The history of Bury Parish Church
Bury Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is located at the highest point in the town centre. Although the present building is Victorian there has been a church on the site for over 1,000 years: in medieval times the west door would have looked out across the market place to the castle.
The steeple pre-dates the church, having been built in 1842. The church was designed a few years later by J S Crowther on a much grander scale and, with the nave now higher than the base of the spire, the two were cleverly joined by the addition of a narthex. This now houses a coffee shop and Christian bookshop open when the church is, on five days each week.
The highly decorative mosaic floor is by Minton.
The present church was consecrated on 2nd February 1876, having taken 5 years to build.
The church was the garrison church for the Lancashire Fusiliers and colours of the Regiment hang proudly from their pikes around the walls of the nave.
The main entrance to the building was originally the ornate south door, facing The Rock, entered through an open porch. From this aspect the architecture of the narthex represents that of the church complete with the panelled ceiling and rounded apse replicating the sanctuary.
The baptistery was located at the north end, surrounded by female saints in the stained glass and in the stonework by heads depicting children of the parish. There are more heads on the outside of this part of the building, but those have their hats on!
The narthex was extensively remodelled during 2008 with the erection of oak and glass screens along the east and south walls, new flooring in the old porch, the relocation of the font and the removal of a screen separating the tower.
The tower is the focus for a number of memorials including one featuring both a walrus and elephant. Above the tower is the belfry with 8 bells, six of them dating from 1722.
The nave stands 76ft 6ins high, 84ft 6ins long and 30ft wide. The windows on the north wall depict Old Testament figures whilst the south windows are of New Testament figures.
The detailed stonework includes over 150 heads, many said to represent members of the congregation and community. On the west wall are heads depicting the churchwardens, architect and clerk of works, whilst the Earl and Countess of Derby are to be found on the chancel arch.
Sharp eyed observers will find a “green man” in the decorative stone on the north wall.
The west wall is inspired by Westminster Abbey, rising in four stages to the great rose window.
The pulpit was given in memory of Revd Roger Kay, who re-founded Bury Grammar School in 1726 (and who is believed to be buried beneath the pulpit).
The font is in memory of Revd Geoffrey Hornby. It was given in 1854 and was brought from the previous church to the baptistery here before being relocated in 2008.
The lectern was given by the staff of the Central School in 1875.
The Chancel and Sanctuary
The Sanctuary apse has five tall windows illustrating the life of Christ.
The altar stands in front of an oak reredos with the Epiphany as its central feature.
It is topped with a pelican plucking blood from her breast to feed her young, a symbol which can also be found on the choir stalls and a processional cross.
The reredos, and the surrounding paintings on copper, were restored in 2008, as was the organ.
The South Chapel
The entrance screen was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and proclaims from the Magnificat, “My soul doth magnify the lord”.
The reredos features Mary and child flanked by the patron saints of Britain.
Outside the Church
The town’s war memorial is found on the south-west corner of the church’s site.
In the middle of the 20th century Gardens of Remembrance were created and memorials to the RNA and RAF were added later. Stones from the former graveyard were re-laid as pathways, with the remains removed to Bury Cemetery.
The pathways and gardens surrounding the church are maintained by Bury MBC.
In 2009 this Christian bookshop and coffee shop opened at the west end of church and operates when the church is open, being closed only on Tuesdays and Sundays.