12 Colston Parade, Bristol, BS1 6RA
14th century building. The medieval work of the original building, from the 12th to 15th centuries, has been much restored. Queen Elizabeth II visited in April 1956.
Dundry limestone, resurfaced in the 19th and 20th centuries with other stones.
Wrought-iron work inside.
Polished stone columns on inner North Porch.
Weekdays 8.30am – 5pm. Sundays 8am – 8pm.
Sunday services: 8am, 9:30am, 11:15am & 6:30pm. The public is welcome to join these services although there is no access for viewing the Church during these services. Please check the website for the latest events.
Queen Elizabeth I is said to have described St Mary Redcliffe in 1574 as ‘the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England’. The first church on this site came long before, in the 1100s. St Mary Redcliffe’s scale and grandeur make it more like a cathedral than a parish church. Spectacular flying buttresses on the outside are a fine example of Gothic architecture while very tall windows include ones in the clerestory that let extra light into the vault. There are rich carvings inside and out.
The interior features striking Perpendicular-style arches and impressive stone vaulting throughout. This vaulting is beautifully decorated with over 1100 different carved ceiling bosses covered in gold leaf, including a famous ‘maze’ boss. Many parts of the church seen today date from the 1300s. Additions continued until the 1800s, when (among much other work) a spire shortened by a lightning strike in the 1400s was rebuilt to a height of 89 metres. This still dominates the south Bristol skyline.
The church is built in a cross shape and has numerous fascinating features. Its magnificent hexagonal north porch (early 1300s) is highly unusual, with stunning, slightly exotic carving outside. This leads to an inner porch with polished stone columns which dates from 1185 and is the oldest part of the church. The south porch was part of the Perpendicular-style stages built in the 1300s and includes intricate pinnacles and a pierced parapet. A beautiful Noah’s Ark stained glass window (north aisle, east end, 1880s) features 22 species of paired animals.
Other notable items include a world-renowned Harrison & Harrison-built organ (1912), with over 4000 pipes. Bristol’s merchant and exploring past is well represented. In the south transept is the tomb and an effigy of William Canynges the Younger (d. 1474), a leading merchant, MP and Bristol mayor. A ‘whale rib’ displayed in the church is thought to have been brought back by John Cabot on his ship the Matthew in 1497, after Cabot’s pioneering explorations around North America. Other features inside include a wooden painted statue of Queen Elizabeth I (probably 1570s) at the base of the tower and beautiful wrought-iron gates (1700s) by William Edney at the entrance to St John’s chapel – among the finest ironwork of this era in the UK.
In the churchyard on the south side is a tombstone commemorating the family of Thomas Chatterton, the famous young poet. His family had connections with the church and Thomas was inspired by documents he found in a room above the north porch. Tramline remnants lie embedded by the churchyard’s railings – blown over Redcliffe’s roofs by a Second World War bomb attack (the church remained undamaged).
Photography: © Cecile Gillard (Exterior south, Lady Chapel window, Nave and 8th bell)