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Holy Trinity Church
We spent a lovely couple of days in the picturesque town of Stratford-upon-Avon, sampling some wonderful eating places and enjoying the wonderful history and buildings it had to offer. We viewed all the five houses which were part of the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust and also a couple of churches as well; one of them being the Holy Trinity which is also the last resting place of William Shakespeare.
If you have read my Stratford Bus Tour review you will know that we used this as our mode of transport to get around Stratford and visit all these beautiful locations; it was whilst visiting the houses that we discovered this church and I just had to visit. If my memory serves me right we went to see the church just before seeing Hall's Croft, we departed off the bus at the stop for the doctor's house and took a pleasant walk down the road to the church. It was a beautiful day and the area had a wonderful peaceful and serene feel about it, the church looked lovely and the grounds surrounding it were lush with trees; sadly the only thing that spoilt the view was the scaffolding they had surrounding the church at the time of our visit. It was a very majestic building sitting on the river bank of the Avon with a wonderful air of tranquillity about it.
~~ A Little History ~~
The earliest records for this church date back to 1210, but it is believed that there was a Saxon Monastery on the site dating back to 713 previously. The Guild of the Holy cross which was founded in 1269 owned many local properties and were the first to start to extend the church, it became responsible for the building of the nave, aisles and the tower. Over the years the church expanded and a 'stone house' was build for the College of Stratford for the chantry priests, this was confirmed in its privileges by Henry V in 1415, changes continued until the college was closed by Henry VIII in 1547. All the colleges' assets were given to the town and today there are no traces of the building left just the records of its existence.
A wooden spire was erected on the tower in 1675 and was replaced by the very pretty spire made of stone in 1763 that you can still see today. Many changes came and went throughout the Victorian era, then came along new flooring etc and in 1998 it was given a new altar which is made of American Oak.
~~ The Church ~~
As you walk into the church you will notice how bright and big it is, I have to say it is like a small cathedral and my initial thoughts were wow, how lovely it looked, apart from the scaffolding and the posters they had up, but that is a sign of modern times and the work that needs doing.
The Nave is built of limestone with the pillars dating back to 1280; the arches were apparently added approximately 100 years later. A lot of stained glass windows, which are one of my favourite features were fitted during the Victorian era as the earlier medieval ones didn't survive the tests of time.
It is in this area that you see a pretty font with a highly polished brass cover, this is a copy of the one which Shakespeare was baptised; there is another font in the church, which is believed to be the original one from the 15th Century which was used for Shakespeare's baptism, this can be found in the Chancel.
As you look at the walls of the Nave you see some lovely statues and plaques in memoriam, also some funeral hatchments which display the armorial bearings of rank and substance of the person they refer to. The view of these was slightly marred by the many large posters asking you to pay £50.00 to sponsor one of the window panels (if you are interested you can take a look at their website www.shakespeareschurch.org).
There are a couple of well preserved tombs around the church for prominent figures of the church and society. Before I leave the Nave and go onto mention the Chancel, I want to mention a couple more things that I appreciated like the lovely plaque with cherubs around it, which held a dedication. I also noted that the church has been bought into the 21st century as it had a modern microphone attached to the brass eagle lectern. They have a small section which is the Junior Church which had small ornate chairs and desks; these were replicas of the larger adult ones, very quaint.
The Chancel is quite a special section of the church it was built in 1480 using local Warwick stone and has some beautiful large stained glass windows, the dominating one being the east window which depicts the 'Adoration of the Crucified'.
I have already mentioned that it plays host to the original yet broken font that was used for the baptism of William Shakespeare on 26th April 1564, but it also holds his and some members of his family who are buried here. William was a 'lay rector' of this church which meant he was entitled to be buried here, he purchased a lease of moiety which is a half share of the tithes (taxes) due to local churches, this cost £440 back in 1605, one of the conditions held to this was that he had to help with the up keep of the chancel during his life time.
The graves are lined up next to each other behind a barrier, as you face them from left to right you have Anne Hathaway (his wife), Shakespeare (this one usually has fresh flowers on it), Thomas Nash (who was the first husband of Williams' grand-daughter Elizabeth), John Hall (his son-in- law) and Susannah (Shakespeare's eldest daughter). All the graves have a blue plaque on them telling you which grave belong to who as you cannot get close enough to actually read the inscriptions of the stones).
