St Mary’s ChurchCheltenham
Sudeley Castle
Winchcombe
Gloucestershire GL54 5JD
 
 
 
Set in the grounds of Sudeley Castle near the Cotswold village of Winchcombe is St Mary’s Church, Sudeley. This fine little 15th century church holds the marble tomb of Queen Catherine Parr, 6th wife and widow of King Henry VIII.
 
Catherine is the only English queen to be buried on private land and her tomb attracts many visitors during the Sudeley Castle & Gardens’ open season. The season runs from the first Monday in March until the last Sunday in October, 10:00 - 17:00 daily.
 
Services
During the open season Evensong is held once a month at 15:30 on the fourth Sunday of the month. Everyone is welcome and attendees can obtain free admittance to the church by asking at the Castle Visitor Centre.
 
Sometimes the church is closed to the general public for private functions such as weddings, baptisms, funerals etc. Please check at the Visitor Centre on 01242 604244 for any restrictions during your visit. Please note that Katherine Parr’s tomb will not be accessible during these times.
 
History
St Mary’s is one of four churches making up the Parish of Winchcombe. The original building was the castle chapel built around 1050.
 
In 1460 Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, decided to replace the Norman building with the current church, possibly as a tribute to his friends and associates. He seems to have asked a stone mason to carve heads of his friends in the exterior window stops. Each face is different, though they seem to have been drawn from only two models.
 
The head stops of the west door portray King Henry VI and Queen Margaret, and those of the east window probably portray the builder, Ralph and his first wife Elizabeth.
 
The castle became Crown property and most of England’s monarchs have worshipped in St Mary’s church. The route they took from the castle is marked by paving stones set in the grass.
 
Sudeley Castle was a particular favourite of the Tudor dynasty and after King Henry VIII died, his widow Queen Catherine Parr, was granted the castle. She married Thomas Seymour and lived out the rest of her life at Sudeley.
 
Catherine’s funeral on 8 September 1548 was held in St Mary’s Church. After the Service her lead coffin was interred in the crypt and an impressive memorial erected.
 
Queen Mary I granted the castle to Sir John Bridges, whom she created Lord Chandos and that family made the vault of St Mary’s their burial place for the next century.
 
During the Civil War the castle changed hands several times. In 1644 the Castle was garrisoned by Parliamentary troopswho were notorious for desecrating Royalist churches. They destroyed Catherine Parr’s memorial and removed the church roof, leaving the building exposed to the weather. The coffins of the dead buried in the vault under the church were also destroyed.
 
The body of the church lay in ruins for the next two centuries, although fortnightly Services continued to be held in the lean-to vestry on the north side.
 
St Mary’s was rescued in 1855, when the Dent family bought Sudeley Castle. They discovered the ruinous church, overgrown with ivy, trees sprouting from its walls, and the ancient pews rotting. The Dents brought in one of the foremost architects of the mid-Victorian period, Sir George Gilbert Scott, to restore the church.
 
Architecture
Scott designed a neo-Gothic church with beautiful woodwork. J Birnie Philip, designer of the Albert Memorial in London, was called in to create the marble font, the beautifully carved altar reredos, the three-seat sedilia beside the altar, and Catherine’s effigy on the new memorial.
 
Don’t miss the rare medieval squint next to the sedilia, which once provided Queen Catherine with a view from her pew to the altar.
 
Scott was also commissioned to design a new memorial to Queen Catherine. Opposite the sedilia on the north wall of the chancel, beneath an intricately carved stone canopy is a beautiful effigy of Catherine, lying on a marble chest tomb.
 
The chancel is filled with skilfully crafted stalls, each provided with a misericord carving under the seat. Separating the chancel from the nave is a magnificent wooden screen in Perpendicular Gothic style.
 
Stained Glass
The stunning stained glass windows by Frederick Preedy, were designed by Emma Dent and inserted in 1862. These wonderfully vibrant windows feature realistic images of religious themes and significant figures from the castle’s history.
 
This 'timeline of Sudeley' includes the founder of Winchcombe Abbey, Kenulf, King of Mercia (796-821) and Edward the Confessor, who gave estates here to his nephew Ralph, Earl of Hereford.
 
One window shows Catherine Parr flanked by Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour. Another shows Charles I, who stayed at Sudeley for 3 days during the Civil War, flanked by his nephew and military commander, Prince Rupert, and George, the 6th Lord Chandos, who raised a regiment to support the Royalist cause. The windows are a reminder of just how closely tied the church is to the castle and the turmoil that has centered on Sudeley over the course of its history.
 
The church was completely restored and in 1863, St Mary’s was rededicated.
 
It is worth seeking out this little church tucked away in the grounds of Sudeley Castle not only for its unique royal memorial but also for its stunning stained glass.
 
Contact & Further Information
 
Getting There
Follow the directions on this website for visiting Sudeley Castle & Gardens.
 
Google Maps - Sudeley Castle