 12th-Century red sandstone thrown in. There’s a possibility the foundations might be pre-Saxon and there’s some Roman stonework in the mix too!
Another feature of St Mary’s is its superb collection of stained glass, which spans six centuries. Much of it is medieval, with some of it dating from the 14th Century. The most spectacular window by far is the 14th Century Tree of Jesse window at the far east end of the nave.
It’s not just the glass that draws the eye. Everywhere you look in St Mary’s there is another treasure. When you look up you see the 15th century roof complete with carvings of angles, animals and birds. When you look down you see colourful Victorian Minton tiles.
I’m glad to say that today St Mary’s Church is cared for by the wonderful Churches Conservation Trust. It also has a charming little café situated in a corner of the old church . Its run by local farmshop Battlefield 1403, who make the best cakes!
St Chad’s Church
I think you could call St Chad’s – which sits at the bottom of the town centre near a park known as The Quarry – the Shrewsbury church with the most character.
The present distinctive structure replaced an earlier church of the same name in the town, which collapsed in 1788 when the spire collapsed. St Chad’s is the only Grade I circular church in Great Britain and – at 100 feet in diameter – the largest circular nave in Britain too.
The construction of the circular nave, which started in 1790, is surrounded by much debate. The circular design for the nave was originally rejected, and was supposed to have been replaced with an oblong shape. Yet somehow the church still ended up with its circular design!
St Chad’s is associated with two famous personalities. Shrewsbury’s most famous son Charles Darwin was baptised here in 1809. The other famous character is fictional. In the graveyard you will find the headstone of Ebenezer Scrooge. It was used for filming the 1984 film version of A Christmas Carol.
I personally loved the 1888 Arts and Craft style pulpit in copper. So pretty!
St Alkmund’s Church
The final church I visited in Shrewsbury was St Alkmunds. It is situated in the historic heart of Shrewsbury, which is also the highest point in the town.
The first church on the site was built in 912 AD by Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred. The building today is part medieval and part Georgian – a quite unusual mix!
The crowing glory of St Alkmunds is undoubtedly the east window. Its cast iron frame (made at Coalbrookdale in the Ironbridge Gorge btw) is filled with rare enamel-painted glass by Francis Eginton of Birmingham. It is based on Guido Reni’s 1642 painting of the Assumption of the Virgin, and is absolutely breath-taking in real life.
(One last tip – If you fancy exploring these charming churches then check out my guide to church crawling before you go to make sure you get the most out of your trip)
Have you explored the charming churches of Shrewsbury town yet? Which one do you prefer?