15th & 16th century
The present church was built in the 15th century and included, in 1460, the completion of the fine Beer stone screen between the chancel and the nave, for which St Mary’s today is particularly notable. In 1534, Henry VIII declared himself head of the English church. The Priory was dissolved and many of the church’s decorative features were destroyed, including the smashing of the
carved images on the beautiful stone screen.
In Saxon times, Totnes was an important town and so a church probably existed at that time. What we do know for certain is that in 1088, after the Normans had conquered Britain, the church was presented to the Benedictine Monastery at Angers, France, and in 1259 a new Totnes church was consecrated by the Bishop of Exeter. The monks had a separate chapel for worship, on land to the north and east.
The church survived the vandalism. The brass candelabra was installed in 1701 to light the nave and the north chapel. This can be seen in all its glory in December, when all the candles are lit for the annual carol service. The bells were recast in 1732 and, most significantly, in 1861 the original 1546 organ was replaced by the notable present-day fine Willis organ from the 1851 Great Exhibition.
In 1867 the Victorians began work on the restoration and reordering of the church under the architect Sir George Scott. The north aisle was extended, a new improved gallery was added and the corporation seats, which had been sited at the front of the church, were moved to the back.
21st century & beyond...
St Mary’s Church at that time was adapted to be fit for purpose for the next hundred years or so. Now, once again, the challenge is upon us to restore and renew this significant historic building at the heart of the town in order that it can serve the people of Totnes and all who will visit her throughout and beyond the 21st century.