About - The Church
A Church on the banks of the Avon in Stratford is first mentioned in the charter of 845, signed by Beorhtwulf (Bertulf), King of Mercia. This would have been a wooden construction. It is very likely that the Normans replaced this with a stone building but no trace of either remains. The present limestone building was begun in 1210 and was built in the shape of a cross.
The Church is approached along an avenue of lime trees, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.
The porch is one of the more recent additions to the building (ca. 1500 AD) and has a room above it reached by narrow spiral stone staircase. There is a small door let into the massive C15th doors, just big enough to let one person through at a time. On this is a sanctuary knocker. Fugitives from justice (often lynch-mobs!) could grab the ring and claim 37 days safety before facing trial.
The original nave would have been as wide as the pillars in the photograph and somewhat shorter and lower than at present. The Guild of the Holy Cross, a mediaeval trade guild with religious and charitable aims, was formed in 1269 and between 1280 and 1330 gave the money to build the tower and rebuild the nave with side-aisles. The roof was raised and the clerestory added by the College (see chancel). Henry VIII suppressed the Guild and closed the College and gave their assets to the town. The reformation era saw the destruction of the chantry, rood screen, much of the carving and most of the glass. The responsibility for the upkeep of the nave fell to the townsfolk.
The Clopton Chapel
Stratfordian Hugh Clopton became Lord Mayor of London and was a great benefactor to the town. He completely rebuilt the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross and provided the stone bridge over the Avon which carries his name, and the traffic, to this day. He had a magnificent altar-tomb built in the then Lady Chapel but was, in fact, buried in London. After the reformation his descendants claimed the chapel as their own and it now contains the finest renaissance tomb in all England, that of George Carew (died 1629) and his wife Joyce Clopton. Carew was James I's Master in Ordnance, hence the canon on the tomb.
The Clopton Chapel was recently professionally cleaned, revealing the beauty of the alabaster tombs with their painted decoration. The PCC and congregation of Holy Trinity Church are very grateful to the Friends of Shakespeare's Church and Stratford Town Trust, thanks to whose help this was accomplished.
You are standing in the oldest part of the building. The massive pillars which cut the church in four support the tower. Above the vaulted ceiling is the ringing chamber from which our magnificent ring of ten bells is rung. Further up, over four tonnes of bell-metal swings through 360 degrees, calling the faithful to worship.
The North Transept
Sorry, you're not allowed in there! That's the choir vestry and staff rest area, and where all the brushes and mops are kept.
The South Transept. This is St. Peter's Chapel, where we say the daily office of morning prayer. The window in here was given as 'The Gift of America to Shakespeare's Church' a hundred years ago. The American Ambassador came to the dedication service. The window contains some very interesting scenes, including the (irregular) consecration of the first American Episcopalian bishop.
This chapel is reserved for quiet and prayer. Our visitors are encouraged to pause here and pray for the church and all who worship and minister here. Virtual visitors are likewise encouraged!
In 1331 John, Bishop of Winchester, founded a chantry for five priests in the Thomas Becket Chapel in the south aisle. A 'good stone house' was built close by the Church to accommodate this College of Priests. In 1451 Henry V confirmed the privileges of the College and the Church became styled Collegiate. Within the forty years 1480-1520 the college was responsible for the complete rebuilding of a much larger chancel (including a new west window), nave (including the clerestory) tower and north porch.
The wonderful set of 26 carved misericord seats in the chancel date from this time. All manner of things, both sacred and secular are represented, from angels and mythical beasts to a man and woman fighting. In the bookshop there is a booklet giving details and photographs of all the misericords.
On the closure of the College by Henry VIII the tithe (tax) income privileges were sold off. The duty of employing a Priest and looking after the Chancel went with the privileges. A share in them was purchased in 1605 for £440 by the son of a local glove-maker, one William Shakespeare. This, and not his ability as a poet and playwright, gave him the right of burial in the sanctuary.
From the outside, the Church building has changed little from Shakespeare's time: a wooden spire was added in 1675 only to be replaced with the present stone one in 1763. Until last century there stood a charnel house to the south of the chancel. Here the bones of those dug up to make room for new graves were laid to rest. This charnel-house, like the College building, has now gone.
If the outside has changed little, the same can not be said for the inside. Holy Trinity has gone through many and varied re-orderings as liturgical fashions have changed. The most recent was at the turn of the twentieth century, and something tells us it won't be the last...