St Mary the Virgin Battle – A lovely old church in East Sussex
St Mary’s Battle is a 907 year old church with an impressive interior and an immense amount of history. Even the gravestones are fascinating as each with a story to tell.
I visited St Mary’s the Virgin in Battle when I visited the town of Battle and the Battle Abbey on a day trip from London about a week ago. St Mary’s Battle represents a truly historic part of Battle as well as its connection to Battle Abbey. There is a lot to see inside this charming lovely old church and it is well worth a visit.
About St Mary’s Battle
St Mary the Virgin is a church of historic importance located in the heart of Battle, East Sussex and in 1066 Country. The beautiful town of Battle lies along the delightful Sussex coastline, close to the town of Rye and Hastings. Battle is a highly significant town in England as it has grown alongside the historic battlefield of 1066. St Mary’s stands just a few yards away from Battle Abbey, where King Harold fell. In fact, you could see the tower of St Mary’s as a backdrop to the exact location where Harold is said to have fallen at the abbey.
The Church of St Mary’s was and is a haven of peace. It has been the centre of Christian life for the people of Battle since it was built.
St Mary’s was founded in 1115 AD by Abbot Ralph and is a Grade I listed building. This lovely church was built to serve the ‘people of Battel’ that had grown alongside the Benedictine Abbey of St Martin following the Norman conquest, where history was made. Therefore, a visit to St Mary’s is best combined with a visit to Battle Abbey to appreciate a history of almost 1000 years.
Helpful information about Battle Abbey
Battle Abbey is the site of the most famous conflict that changed the course of England’s history. The site of Battle Abbey, Battlefield and the grounds are lovingly cared for by English Heritage — it is one of the best preserved historic sites in England.
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Becoming a member is easy and convenient. Read the complete guide to the benefits of being an English Heritage member.
UK residents can join English Heritage by signing-up here;
Overseas Visitors can make a special purchase for 9 or 16 days and enjoy unlimited visits to most sites.
Recommended read > The Best of Battle Abbey, Battle
Highlights at St Mary’s Battle
The Church of St Mary’s Battle offers a glimpse into the medieval life of the parish. There are a number of highlights to look out for on your visit. These include the resplendent transitional nave, a wall painting from c.1300, the gilded Alabaster tomb of Sir Anthony Browne, the Crusaders’ crosses and the magnificent Senlac window. I shall just mention a few here:
From the Chronicle of Battel Abbey, it can be discerned that the first church was a very small one. Following the founding of the Benedictine Abbey of St Martin at Battle Abbey, the monks began to enlarge the church. The nave was altered in 1869 and much of the medieval roof was removed. It was replaced with heavy timbers with iron-tie-rods, as is seen today.
2 | The Norman Font
A distinctive Norman font is placed near the entrance of St Mary’s. The font is a rectangular work resting on five supports. It is said to date from 1115 AD.
A frieze of Norman arches is still noticeable around the square cut marble slab. The carved and gilded cover is said to be medieval. This was an interesting piece to observe.
3 | The story of St Margaret of Antioch
The medieval wall paintings of St Margaret of Antioch are an impressive display. She is thought to have lived in the Middle East in the 4th century and was regarded as one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages.
The life of St Margaret of Antioch is described in a total of twenty-four scenes, which originated c.1300. It begins on the east end of the north wall. The series begins with the upper row, and reads westwards to the end. It returns to the east, reading from the lower row. The paintings display high quality and are regarded as artistically fine.
4 | Other notable highlights at St Mary’s Battle
The church contains a piece of embroidery, a modern extension of the Bayeux Tapestry. The embroidery was crafted by the local community of Battle and tells the founding of St Mary’s Battle. The tapestry details are exquisite.
While here, you may want to take a look at the stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary, the Crusaders’ Cross and the tomb of Sir Anthony Browne. Anthony Browne was the man whom King Henry VIII granted the Battle Abbey to.
Practical information for St Mary the Virgin Battle
1 | Visitor information
St Mary’s Battle is located at:
Upper Lake, Battle, TN33 0AN
Hours: 09:00 – 16:00 daily
*A visit to St Mary’s is much enriched with an audio guide. These are available on your left, past the second door of the entrance. The use of an audio guide incurs a small fee.
ADD TO YOUR ITINERARY
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When I visited, the church was open. I was surprised to enter this charming and lovely old church and find a number of locals busy and chatting. The lady was very helpful and pointed me towards an audio guide which I could use to learn about St Mary’s and its history. It was so warming to see the church vibrant with activity.
Have a splendid time discovering St Mary’s Battle, East Sussex
**All photos by Georgina