ST MARY DE CASTRO, LEICESTER
PEACE AND PERMANENCE
THE NORMAN CONQUEST made the once-great Roman city of Ratae one of the first cities of the kingdom. Here in Leicester was built a royal castle; and at the centre of it the builders made a remarkable commitment. They built a splendid church as a testament to faith, and an emblem of peace and permanence in violent and unpredictable times. They named it Sancta Maria de Castro - St Mary of the Castle.
Over the years which followed, sovereigns of England who came to Leicester, stayed at the castle and worshipped alongside the townspeople in this church. Here too came Simon de Montfort, the great Earl of Leicester, and John of Gaunt, father of Henry IV. His great friend, John Wycliffe preached in St Mary’s, and Geoffrey Chaucer was married here.
In this church Parliament heard Mass before its Leicester meetings, and King Henry VI received Knighthood. Mighty or humble, they felt the human passions of love and joy; here they shared happiness and sorrow, their times of plenty and poverty, and the familiar passing of the seasons.
As the city of Leicester moved increasingly westward, its castle fell into decay and many of the collegiate establishments were victims of the stormy Reformation period. Far from being overthrown, the Church in the Castle grew from its Norman origins into the building we see today, one of the great churches of England, whose soaring spire remains a landmark over a landscape as vastly changed by our own generation as by those who have come and gone before. The houses which once surrounded St Mary’s have largely gone or been put to alternative use. The people have moved out to the suburbs or to the County and very few now live in the original parish.
Through all these times, the pace of life and human endeavour has increased, but St Mary de Castro seeks now, as it has always done, to bear faithful witness to the people who live and work around it. To thousands of visitors every year, St Mary’s is an important symbol too, providing a place of real peace and tranquillity in a noisy, changing world.
The survival of this building and its permanence is no accident.