St Mary’s Minster: Cheltenham

One of the more impressive churches I have seen has been Cheltenham Minster, St Mary’s; situated in a park surrounded by other buildings it is a hidden sanctuary of peace in a somewhat chaotic shopping area. 

The biggest problem though, is trying to photograph it completely because you cannot get far away enough to do so. The image above is really a composite of two different images, and it worked out quite well if I may say so myself.  What is a Minster?  It is way too complicated to explain, but in short it is generally any “any large or important church, especially a collegiate or cathedral church”. In the 21st century, the Church of England has designated additional minsters by bestowing the status on existing parish churches.

The first time I saw the church and its graveyard I decided that it may be worth trying to get a visit, but my visits to Prestbury generally started early and ended late so it would be more about luck than anything else.

The graveyard is reasonably intact with quite a few headstones still legible, but I expect many have been lost over the ages. Make no mistake, this church has been around for a long time and there must be a lot of burials in this small space. Way back when the church would also have been in an open space, but as time has passed it has become hemmed in to the point where you cannot see it from street level without sticking your head into any alley and looking. I only found it because I was looking for the bus stop.

Now getting inside the church was not easy as it was only open till a certain time on a Saturday; but I was in luck on the one morning as I found the church still open, although it was almost closing time. 

It is spectacular inside, I was literally dumbstruck. On the outside the building does seem to have a mix of architectural styles but within it is irrelevant.

To me the Rose Window was the most spectacular feature of the interior.

There are some really stunning wall memorials and stained glass windows, and overall the church has a welcoming feeling about it, although I did feel the weight of ages within its walls. 

The only thing that seemed out of place were the light fittings which seemed like something out of a block of flats. Possibly they were fashionable at the time?

And then it was time to go because they wanted to close up for the day and I headed off into the distance, suitably impressed with what I had seen.

St Mary’s may be surrounded by buildings all around it, but it is probably one of the most impressive churches in Cheltenham, it is certainly the oldest.

It is quite difficult to find 1600’s headstones that are legible, although I did find an inscription for 1607 on a memorial. 

And finally, a reminder of the many Imperial troops that never came home from the Anglo Boer War.  The Minster was a surprise, and if ever I see it open again I will make a return visit because there is just so many layers of history within the walls. Long may it be with us.

**Update 12/10/2021**

In April 2012 I discovered that there was an overflow cemetery associated with the church, and it is now known as “Winston Churchill Gardens”. The first burial in the cemetery  took place on 19 September 1831 and it remained in use until 1864 when the new cemetery opened in Prestbury.  Following a period of neglect, the cemetery was purchased by the council in 1965 and developed into a garden. There are very few visible headstones in what is left of the cemetery, and although a chapel was established in the cemetery it is now a gymnasium.  

© DRW. 2015-2022. Created 13/05/2016

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