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A Brief History of St. Mary's Thorpe

The Twentieth Century and Today's Church

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Early Days and Saxon Period
From the Normans to the Tudors
The Reformation and Beyond
The Nineteenth Century
The Twentieth Century and Today's Church
Notables and the Churchyard
About Us and How to Make Contact

The nave - reordered at the turn of the millennium

The Twentieth Century

The Tractarian Movement took root at Thorpe in the early days of the twentieth century, shaping the life and culture of the church permanently. The movement was not without resistance from Protestant groups and around the end of the Edwardian period this opposition erupted in riots so violent as to be dubbed the "Thorpe War".

The present-day interior was restored in 1988-9, with a new marble floor and open layout, including chairs fashioned from oak which fell in the nearby Windsor Park during the storms of 1987. The 20th century is also represented by the altar frontals, the Nave fresco, the East window, and many of the vestments used in worship at St. Mary's.

Today we pride ourselves in carrying on a tradition of effective worship along two main strands; the first traditional Anglo-Catholic worship witnessing to the full range of that tradition, and to the Benedictine tradition of Christian formation propounded at Thorpe and Chertsey for many centuries; the second takes the essence of this first tradition and translates it into forms of worship easily understand by newcomers to the faith and by the children of the parish and their families; this latter worship is characterised by the use of dance, drama, and mime, the direct involvement of children and their parents in the conduct of the prayers, readings and presentations made during the service, and by the creative use and development of modern and classical dance forms within the context of the liturgy.

The second half of the twentieth century is well represented in the art and decorative work of the ornaments and decorations.

The East window includes a centre light and other work by the Russian artist Marc Chagall, the rest of the work being by his eminent English pupil, Lawrence Lee. The window was dedicated as a memorial to the martyrs of the Russian Revolution, the lights depict Our Lady at her most loving and human (main centre light by Marc Chagall), and the monastic life of Chertsey Abbey under Abbot Rutherwyke's inspiration (sidelights by Lawrence Lee). Whether or not the centre lights are by Chagall, this window is remarkably similar in size, content, style and workmanship to that in the village church at Milton Abbas in Dorset which is most certainly by Laurie Lee and well worth a visit for those who happen to be in Dorset.

The tympanum above the chancel arch (the west gable of the Saxon building) depicts Our Lady and St. John before the Cross. The work is accredited to Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989) and is in a Goyaesque dark and straight-forwardly representational fashion. Its delicate condition has resulted in a ban on flash photography in the main body of the church.

Many of the artistic treasures at St. Mary's are for liturgical use including several fine vestments, for instance sets of cloth-of-gold priest's robes for various seasons said to be donated in memory of Gabriel Faure as a thank you for the church choir's singing of his "Requiem" at the liturgy in Guildford Cathedral, and a magnificent new set of matching altar frontals mainly in tones and shades of blue and black. However the total of these treasures is too numerous to detail here at present. To appreciate them it is necessary to attend St. Mary's and attend regularly!

The Twenty-First Century

The millennium at St. Mary's was marked by various works. The greatest of these was the re-ordering of the Rutherwyke Room to include an Annexe (the Wallace Room - used as the Counselling Centre at St. Mary's and as a Parish Office, also by the local "Relate" branch for marriage guidance), better kitchen, toilet, and storage facilities, and a more open area for social and similar events. Although begun in the twentieth century, the work was a major and positive beginning to a new era.

When the convent next to the church was closed, many of its artefacts were transferred into the keeping of St. Mary's. Many of these were the work of Sir Ninian Comper.Some have been arranged recently to furnish the surround to the altar of  the Benedict Chapel (on the north side of the chancel). Others are affixed to the beams of the chancel, including the magnificent tester (sounding board) over the High Altar. Again one is tempted to suggest a comparison with the equally splendid Comper work at St. Michael's in Inverness

Twisted baluster rails formerly fronted an old singing gallery at the west end. In the Edwardian period they were put to use as altar rails moved to storage under the tower during the late twentieth century re-ordering of St. Mary's. For a brief period time they formed ornamental rails to the organ loft. Now they are used to great effect as the boundary markers to a children's area at the west end of the South aisle.

The blue altar frontals referred to above were among the earliest items provided for St. Mary's at the beginning of the present century.

Tympanum by Salvator Dali
photos: copyright