A stone’s throw from the railway station, the unpromising exterior of St Mary’s is at first glance a Perpendicular essay in the local golden ironstone, but its interior more than makes up for that. Commissioned in 1904 but not structurally complete until 1931, St Mary’s was, more than any other church, Ninian Comper’s life’s work; he intended to be buried there, next to his wife, but Westminster Abbey intervened.

It owes its foundation to three devout post-Tractarians, the Sharman sisters, with Henrietta the prime mover. Comper began with the mediaeval-styled north chapel (1908), but he then moved on to embrace unity by inclusion.

You enter an interior where the aisles are uncluttered, and where your eye darts this way and that to take in the vision, the vistas. The pillars between the nave and aisles are Cotswold Perp., but the vaulted ceiling, largely white, has hanging pendants, post-King’s College Chapel Gothic.

The screen is instantly recognizable, with busy seraphim on wheels, an unmistakeable Comper leitmotif, yet it encompasses a variety of styles and is centred upon a Christ in Majesty, based on the Christ Pantocrator in the Capella Palatina in Palermo; here is no suffering Christ reigning from the tree of glory (think of Eye in Suffolk or St Cyprian’s Clarence Gate, London). A ciborium on gilded Corinthian columns shelters the high altar; behind it, the east window depicts the life of the Virgin, culminating in her coronation.

To the north of the choir is the Jesus chapel, whose Jesse Tree east window is a memorial to Grace Comper; to the south is St John’s chapel, with glass featuring a long line of martyrs for their beliefs, ending with Fr Stanton, Comper’s confessor. All this sounds like a catalogue, but St Mary’s is much more than that. Here Comper unified stylistic elements from East and West, from Gothic and Classical, to create his vision of the glory of heaven, where the whole company is united in its unceasing worship of God. To which may God bring us all at the last.

Pray that visitors to our services may discern the beauty of holiness through our worship, and see beyond outward show.

Grid ref: SP 8968

Simon Cotton