St Mary de Castro Church, Leicester

St Mary de Castro Church in Leicester stands next to the remains of Leicester castle, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the city in the relatively quiet precincts of The Newarke (corrupted from 'New Work'). Once standing outside the boundaries of the city walls, The Newarke is now more or less indistinguishable from the city which has grown around it but retains an aura of centuries past thanks to its cobbled streets and lack of people. On a blustery February day I had the church and its graveyard all to myself, although the energetic ringing of the church bells provided a noisy backdrop to my explorations.

The church was founded in 1107, although it may have been on the site of an earlier Saxon church. 'De Castro' means of the castle and Leicester's association with important Medieval events meant that the church saw its fair share of drama. King Henry VI was knighted here as a child in 1426, but most famously it is believed that Geoffrey Chaucer married his wife Philippa de Roet here in the 1360s. Philippa was sister of Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt, brother and uncle of kings.

I did not look inside the church but instead wondered around the graveyard. Sandwiched between the Medieval splendour of the church and, to the rear, old factories now turned student living space, the graveyard felt melancholy and somewhat lost to the modern age.

Most of the headstones were minimally decorated with the name of the deceased and the odd poem or message to the viewer.

This headstone has a Masonic reference; the compass and set square with the letter G.

This fine headstone belonged to Scott who in the Royal Navy, dated 1834.

One of the rarer table-like tombs in the churchyard, this was in memory to Jesse Berridge, Gentleman.

The hard, grey stone used for most of the headstones lends itself well to carving.

Pretty graves all in a row.

Despite the desolate nature of the churchyard, not helped by the gloomy weather, the snowdrops were starting to come out, bringing some life to it.

More information about St Mary de Castro can be found from:
BBC's website, Haunted Leicester
Rather bizarre review of a church service by a 'Mystery Worshipper'
This website has good pictures of the exterior and interior of the church


Bryonny G-H said…
Great post, Ceri, though I was a bit interested in what makes you feel that nineteenth-century tombstones aren't of the modern age?
Stephanie said…
Thanks for this, Ceri. I think its really interesting how the language of funerary art changes over the centuries. You don't see Victorian-style monuments any more, but plumed horses and carriages have come back into fashion. Great photos - that hard stone you mentioned really lends itself to fine detail from the carver's hand, and it seems to resist weathering too!

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