The parish church of St Mary-the-Virgin, situated in the heart of Dover just along from the Market Square, is nearly 1000 years old. Dating from Saxon times, it was originally built by the secular canons of St Martin Le Grand and rebuilt by the Normans. St Mary’s is one of the three Dover churches mentioned in the Domesday Book.
The oldest parts of the existing building are the tower and three bays of the arcades, which are Norman architecture of the early 12th century. The font is thought to be Norman and is made of Purbeck marble. Excavations near the font provide evidence of a Roman bath house beneath the foundations.
From 1230 the church was controlled by the Maison Dieu (now Dover’s town hall), built in 1203 to accommodate pilgrims from overseas visiting Canterbury Cathedral.
The church was closed in 1537, at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but opened in 1544 as a parish church, after a petition of the townspeople. From 1581 it was the official church of the Mayor and corporation of Dover.
Above the Saxon stone arch is a wall painting by a Dutch artist, painted in 1889. St Mary’s contains interesting wall memorials, including the William and Katherine Jones Memorial Brass, dated 1638. There are several beautiful stained-glass windows, including the Air Sea Rescue Window, Lady Chapel Window, the Great East Window, and The Zeebrugge Window. The church also houses the main memorial to the victims of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise, which capsized in 1987.
The church of St Mary's is often open to the public (you will see the 'Visitors Welcome' board outside) with occasional access to the gallery of the Norman tower, where you can see how the bell-ringers operate, the clock workings and various artefacts in the clock chamber.