The restoration work at St Mary the Virgin Parish Church at Wirksworth
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Why Wirksworth’s historic famous landmark is one well worth preserving
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church at Wirksworth stands grandly like a cathedral in its own close, and is widely recognised as being one of the finest historic churches in the county.
Dating from the 13th century, the building is listed Grade I and stands at the heart of the historic market town in its circular churchyard, which is thought to have been the site of Christian worship since about 650 AD.
Chief among its many monuments are the famous depiction of ‘T’owd man’, a lead miner complete with his pick and wisket (wooden basket), and the intricately-carved Anglo-Saxon coffin lid in the north wall of the nave, which shows scenes from the life of Christ.
The maintenance of a Grade I building on the scale of St Mary’s is obviously very challenging, requiring considerable financial and human resources. Recent capital work undertaken at St Mary’s centred on removal of the existing lead roof over the nave, from the west front to the tower.
The most recent condition survey in 2016 identified the need for the lead covering to the large roof of the nave to be renewed, it having developed a number of small holes, plus failing joints. The lead on the nave was laid in about 1923. Heavy rainfall necessitated the use of several buckets to collect the rainwater through the leaking roof.
The lead has been recast and re-laid by a specialist contractor using traditional skills, so the nave roof is now made sound again, protecting the heritage below, including ‘t’owd man’, for decades to come.
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St Mary’s is now busily fundraising for their roof repair, which has just been completed. Most has been paid for by a National Lottery grant, but the Parochial Church Council still needs to raise £10,000 as part of their match-funding.
In addition to its primary function as a place of Christian worship and a place for events such as baptisms, marriages and funerals, it hosts numerous largely secular activities, including winter weekly lunches, a summer children’s holiday club, orchestral concerts, choral concerts, organ recitals, drama presentations, illustrated talks and interpretive tours.
St Mary’s place at the heart of the community is perhaps best illustrated by an annual ceremony of ‘clypping’, when it is ringed by people joining together holding hands to embrace it. This symbolic community event marks the beginning of the annual arts festival, when the building becomes a major venue for art displays, music and drama.
St Mary’s is very clearly ‘owned’ by the people of Wirksworth, as befits a building that has been at the heart of its community for more than 300 years.
More information on the current fundraising initaitive can be found at bit.ly/StMarysWirksworth