St Mark's Church, Bristol

St Mark's Church is an ancient small church on the north-east side of College Green, Bristol, England, built c. 1230. Better known to mediaeval and Tudor historians as the Gaunt's Chapel, it has also been known within Bristol since 1722 as the Mayor's Chapel. It is the only church in England privately owned and used for worship by a city corporation. It was built as the chapel to the adjacent Gaunt's Hospital, now demolished, founded in 1220. Except for the west front, the church has been enclosed by later adjacent buildings, although the tower is still visible. The church contains some fine late gothic features and a collection of continental stained glass. It is designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.


In 1220 Maurice de Gaunt(d.1230), a grandson of Robert Fitzharding(d.1170), first feudal baron of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, founded a hospital, that is to say a mediaeval charitable residential institution, next to his grandfather's foundation of St Augustine's Abbey, to provide relief for the sick and poor. It was to be called the "Hospital of St Mark of Billeswyke-by-Bristol" and was housed in the Abbey's almonry. On Maurice’s death in 1230, his nephew Robert de Gournay added to its endowment, made it independent of the Abbey and placed it under the control of Maurice's brother Henry de Gaunt. It became known informally as St Mark's Hospital or Gaunt's Hospital. The church for the use of the inmates of the hospital was built around 1230, and is the only part of the buildings extant today.

Notable burials

The church contains several chest tombs. Two of these, in the south aisle chapel, are of knights which may be the church's founders, Maurice de Gaunt and Robert de Gournay. There are more for other members of the Berkeley family, to which the founders were related. The chest tomb with effigy of Miles Salley(d.1516), Bishop of Llandaff from 1500, is in the chancel, to the south side of the altar. Many other members of the Berkeley family are buried in St Augustine's Abbey, now Bristol Cathedral

  • Bishop Miles Salley(d.1516)
  • Members of the Berkeley family
  • Members of the Poyntz family, of Iron Acton, Glos.
  • Reynborn Mathew(d.1470), 2nd son of Sir David Mathew(d.1484), of Llandaff, who had married Isabel Denys, da. of Maurice Denys(d.1466) and Alice Poyntz, half-aunt of Sir Robert Poyntz(d.1520).
  • Thomas Mathew(d.pre 1470), 4th son of Sir David Mathew.
  • Mary Denys(d.1593), da. of Sir William Denys(d.1535) & last prioress of Kington St. Michael Priory, Wilts. She was bequeathed by the will of her brother Sir Walter Denys(d.1571) his second best bed at Codrington. At the time of the Dissolution of her priory in 1535 she was called by the agent of Thomas Cromwell "a faire young woman of Lacock". She died "a good olde maid, verie vertuose & godlye & is buried in the church of the Gauntes on the grene."
  • Sir Richard Berkeley(d.1604) of Stoke Gifford, whose recumbent effigy is situated to the right of the entrance door.

The following letter from Dr Layton to Thomas Cromwell was written on St Bartholomew's Day, 1535:

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1539 Sir Edward Carne(d.1561), who had acquired Ewenny Priory, Glamorgan, which he turned into his private residence, obtained the lease of Gaunt's Hospital, and acted as its treasurer, receiving its income from the many ancient bequests of lands and rents made to it. He was due to go abroad to help in arranging the ill-fated marriage of Anne of Cleves to King Henry VIII, and the revenue from the hospital was directed in the meantime to the support of his wife, Anne Denys, a daughter of Sir William Denys(d.1535) of Dyrham, Glos., by Anne Berkeley, da. of Maurice, 3rd Baron Berkeley(d.1506).Bristol Corporation objected, and in 1540 the church was purchased by Bristol Corporation. Anne's brother Sir Walter Denys(d.1571) was awarded the receivership of St Augustine's Abbey.

Queen Elizabeth's Hospital School

From 1590 to 1767 a school known as Queen Elizabeth's Hospital utilised the former hospital building next to the church and used the church as its chapel.

Huguenot use

Following the arrival of many Huguenots fled from France to Bristol in the 17th century, Bristol City Corporation allowed them to use the chapel, from 1687 to 1722.

Mayor's Chapel

In 1722 it became the official church of the Mayor and Corporation of Bristol.


The nave was built around 1230, and the south aisle around 1270–80. These parts are in the early decorated gothic style, while the rest of the church is of the later perpendicular style. The tower, constructed over the east end, was completed in 1487. The chancel, south aisle chapel and reredos are the result of rebuilding by Miles Salley(d.1516), Bishop of Llandaff, in about 1500. Another fine addition is the Poyntz chapel, built c. 1523 as a chantry chapel for Sir Robert Poyntz(d.1520) of Iron Acton, Glos., a noted supporter of King Henry VII at Bosworth. It is fan-vaulted, and the floor is covered with coloured Spanish tiles of that period. The nave's roof and another side chapel are also early 16th century. The west front, with its geometric 12-petalled rose window, was a 15th century design but was rebuilt around 1830. In 1889 John Loughborough Pearson created a new west entrance, in the gothic style.

Stained glass

In the early 19th century, Bristol Corporation took advantage of the sales of the collections of Sir Paul Baghott at Lypiatt Park and William Thomas Beckford at Fonthill Abbey to acquire an assortment of fine Continental stained glass for the church. From France there is a 15th century depiction of two saints in the East window. There is more French glass in the nave, consisting of 16th century mannerist work with grisaille, from Ecouen, and some 16th century Bible scenes. From Steinfeld Abbey in Germany there are some 16th century saints in the Poyntz chapel. In the south aisle chapel are 24 German and Flemish roundels, of the 16th or 17th c. The depiction of Thomas Becket in the south aisle, by Benjamin West in 1799, is also from Fonthill Abbey.


The church contains some fine baroque wrought iron by the Bristol blacksmith William Edney. These consist of a sword rest of 1702 and the screen and gate for the south aisle chapel, which date to 1726. These were all moved from Temple Church after it was bombed in the Bristol Blitz during World War II.

  • Parker, W.R., St Mark's or The Mayor's Chapel, Bristol (Formerly Called the Church of the Gaunts), Bristol, 1892 on-line text
  • Cartulary of St Mark's Hospital, Bristol. (1959)
  • Dugdale, Sir William. Monasticon, vol. 6, part 2, pp. 687–8


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