Many large towns and cities have a dominant mediaeval church in their centre – just think of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich, or St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. From a distance the tower of Warwick church is another of the ilk, all 174 feet of it (1), but as you get closer there’s something not quite right, and the tracery of the nave windows is nothing like mediaeval. In fact, on 5 September 1694, there was a massive fire in the centre of Warwick that destroyed 200 houses as well as the tower, nave and transepts of the church of St Mary. It was rebuilt with input from Wren, who knew about rebuilds after fires.

One part that did escape fire damage is the opulent Beauchamp chapel (2), at the eastern end of the south aisle. Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, was very rich but also very devout. He took two years to make the pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem in person, rather than appoint a proxy. When he made his will in 1435, he specified the construction for his chantry à chapel of Our Lady, well fair and goodly built’; he died at Rouen four years later and the chapel was constructed from 1442 to 1462. It was not until 1475 that he was interred here. His bronze effigy (which in itself cost £700) lies atop a Purbeck marble tombchest, with mourners around the base recalling the pleurants on the Burgundian tombs at Dijon. The east window was made by John Pruddle, the King’s glazier, using Flemish glass, and features Beauchamp’s patrons Ss Thomas Becket, Alban, John of Bridlington, and Winifred. Small statues occupy niches (3) round the windows (recalling Albi), with the nine orders of Angels and Ss Barbara, Catherine, Mary Magdalene, and Margaret, All in, the chapel cost £2481 4s. 7d. This was at a time when a large and well equipped stone chancel could be built for £400 at Adderbury (Oxon).

Richard Beauchamp lived in an age when it was possible to be rich and devout.

Map reference SP282649 Simon Cotton