St Michael’s Mere is an unusually interesting example of an English country parish church – the people who worshipped in it over the centuries have left their mark in the stone, wood, stained glass and brass of its fabric.
In normal times, the church is open every day of the year from 9am to 5pm for private prayer and for viewing, later during the summer. We invite everyone to sign the visitor’s book and leave any comments and – if so moved – a donation to help us maintain this beautiful building.
The church is tucked away in a quiet part of town surrounded by cottages of Mere stone. The 15th century tower looks down on a churchyard with 12 yew trees clipped in the shape of skittles and known as the 12 Apostles. Entry is through the 14th century north porch door, over which in a niche is a statue of St Michael defeating the serpent, dating from about 1160, with faint traces of colour.
There is a record of a church in Mere in 1091. It is possible that the rough masonry wall of the tower facing into the nave and pierced now by an arch of about 1450 dates from this 11th century building. South of the arch at a high level is a piece of charred timber protected by glass. This is thought to be a part of the original wall plate and so marks the width of the Saxon church.
In the middle of the 15th century, the nave was rebuilt and a clerestory added. On the north side, the clerestory windows are ‘blind’ but otherwise matching those on the south side. The nave ceiling panels were put in in 1998. The eastern ones, painted red and green, were part of an 1895 roof restoration. All the roof bosses are late 19th century, but the angels on the wall plates, bearing emblems of the passion and rising out of stylised clouds, date from the 15th century, though much restored.
The 17th century pews
The pews date from 1640, being the work of William Walter of Maiden Bradley. They house a colourful collection of hassocks made by parishioners between 1974 and 2000.
The rood screen
An intricately-carved 15th century wooden rood screen dominates the eastern end of the nave, and above it, an 1898 rood beam supporting a Christ figure in the centre and St John and Our Lady on each side.
The chancel was built in the 13th century and has choir stalls with 15th century panels on their fronts. The back stalls have seats with carved misericords: those on the south side are 15th century originals, those on the north are 20th century copies.
The south aisle
The south aisle was widened in the late 14th century to align with the South Chantry Chapel which had been founded in 1325. The line of the earlier roof can be seen in the eastern wall of this aisle. In 1712 the wall between the nave and south aisle had become unsafe and was rebuilt. The aisle roof dates from restoration work done to various parts of the church in 1856.
The 15th century font on a 19th century base was formerly under the tower but now stands in the south aisle. This is quite appropriate as well into the 19th century there was a pew here for the “Churching of Women” service. This supports the theory based on early churchwardens’ accounts that here also was an altar dedicated to “Our Lady in Childbirth”. The figure in the upper niche is of “Our Lady great with child” by the sculptress Grete Berlin.
Other wall features
The piscina in the south wall as well as the sad remnant of a fine 13th century niche was uncovered in the early years of the 20th century. Behind the font is an engraved window of 1983 by John Finnie depicting the induction of the Revd. Ben Elliot to the parish in 1981.
St Matthew’s Chapel (south aisle, to the right of the chancel)
The fine oak screen is contemporary with the 15th century chancel screen. Known variously as the Bettesthorne, Berkeley or Grove chapel, it was founded in 1325 by John of Mere that Mass might be said for the soul of Queen Margaret, the second wife of Edward I and for the souls of John of Mere and his wife. In the floor is a brass of Sir John Bettesthorne.
Its patronage passed from John of Mere to Roger Bettesthorne and, by marriage of his great granddaughter, to the Berkeleys with whom it remained until the Reformation when it passed to the Chafyn and Grove families.
During 2004, the Church of St Matthew to the South side of Mere was closed, and the congregation was invited to join worship at St Michael’s. Several items of furniture were brought to this church and placed in the South Chapel, which was rededicated to St Matthew.