About this church
The name 'Oteri Sancte Marie' is first mentioned in 1242. The town takes its name from the River Otter and the fact that the town belonged to Rouen Cathedral. With its glorious church and picturesque buildings, Ottery St Mary has given inspiration to Coleridge, Thackeray and JK Rowling.
The church is largely the work of John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter (1312-1369), who built it in 1342, as a Collegiate Church, along the lines of Exeter Cathedral. The north Dorset aisle was added about 1520, but there have been no additions since. Most of the peripheral buildings, including the cloisters, have long since gone after the College of Priests was dissolved by decree of King Henry VIII in 1545.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner has described the building as ‘lying large and low like a tired beast’. It is 163 feet long, and the towers are just 71 feet high. It was consecrated in 1260, when the manor and patronage of the church belonged to Rouen Cathedral, as it had from before the Norman invasion of 1066.
St Mary’s is noted for its beautiful painted ceiling and early 16th century fan vaulted aisle, known as the Dorset Aisle. There are also beautiful misericords dating from 1350, five of which are carved with the arms of Bishop John de Grandisson. The church also has a medieval carved eagle lectern and two medieval carved stone green men.
The south transept houses the Ottery St Mary Astronomical Clock, one of the oldest surviving mechanical clocks in the country. It is commonly attributed to Bishop Grandisson and adheres to Ptolemaic cosmology with the Earth at the centre of the solar system. The transept has lovely mosaic tiling, the work of William Butterfield. The marble font elsewhere in the church is also by him.
The town was the birthplace of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet who penned The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. There is a small plaque to him in the church. Today, it is known to a generation of Harry Potter readers as Ottery St Catchpole.