Lancaster Priory
Lancaster Priory, otherwise St Mary's Church, Lancaster, is the parish church of the city of Lancaster, Lancashire, England ( grid reference SD474619 ). It is located near Lancaster Castle and is a Grade I listed building. It is an active Anglican church in the deanery of Lancaster, the archdeaconry of Lancaster and the diocese of Blackburn. Its benefice is combined with that of St John and St Anne.

History
It is likely that a Roman church was on the site around 200. In 1912 excavations revealed a wall beneath the present chancel area which may be from this time. It is known that a church existed on the site from 630 and a small Saxon doorway has been exposed in the west wall of the present nave. In 1094 Roger de Poitou established a Benedictine priory, dedicated to St Mary, as a cell of the Abbey of Saint Martin of Sées in Normandy, France. Around 1360 the nave was widened to about 49 feet (15 m). In 1431 the church was transferred from Sées to Syon Abbey near London, and following this there was a major reconstruction in Perpendicular style. In 1539 the monastic institution was abolished by Henry VIII and the following year the priory became a parish church. In 1753 the bells were removed from the tower because it was dangerous. Henry Sephton was commissioned to demolish and rebuild the tower. In 1872 the old organ was replaced by a new one in the north aisle, and a choir vestry was built to the north of the church. In 1887 a peal of new bells, donated by James Williamson, was rung for the first time and in 1894 a clergy vestry was built adjacent to the choir vestry. A south porch designed by Austin and Paley was added in 1903 and in the same year an outer north aisle with a polygonal apse was built. This aisle forms the memorial chapel to the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. In 1922 the organ was rebuilt by Arthur Harrison of Durham. In 1972 the bells were overhauled and re-hung. The pipe organ was replaced in 1982 by an electronic organ made by J. & J. Makin, and in the same year the choir and clergy vestries were converted into a refectory.

Description

Exterior
The church is built in sandstone with roofs of slate and lead. Its plan consists of a west tower, a four-bay nave and a four-bay chancel with a clerestory under a continuous roof, a north and south aisles and a south porch. At the east end of the north aisle is St Nicholas' chapel and at the east end of the south aisle is St Thomas' chapel. To the north of the north aisle, occupying the west four bays, is the King's Own Regiment Memorial chapel and to the east of this is the refectory and kitchen. The tower is in four stages surmounted by corner pinnacles and an embattled parapet. In the first stage is a south doorway and above this in the second stage is a four-light window. The third stage has a round window above which is a clock face. The bell openings in the fourth stage have four lights. The parapets of the aisles and nave are embattled. The south porch has two storeys with a staircase turret to the east, and crocketed pinnacles. The east window has five lights and Perpendicular tracery.

Interior
The carved choirstalls are made of oak and, dating from 1340, are the third oldest in England. Pevsner states that they are "about the most luxuriant canopies in the country". The seats have misericords, some of which have carvings. At the back of the stalls are modern embroidery panels. The carved pulpit dates from 1619. It was originally a three-decker pulpit with a canopy surmounted by a crown on a Bible. In 1999 the canopy was reinstated, using the original crown. The stone base of the font was installed in 1848 and its carved wooden cover is dated 1631. The three brass chandeliers are dated 1717. The stained glass in the east window was designed by Edward Paley and made by Wailes. On display near the south west door is a replica of an Anglian Runic Cross which was discovered in the churchyard in 1807. The original is in the British Museum. The church plate includes four flagons, a chalice and two breadholders dated 1678”“79, a small chalice presented in 1728 and a cup dated 1757.

External features
In the churchyard is a sandstone sundial dating from the late 18th century which was restored in 1894 and which is listed Grade II. Also in the churchyard and listed Grade II are the Rawlinson memorial dating from the late 18th century, and a tomb chest with a damaged marble effigy dating from the mid-19th century.

Today
The church holds the usual services of an Anglican church, the civic ceremonies of a city's parish church and occasional concerts, and the church is open for visitors. Food is served in the refectory during the summer months and in the bell tower is a bookshop. In 2010, Lancaster Priory joined the Greater Churches Group.

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