St. Mary's Catholic Parish, which was built and endowed by Elizabeth Georgina Burrell, Countess of Clare (1844-46), is one of the finest early Victorian Catholic churches in the south of England and one of the oldest in the Portsmouth Diocese. It was designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom (of Hansom cab fame), and built by Thomas Dashwood of Ryde, who also built Holy Trinity Church in Dover Street. St. Mary's is one of the Foundation Churches of the Diocese; at one time being used as the Pro-Cathedral before St. John's at Portsmouth was completed. In fact the first ordination for the Diocese, that of Fr. Pierce William Greene, took place at St. Mary's on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, 29th June, 1883.

The church was commonly known as the "Basilica"; partly because of its grandeur in the mid nineteenth century, when the few Catholic Churches that existed were small and modest by comparison. It was also inspired by the Countess of Clare's visit to Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome, for her first High Mass as a Catholic on the feast of the Birthday of Our Lady in 1841. She was said to be so impressed with the basilica that she decided that when she returned home to Ryde, she would build a church dedicated to Our Lady.

St. Mary's (in the Southwark Diocese until 1882) was used as a southern base, particularly by Bishop Grant in the 1850s and 1860s when travelling around such a large Diocese was such an onerous task. The coats of arms of the early Bishops of Southwark and Portsmouth can still be seen on the north wall of the sanctuary.


The brief history above and the guide below will allow you to walk around the church and stop at each area of particular interest.

Part 1 - The Nave, The Baptistery and The South Aisle
Part 2 - Shrine of Our Lady and Sanctuary
Part 3 - Organ and Bell Tower, Sacred Heart Chapel, and The North Aisle
Part 4 - Porch, Countess of Clare's Private Chapel, The Crypt and Church Exterior

Parish Information

There are five (canonically established) parishes on the Island:

  1. Ryde (St. Mary’s, Ryde, Holy Cross, Seaview and St. Michael’s, Bembridge)
  2. South Wight (Sacred Heart, Shanklin, St. Patrick’s, Sandown and St. Wilfrid’s, Ventnor)
  3. Cowes (St. Thomas of Canterbury)
  4. East Cowes (St. David’s)
  5. Newport and Totland (St. Thomasof Canterbury, Newport and St. Saviours, Totland Bay)

Our own parish consists of most of the north east of the Island encompassing not only the town of Ryde but Wootton and Havenstreet in the West and St. Helens and Bembridge in the east.

As you look through the pages below, you will be aware of the many small groups and societies in the parish, quietly working on a voluntary basis to help promote prayer life and the Catholic Faith.

The Parish Council - Council members, committees and information on the Parish office
Societies - Societies that seek to preserve and promote aspects of Catholicism on the Island
Primary School - St. Mary's primary school
Other Institutions - Religious institutions within St. Mary's and its daughter churches

Contacts - A contact list for Parish groups / societies

There is much happening here in Ryde which gives witness to the Faith and for the spiritual development of everyone in the parish. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your work and commitment to parish life and we urge you to continue to support as many parish events and activities as you possibly can.

Further Reading

The Countess of Clare - A short account of the Foundress of St. Mary's Church and School
Patron of the Isle of Wight - The story of St. Wilfrid, Patron of the Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight Martyrs - The story of blessed Robert Anderton and blessed William Marsden
First Fridays of the Month - The significance of the First Friday of every month
John Baptist Cahill - A little biography of one of Ryde's two Catholic Bishops
William Timothy Cotter - A little biography of another of Ryde's two Catholic Bishops
John Telford - The story of Ryde's first resident priest who built St. Mary's Church
The Five First Saturdays - An explanation of the devotions for "The Five First Saturdays"

Bishops, Rectors, Priests and Cemetery - A compilation of Bishops with responsibility for Isle of Wight, a list of past and current rectors and parish priests, and a list of priests buried in the Ryde cemetery