From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

St Mary's Church

50° 45′ 10.1″ N 3° 16′ 45.2″ W

  • History
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St Mary's Church is located in Ottery St. Mary's in Devon. Its design is based on Exeter Cathedral and dates from around 1280 although it replaced an earlier Saxon church and later became a Collegiate Church.

Edward the Confessor was the benefactor of the Saxon church built on the site. After the conquest of 1066 it fell into decay until a Norman style church was built over the Saxon remains. The choir and transepts date from about 1280.

The church was bought by Bishop John Grandisson in 1337 to found a College of Ecclesiastical Canons. He remodeled the church to look like the Cathedral in Exeter, his figure can be seen on the central boss of the vaulting under the crossing. The corbels depict more members of Bishop Grandisson's family. The great Ottery Clock, in the south transept, is though to be a present from Bishop Grandisson. It is one of only four pre-Copernican clocks in the country and clearly shows the sun moving round the earth marking the phases of the moon as well as the hours of the day and night.

The north Dorset aisle was added around 1520. The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1545 saw the College of Canons dissolved with the church and surrounding buildings surrendered to King Henry VIII. The church was given to the town under the condition that the cloisters and chapter house were demolished, but associated houses remain in the surrounding street now known as 'The College'.


St Mary Ottery was the birthplace of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). He celebrates the church in his poem 'Frost at Midnight',

"With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower, Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang, From morn til evening, all the hot Fair-day ...".