Foundress of St. Mary's Church and School

St.Mary's was built in 1846 by Elizabeth, Countess of Clare, at a cost of £18,000. It was designed by Joseph Hansom (of Hansom cab fame) and is regarded as one of the finest early Victorian Catholic churches in England. The beautiful stained glass windows were added between 1860 and 1880. The coats of arms of the early bishops who used St. Mary's as their base while visiting the south coast, can still be seen in the sanctuary. Two former parish priests, Mgr. John Baptist Cahill and Mgr William Cotter, also became Bishops of Portsmouth.

The church was consecrated to the glory of God and in honour of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the conversion of sinners on 21st May, 1863 by Mgr Thomas Grant, first Bishop of Southwark.

The Lady Chapel and shrine of Our Lady, built in 1893, in the south east corner of the church, contains an altar designed by Pugin, with a carving of Our Lady of Walsingham and beautiful murals of various decades of the rosary. The ceiling panels depict scenes from the Litany of Our Lady.


The Sared Heart altar (on the opposite side) was constructed in 1898 with marble and alabaster and is surrounded by stained glass windows of saints famous for their love and devotion to Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Above the sacristy door is a large painting (copy) by Reni of the Annunciation, and is a reminder that the Countess of Clare, foundress of the church, was born on the feast of the Annunciation in 1793.

There are history booklets available at the back of the church. Guided tours of the church, crypt and private chapel of the Countess of Clare every Wednesday at 11.15am in Summer. School parties / groups are given (free) guided tours by appointment. Tel. 01983 566740.

The church crypt is open on Wed, Thurs and Fridays (10.30am - 1.30pm). Entrance along the alley on the south side of the church. Here there is a charity shop, refreshments and a permanent exhibition of the development of the Christian faith on the Island from Roman times.

St. Mary's Church Crypt and Hall (Parish Centre)

The church crypt was intended as the original burial place of the Countess of Clare, but she decided instead to be buried near the Dominican Priory at Carisbrooke which she had built. The crypt, which was a chapel dedicated to St. Peter in Victorian times, is now a charity shop, tea room and mini museum, with artefacts from the past and a pictorial display of the development of the Christian faith on the Island, around the walls.


Bric-a-brac and household items to sell for charity are always appreciated. The crypt is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (10.30am - 1.30pm).

The parish centre was formerly the school until 1977 when they moved to Ampthill Road, just south of St. Cecilia's Abbey. It is available for hire. Contact the parish secretary for details. Tel. 01983 562171 Monday or Thursday mornings.

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