St Mary's Church, Nottingham
A mediaeval neighbour
St. Mary's is the oldest Christian Foundation in Nottingham. The Church is situated in the Lace Market - the area of the original Saxon settlement - and is the third to be built on this site. There would have been a Church on the cliff-top long before the Normans built Nottingham Castle on the rival hill. Worship started here sometime before the Norman Conquest in 1066 and by end of the fourteenth century, Nottingham had entered a period of prosperity and piety that resulted in the finest mediaeval building in the City. St Mary's is an excellent example of early English Perpendicular Architecture. With a length of 215 feet and width of 100 feet, it belongs to one of the Greater Churches Group that includes sixteen Churches in England which are not classified as Cathedrals but as major Churches. The majestic windows are now filled with some of the best Edwardian and Victorian glass and commemorate those who helped to build the modern City. The Church is full of fascinating details from the history of the past millennium, including Saxon tombstones and more recent plaques and war memorials. The panoramas from the tower (126 feet high) built in the Tudor period, are spectacular; visits to the top are a popular tourist attraction and the annual Ascension Day Service is regularly broadcast from there.
The parish of St Mary's once covered virtually the whole of Nottingham, but today is tiny. It includes the vibrant commercial and social districts of the City Centre as well as the revived Lace Market, which in itself has some of the finest industrial buildings of the nineteenth century. A transformation during the past decade has seen the residential population growing, with vibrant new entrepreneurial organisations, clubs and restaurants.
The majority of regular worshippers live outside the parish, so pastoral care presents a challenge. The congregation comprises of a mixture of ages and cultures, ranging from people with limited income, to those influential in the life of the City. People attend St Mary's for a variety of reasons: for fine music, transcendent worship, open and thoughtful expression of faith, or sheer desperation. Some simply come because they dislike being crowded in worship. There are currently over two hundred people on the membership list of the Church with an average congregation of 70-80 for the sung Eucharist at 10.45 on Sundays and 50 at 18.30 Evensong. The Book of Common Prayer is used for these and regular weekday services. A small but active Junior Church has a dedicated group of adult teachers. They meet during Sunday morning Eucharist and organise various activities during the year for families. The present Vicar, Revd Canon Eddie Neale, was appointed in 1991 and with his team, is responsible for the daily organisation and smooth running of St Mary's.
As the Civic Church in Nottingham, St Mary's is used for many of the official services within the City. The colourful Lion and Unicorn at the West End, show that it has long been the scene of official ceremonies. Robin Hood is said to have come to St Mary's in secret to challenge the Sheriff! Today, annual ceremonies include the Lord Mayor's Service, the Normandy Veterans Service and the Nottingham Boy's High School Founders Day Commemoration. Many services, including weddings, would be incomplete without the accompaniment of bells (one of which is over four hundred years old). There is a fine peal of twelve bells housed in the Tower and a talented band of Bellringers regularly call parishioners to worship each Sunday.
St Mary's has always had a strong tradition of choral music with a Girl's and Boy's Choir, in addition to the adult Choir, augmenting most of the services throughout the year and providing the ambience necessary for true Christian worship. Of the special services held at major Christian festivals, the evening service at the start of Advent deserves particular mention, where candle illumination and the quality of music and singing, make it a most moving experience.
As well as choral music, the Orchestra of the Restoration founded by the present Director of Music performs three major concerts each year as well as performing for special services. The Church is also used for concerts by a variety of local, national and international choirs, orchestras and bands. 1973 saw the installation and dedication of a new tracker action, two manual organ by Marcussen & Son of Denmark; this replaced the Walker organ that had seen over fifty years of service.
A steady trickle of tourists visit St Mary's throughout the year and for them a small gift shop is located at the West End of the Nave with a variety of books, greeting cards, souvenirs and Traidcraft goods. It is manned entirely by volunteers, usually open six days a week for peak visitor periods and evening concerts. Tourists may also choose to try their skill at brass rubbing as the Church has many replicas of some of the most famous brasses in England.
The Artist in Residence (one of many unpaid and honorary posts) oversees the organisation of exhibitions of art and sculpture within the Church. St Mary's has been fortunate in staging a number of exhibitions of outstanding beauty and creativity.
As with any mediaeval Church, restoration and development is a continuous task and St Mary's is no exception. During the next five years a project is planned to save the fabric of the building and increase its internal flexibility and economy in use. It is intended to encourage the wider use of the Church by providing improved tourist, educational, artistic and concert facilities. A major appeal is planned for the Spring of 2001 to 2003 to fund this. The aim for the future is to ensure that St Mary's remains at the very heart of the Lace Market as the jewel in its crown, offering a message of good news in faith, worship, art, drama, music and care during the next millennium.