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Any visitor to the East Yorkshire resort of Scarborough will know that its castle dominates its skyline but in my opinion, The Church of St Mary adjacent to the ruins of the castle is almost just as impressive. Perched high on top of the hillside, like its more famous neighbour, the castle, this church is a landmark that can be seen from miles around.
The Church of St Mary is the largest church in the town and it is the parish church of Scarborough. It is a large church and a grand one by any standards, indeed it is as large and grand as many cathedrals that I know. From the outside the first thing that struck me when I visited here a few weeks ago was how neat and tidy its church yard was. This might have something to do with the fact that the graveyard is the burial place of the 19th century writer Anne Bronte and in recent years her grave has become a popular magnet for the tourists. Indeed it was one of the things that drew me here, but for me it was more a case of curiosity rather than a deep passionate love for classical English literature. Anne Bronte's gravestone is easy to find, as it is sign posted and the flowerbeds in front of it were in full bloom in mid August. The inscription on the gravestone is simple yet poignant and reads:
"Here lie the remains of Anne Bronte daughter of the Revd P Bronte Incumbent of Haworth of Yorkshire. Died aged 28 May 28th 1849".
The graveyard is an incredibly tranquil place with magnificent views over the South Bay to the south and of the castle to the north. Indeed to find a better view anywhere in Scarborough one would need to go to the castle, which stands slightly higher up than the church.
One thing that puzzled me about the churchyard was some large ruins and it was not until I went inside the church and studied the plans that all became clear. I suppose that I was quite lucky to find the doors of the church open since the opening times are limited to 10am until 4pm daily although it is not open at all on Sundays except for services. I discovered at a later date that my parents had visited here twice and it was closed both times.
Stepping into the church certainly has that wow factor. I think it probably has something to do with the huge stained glass windows that allow the sunshine to flood down the aisles and illuminate even the minutest of detail. I visited here on a lovely bright sunny day so I guessed that added to the warm ambience of the place. In contrast to this the walls are plain white alabaster and the floor is of stone and rather cold. The pews are wooden and quite plain as are the tall stone supporting pillars. The ceilings however are high and very ornate.
The Church of St Mary dates from 1150. It is believed to have been built by the masons that were employed by the castle and whether this is true or not what is certain is that it is the place where they would have worshipped. Within just 30 years of its creation the church was extended and 20 years after that it was extended further still. These were the days when materials and labour were plentiful and money and expense was not an issue. The expansion of 1200 saw the addition of the south and north aisles but the largest alteration occurred during the 15th century, when in 1450 the transepts and chantry chapels were created in the south aisle and a great perpendicular quire was added.
Sadly, the church suffered severe damage during the English Civil War when it was used as parliamentary base for the troops to launch attack on the castle. During this siege the north aisle of the church was destroyed along with the quire. The north aisle was later rebuilt but its exterior wall was repositioned leaving the original north transept and the great quire as ruins in what is now the churchyard. Finally, the mysterious riddle of the ruins in the churchyard had been solved.
The history of the church is told on placards inside the church and there are various artist impressions depicting how the church would have looked through the ages. I was surprised to learn that all of the original stained glass windows were destroyed during the English Civil War and the windows that we see today are all 19th and 20th century replicas. It was also not just English Civil War that caused damage to this church as it was bombed during the Second World War. It seems that The Church of St Mary has had quite a turbulent past but thankfully it has survived and is now protected as a listed building for future generations to enjoy.
This church dates back to c.1150.