On the wall you will see papers relating to Shakespeare's baptism and his burial; these are displayed behind glass for protection. There is also a memorial sculpture of Shakespeare which was made by Gerald Johnson shortly after the playwright's death. At this point I would like to mention that during our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon we had the pleasure to see a painting which was discovered hidden and has been authenticated as being a genuine painting of William Shakespeare, he does look completely different to the various paintings and statues that have been made since his death.
Another wonderful item in this area is the image of 'Christ', this was recently discovered in the chancel Sedalia canopy, it is a 15th century carving which is very rare; they have it lit up and a mirror there, so you can only view it from the mirror, it is quite amazing to look at.
The roof in the chancel is wooden and has figures carved on it, the craftsmanship here is magnificent with carvings of misericord (figures depicting life in the 15th century, with dancers, clowns, fish, animals etc). There were a couple of beautiful chairs, so big they could have been thrones, they were dark oak with red velvet seats and some wonderful carvings; I even liked the solid wooden priest door to the side as well. The pulpit was in stone and it had a grey pewter look about it, with some white (marble looking) figurines around it.
~~ Opening Times ~~
The church is open to the public, but please be aware it still operates as a church as well and holds services. I thought I would add the service times to this to help you with your timings for your visits.
0800 is Holy Communion
1030 is Parish Communion
1800 is Evening Worship
0930 is Morning Prayer on Monday
0915 is Morning Prayer Tuesday - Friday
1000 is Holy Communion on Tuesdays.
All these times were correct from a leaflet I picked up from our visit in the summer of 2009.
~~ Location ~~
Holy Trinity C of E Church
It is only just a short walk from Hall's Croft which is on the tour bus route.
~~ Conclusion ~~
I really like this church, I admit that the scaffolding did not do much for the presentation, but the church itself had a wonderful peaceful and calming atmosphere about it. One walked inside and it welcomed you, making you want to stay and absorb some of the energy which it emitted. It was quite a large church and apart from its links to Shakespeare it contained a lot of history inside its doors. Like all churches its nooks and crannies, its artwork and monuments told you a story of its life and that of the town.
I would most definitely recommend a visit here if you are in Stratford, as it is on the river edge you could even enjoy a riverside walk either side of your visit and it's not to far from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre either.
I hope I have managed to put across how idyllic this church and the village are, if you are like me and love historic buildings and churches then you will really enjoy visiting here.
Thank you for reading
Lyn x (Arnoldhenryrufus)
Holy Trinity Church is located on Old Town road by the river Avon, on the edge of the town centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon, just a few minutes walk from Halls' Croft, the former home of William Shakespeare's daughter Susanna and her husband John. Shakespeare himself was baptised here and he and his wife Anne Hathaway are both buried here in the chancel, along with Susanna and her husband, and grandson-in-law Thomas Nash. I initially assumed that he got buried in such a privileged part of the church because he was a famous poet and playwright, but apparently it was because of a substantial donation he made towards the upkeep of the church and the chancel in particular.
The church itself, is nothing special, and doesn't look particularly different from any other church of its size and age (construction started about 1210) in any other English town apart from that fact there is a bust of Shakespeare there! Like most churches though, important townsmen do have private chapels and mentions. The nave of the church looks very nice, but had scaffolding up at the time I was there due to restoration work. If you want to visit the chancel and see the graves you will need to pay a small fee of £1.50 which goes towards the upkeep of the church and the staffing to keep it open during non-service times. You will get a little leaflet telling you a bit about the church and Shakespeare's connection to it. It claims to be the most visited church in England, and it certainly was popular on the Sunday afternoon that I visited. You can't visit the church when services are on, during weddings or rehearsals (unless you are participating of course!). Service times are marked on a board at the entrance to the grounds. There is a removable ramp for wheelchair users to access the church step, but apart from that it is fairly safe and easy to get around.
The grounds are pleasant to walk around (if you like graveyards) and are very green and well maintained. Typical English churchyards have a certain charm and tranquillity and this one is no exception. I think you can generally learn a lot about the town from reading headstones, although in this case the more significant residents lie inside. There is an avenue of trees walking up to the church doors and paths that circumnavigate the church is you wish to walk around the outside.