Mixing Aspiration and Devotion over the Centuries


FOR MORE THAN 1,000 years, parish churches have formed the centerpiece of villages and towns across England. Many thousands of them are worth the visit. For architecture or ambience, setting or history, however, here is our humble list of the best of the best.

1 ST. BOTOLPH, BOSTON, LINCOLNSHIRE


The 272-foot lantern tower of the “Boston Stump” can be seen for miles across the fens. The huge parish church was built in the early 16th century as an indication of the town’s wealth. Its popular Puritan preacher, John Cotton, inspired the exodus to what became Boston, Mass. His pulpit is still in use. www.parish-of-boston.ork.uk

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© JON ARNOLD IMAGES LTD/ALAMY

© JON ARNOLD IMAGES LTD/ALAMY

ROMSEY ABBEY[/caption]

2 ST. MARY REDCLIFFE, BRISTOL, SOMERSET


Pilgrims and sailors have been praying at St. Mary Redcliffe since the 13th century. Its prominence throughout the centuries of Bristol’s seafaring importance built it into one of England’s largest and richest churches—and gave it one of the most interesting histories. www.stmaryredcliffe.co.uk

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©TRAVELIBUK/ALAMY

©TRAVELIBUK/ALAMY

GREAT MALVERN PRIORY[/caption]

3 ST. NICHOLAS, DURHAM


This is the “church on the marketplace” from which Rev. George Carey rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Its exterior declares St. Nicholas to be the venerable parish church on the old market square of ancient Durham. Its interior, however, tells a far more contemporary story. www.stnics.org.uk

4 GREAT MALVERN PRIORY, GREAT MALVERN, WORCESTERSHIRE


Work began on the monastic church here in 1085. Several centuries later, the priory church added one of the most magnificent settings of medieval stained glass still extant in Britain. Great Malvern Priory is no dusty monument, however; there are hundreds active in its parish life. www.greatmalvernpriory.org.uk

DANA HUNTLEY

DANA HUNTLEY


5 BATH ABBEY, BATH


It wouldn’t be fair to leave out Bath Abbey just because it shares a bishop with Wells. This was the last great Perpendicular monastic church built in the country. The grabbing feature is its soaring fan vaulted ceiling. Its setting in Georgian Bath is indescribably extraordinary. www.bathabbey.org

6 ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, CIRENCESTER, GLOUCESTERSHIRE


The largest and grandest of the Cotswold wool churches, the “Cathedral of the Cotswolds,” sits facing the market square in the historic market town. It is renowned for its carved three-story south porch and its stained glass. www.cirenparish.co.uk

7 ST. MICHAEL LE BELFREY, YORK


Just across the street from York Minster, the parish church of St. Michael le Belfrey exudes the vitality of an active congregation of 800 people. The history is still there, though; this is where Guy Fawkes was baptized in 1582. www.stmichaelsyork.org

8 HOLY TRINITY, BLYTHBURGH, SUFFOLK


“The Cathedral of the Marshes” was built in 1442-1473, when Blythburgh was a prosperous port (before the river silted up). Holy Trinity is justly renowned for its extraordinary original woodwork, high, bright clerestory windows and a painted tie-beam roof. www.holytrinityblythburgh.org.uk

9 ST. LAURENCE, LUDLOW, SHROPSHIRE


Though built over 300 years, the “Cathedral of the Marches” is architecturally magnificent. Its famous 132-foot bell tower was completed in 1472 and holds a peal of eight bells. Climb the tower for unriveled views of the Shropshire countryside and the market town below. www.stlaurences.org.uk

10 ROMSEY ABBEY, ROMSEY, HAMPSHIRE


Want to get a feel for an old church? Romsey Abbey was founded by the kin of Alfred the Great. Its Saxon foundations remain. In the Dissolution, the townsfolk raised £100 to buy it as the parish church. More recently, it became the burial place of Lord Mountbatten. www.romseyabbey.org.uk