Porch


The inner porch was added to the church in 1884 by Mgr. J.B. Cahill. The two figureheads of the angels supporting the arch represent the angels guarding the portals of the church. Above the notice board you will see an interesting and rare set of stain glass, lancet windows showing the seven Sacraments of the Church. St. Mary's is one of the few churches in England where stained glass depicts these Sacraments. From right to left they portray Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Penance (Confession), Extreme Unction (Anointing of sick), Holy Orders and Matrimony. These windows were installed by Bishop Cahill in memory of his brother, Fr. Thomas Cahill, who died in 1876, and is buried with his two brother-priests in Ryde Cemetery.


Below these lancet windows the names of all the priests who have served this parish are recorded on the notice board.


To the left of this window (in the corner) is the statue of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven and Mother of Christ, with her rosary, reminding those who enter that the Church is dedicated to "Our Blessed Lady". As you leave the church there is a set of five stained glass windows in the outer porch opposite the holy water stoup. These depict the four apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John listening to Our Lord as He instructs them to go forth and preach the gospel. This is a reminder as we leave the church to spread the Good News that we have heard during Mass.


Countess of Clare's Private Chapel


This Chapel is above the sacristy and access for the Countess was originally up a spiral staircase (now removed) from the courtyard between the presbytery and the crypt. Access can now only be gained through the adjacent Convent. It was here that the Countess of Clare would hear Mass with her servants and be able to see the priest at the high altar, in the pulpit and seated at the sedilia. At other times she would recite the rosary, study the bible and make her private devotions. The original stone altar has been replaced with a wooden table but the tabernacle is the original. The stone tablets on the wall record her death and that of her companion, Charlotte Elliot. The stained glass windows depict St. John the Baptist, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and the death of St. Dominic. The statue of Our Lady (recently restored) belonged to the Countess. The framed picture of Cardinal John Henry Newman reminds us that he was welcomed here in Sept. 1865 by the Countess and used this chapel to say his office and for his private devotions and meditation. There are various artefacts on display, which belonged to the Countess; her rosary beads, offertory purses and a priest's stole which she gave to Fr. Telford on the occasion of the consecration of the church in 1863. Her obituary (taken from the Isle of Wight Observer) can be seen on the chapel wall. Masses are celebrated here only occasionally on the anniversary of her birth and death. It was originally known as the loft chapel and later as St. Elizabeth's Chapel (after the Countess.) For more detail on the chapel one can purchase the book on the "Life of the Countess of Clare".


The Crypt


Access to the crypt is via the passageway on the south side of the church. It is now a Tea room, Charity shop and mini - museum and is usually open on Wed, Thurs and Fridays (10-30 to 1-30.) This was the original school room and was for many years used simply for storage. Renovation work carried out both by Fr. Dunne and Fr. Buckley, successfully converted this area for use by the parish as a meeting place, with a small display of historical items from the church's history. Unwanted household items and bric-a-brac are also sold for charity. An interesting relic from the past is the original diamond shaped church notice board and a display cabinet with items largely donated by the Countess of Clare such as a painting of Pius IX, elected Pope only a few days after St. Mary's was opened in June, 1846; silver candlesticks and a crucifix, silver cruet set, thurible and a Bishop's burgia (candleholder). Also there is Bishop Cahill's tonsure cap. The old Roman missal and altar cards on the wall remind us of the time when Mass was said in Latin.


The inner crypt area is immediately underneath the sanctuary and was originally known as St. Peter's Chapel in memory of the tomb of St. Peter beneath the Vatican, which left such a lasting impression on the Countess when she visited it in 1841. It was here beneath the floor tiles in the centre of the crypt that the Countess had a brick-lined grave excavated for her, and where Mass would be said for the repose of her soul. However, the Intra-Mural Act (1860) was to prohibit her wish and instead she decided to be buried the Dominican Convent at Carisbrooke which she built in 1866 and where the nuns would pass her grave every day and be able to pray for their Foundress. The floral display on the window is identical to the arrangement of flowers that was placed on her coffin when she died in 1879. To emphasise the connection between St. Mary's and the Dominican Priory at Carisbrooke, part of the original altar frontal from the Priory is also on display.


Around the walls there are eight display boards giving a pictorial account of the development of the faith from St. Wilfrid who brought Christianity to the Island in the 7th century, up until the present day.


Church Exterior


Stand on the opposite side of the High Street to obtain the best view of the gothic style of this church. The main (west) door entrance with a Latin inscription over the arch recording the foundation of the church by the Countess of Clare is a typical early English design, profusely ornate with impressive stone carved clustered shafts and mouldings (similar to the entrance to Holy Trinity Church in Dover St.) and the Countess' coronet above. The black iron railings at one time extended all along the front of the church but as in many other places, they were taken away in the war for ammunition. Local rag stone was used by the builder, with Caen stone dressings which were replaced in the 1880s by the more durable Portland stone. On 10th May 1880 Fr. Cahill (Rector) climbed the scaffolding to the top of the steeple to bless and place the new weather vane in position. At the same time the carved stone statue of Our Lady was added in the canopied niche and two stone plaques of St. Raphael with Tobias and the Annunciation were set into the stonework.


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