Friday, 2 September 2011

St Mary Magdalene, Newark

Tower and spire, above the west door

The church of St Mary Magdalene has stood for many centuries near to the medieval market place in the centre of Newark-on-Trent. Standing on the site of an earlier Saxon church, the oldest part of the current structure is the crypt dating from around 1180. This currently houses the town plate, a collection of silver and gilded plate along with siege coins from the English Civil War of 1642 to 1646.

                                         View of nave and rood screen from the west door

The church was built over several centuries with various parts being many years between being started and completed. The majority of the building was constructed between 1220 and 1400 but building was still going on unto 1540 which is quite late for a medieval parish church.

                                                  The Choir and High Altar

The church is reputed to be the 5th largest parish church in England. The spire is 256 feet high and access is occasionally available to the top of the tower at the base of the spire. A good view of the surrounding area can be had from up there. You might also see the hole on the north side of the spire. This was made by a cannon ball, fired during one of the sieges of Newark in the civil war when the town was a Royalist garrison. The church is large enough to become a cathedral should the need ever arise.

                                        North side of church taken from the church gardens

Although there is no burial ground any more there are still bodies lying in the formal gardens on the north side of the building. The surrounding walls are lined with gravestones standing in front and there is a mass grave in the centre of the garden for troops killed in the civil war.

                 Chapels along the east wall behind the High Altar, the crypt entrance is nearby

Many of the chapels around the church were built by the merchant guilds or private citizens. A major benefactor to the church was Thomas Magnus (c.1463 - 1550). He was a son of the town and became Dean of York Minster, as well as being an emissary of Henry VIII. He also founded the grammar school bearing his name in the town in 1540. This building still exists across the road from the east front of the church and a school bearing his name still exists in the town.

                                  North side of the nave, the left side arch supports the tower

I had a strange experience one night whilst walking past the church on my way home. It was around 12.30 and I walked by the north side pathway when I heard organ music from inside. There were no lights on and the music was very quiet and subdued. Curious, I went up to a window and peered in as best I could, only thing I could see were the shadows created by the street light from outside. The music kept playing and was not coming from the main organ and there was no one inside. Knowing the church was locked I scurried on my way home taking a short cut across the gardens.

                                                             South porch and spire

A fine piece of architecture from the medieval period, it is well worth passing a few minutes wandering around. And on completion of looking around, go past the east end of the church where the War Memorial stands to Appletongate. On the left you will see the old Magnus School building which until recently served as the town museum. To the right you will see the Fox & Crown pub, serves excellent food and various real ales, a fine end to a stroll around St Mary's in Newark!

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