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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The Church of St Mary the Virgin

It is possible that the original church of St Mary’s was Saxon in  origin, although there is little concrete evidence to this effect.  What is certain is that the church was built on the site of a  Roman structure.   The tower and western part of the nave date from the 11th  century. This Norman church was built between 1066, when  Saxon Dover was destroyed by the Norman invaders, and 1086,  when the Domesday Book lists three churches in Dover.  Although not named it has been assumed that the three  churches were St Mary’s, St James’ and St Peter’s. St Mary’s church is mentioned in 1180 in list of possessions of  Dover Priory. In 1230 St Mary’s passed into the control of the  Maison Dieu, the Master providing priests for the church until  the Dissolution in 1537, when the church was closed. The  townspeople petitioned Henry VIII to let them have St Mary’s  as a parish church, and this was granted in 1544. In 1581 the Mayor and Corporation moved their official place of  worship from St Peter’s Church, which had fallen into disrepair,  to St Mary’s. Since then the church has been associated with  civic bodies, the Mayor and Corporation, the Cinque Ports Pilots  of Trinity House, and the Dover Harbour Board, all have official  seats in the church. The Mayors of Dover and Members of Parliament for Dover  were elected in the church from 1581 until 1826. A barrier was  placed down the centre of the building to keep the rival factions apart, and often there was bloodshed and the church  desecrated and made unfit for public worship. St Mary’s present form dates from the controversial restoration  carried out in 1843 by the then Vicar, Canon John Puckle. It  was less restoration and more complete rebuilding. The church  was enlarged, the south aisle extended to balance the north  aisle, and the roof raised and clerestory windows added. During  the rebuilding, original Norman piers and arches were taken  down, the stones numbered and then re-erected in their new  position. Only the tower escaped relatively untouched. So the  church as it is seen today is mainly a Victorian construction. St Mary’s is still very much the town’s parish church. Many of  the stained glass windows, put in to replace those destroyed in  the Second World War, commemorate the various historic  associations between the church and town.
St Mary the Virgin, 1814. An engraving showing the churche before the major rebuilding in Victorian times. St Mary the Virgin c.1895.  This unusual view of the church was possible due to the widening of Biggin Street and Cannon Street in the mid 1890s. St Mary the Virgin c.1904.  The buildings in Cannon Street to the right of the church have been built on the building site seen in the photo above. St Mary the Virgin, 2012.  A view of some of the Norman detail on the tower. St Mary the Virgin, 2012. The view of the eastern end of the church showing the Victorian additions. Back to Churches Index