Standing the ravages of time and war
Standing sentinel, side by side, are Scarborough Castle and St Mary’s – Church and State, set in stone, facing and overlooking the harbour and South Bay.
Both are rich in social history, controversy and complex constructions. The one thing most people know about St Mary’s is that Anne Bronte is buried in its churchyard.
She was the youngest of the Bronte sisters and loved the Yorkshire Coast. She died in Scarborough in May 1849, aged 29.
But there is so much more to know.
“We are asked about Anne Bronte more than anything else,” said St Mary’s verger of 15 years Terry Kinsella, who knows about every carving, stained glass window, chapel and altar in St Mary’s.
It is not known exactly when the first church was built on the site but by 1150, in the reign of King Stephen, a single-aisle church, with nave and chancel, stood there.
The first major building project began in 1180 when the nave was widened, the chancel extended and building of three towers started.
It underwent additions and alterations during the 1300s and the final building phase was started in 1400. By 1450, St Mary’s was one of the most magnificent churches on the Yorkshire Coast. The house of worship had three towers and assumed a cruciform shape.
For 200 years it weathered storms and battering winds – it took the cannons of man to destroy rocks of ages.
In 1645, during the English Civil War, Cromwell’s troops brought two cannon to St Mary’s and raged a three-day bombardment of Royalists holed up at Scarborough Castle.
The King’s men under the orders of Sir Hugh Cholmley “did great mischief to St Mary’s”. Its towers and Quire were laid to ruin – the remains of which can be seen – and the church is now half the size it once was.
“An appeal for money to re- store it was sent out across the country. It raised £2 17s 6d, not anywhere near enough money,” said Mr Kinsella.
It was some years before the church was made habitable and by 1669, the north aisle was rebuilt, leaving the church very much as it is today.
The inside of St Mary’s has also undergone change and Mr Kinsella pointed out the difference in styles of pillars in the south aisle. The end three are different. This is explained by a falling out of crown and church in the 1200s.
King John wanted de Gray to be Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Innocent III wanted Cardinal Stephen Langton. The dispute lasted five years – during which time the church was closed and its staff, including stonemasons, dismissed.
When it was re-opened, different clergy and craftsmen were hired – hence the difference in style.
The church houses Chantry Chapels: St Mary’s, St Stephen’s, St Nicholas’ and St James’. Not surprisingly the far north aisle is known as the fishermen’s aisle. The church overlooks the harbour and fishermen’s cottages built in the shelter of St Mary’s.
Hanging on the walls are plaques removed from the graveyard when it was closed. Large ones remember the great and the good, like the Tindall and Huntriss families who were influential in the making of Scarborough.
It is the stained glass windows which are among the church’s most striking features, with every one telling a story.
The Benedicite Window – or great East window – was installed in 1958 to replace an earlier Victorian window destroyed by a German parachute mine in 1940. It tells the story of the Creation. Look carefully at its right-hand side and you will see a modern man with his dog. The dog is supposedly modelled on one owned by the vicar of the time, Douglas Oxby Parker.
The Great West Window was installed in 1850 and tells the life of Jesus, from angel Gabriel telling Mary she was to become the mother of the Messiah to Jesus in the tomb.
There are also six Saints’ windows including one dedicated to St Hilda of Whitby.
Surrounded by the magnificence and symbols of Man’s devotion and belief in God, it is difficult not to feel humbled.
“This is a fantastic place to work,” said Mr Kinsella. “It is a real privilege.”
Verger Terry Kinsella inside the church with an Easter cross in the background. 180940h
Verger Terry Kinsella outside the church. 180940g
The carefully preserved stained glass panels. 180940c