History of St Thomas and St Edmund's Church
The current parish in the heart of the city of Salisbury was formed in 1973 by the joining of the 2 city Parishes of St Edmund’s and St Thomas’s. The church of St Edmund was then made redundant and became the Salisbury Arts Centre.
The parish virtually covers the city centre. It comprises shops, offices and service businesses, but also has areas of residential property. The population of the parish is about 4,500 and we have an average Sunday attendance of approximately 200 people.
Our links with the civic community are very strong – the annual mayor-making occurs in the church each June. Other major civic services are often held in the church.
In one of our recent Praying for the Parish meetings, we focussed upon our buildings and how we use them in sharing the love of God to our community. Click here to read the prayers. Please join with us in praying about how we can care for and utilise our buildings as God wants us to. If you would like to support us, please click here to find out more information.
The Church of St Thomas a Becket stands in its own square at the north end of the High Street, a few hundred metres from the Cathedral Close. Its site lays claim to the first active place of worship in New Sarum prior to the building of the Cathedral, but most of its fabric dates from the fifteenth century. It is a handsome, light building with a high roof, and a bell tower housing 8 bells, which are regularly rung before services.
Please feel free to come in and enjoy the building which has nearly 250 representations of angels on the roofs, walls and pillars.
Our Parish Centre is at St Thomas's House next to the church. We have a lovely room, well equipped kitchen and garden which are available for hire for business meetings, training, lectures, receptions & private gatherings. For further information, please click here to see our latest prices. For bookings email our Parish Office.
Disabled access - there is full disabled access to all public areas of the church with an automatic door, ramps and disabled toilet.
A few highlights are:
The Doom Painting above the chancel arch is a powerful feature drawing many visitors. It is believed to be the largest such painting in England and was painted in 1475 as a thank-offering for a safely returned pilgrim.
The painting was white-washed over in 1593 and was re-discovered in 1819, but not restored until 1881. It was restored in 1953. Please click on the links below for a fuller description of the painting and its history.
On 15th February 2012 John Chandler gave an interesting lecture on the Doom Painting entitled 'The Damned Bishop'. This refers to the image of a bishop in the painting who is being dragged to hell and not to any living person! To read the full text of the talk, please click here.
Medieval Wall Paintings. This set of 3 paintings from the late 15th century are found in the Lady Chapel and show the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Adoration of the Magi. It is thought that there may have been a second set on the opposing wall, but no trace of these remains. The pictures are surrounded by pictures of pots of lillies which are commonly associated with the Virgin Mary. There are also pictures of the badge of the Order of the Garter as the Bishop of Salisbury at the time of the painting was the Chancellor of the Order.
Funeral Hatchments - there is a complete set of 17th and 18th century funeral hatchments in the church. They display the painted coat of arms against a black background of the families from both St Thomas and St Edmund parishes. They are hung by one corner and would have been placed on the front of the deceased’s house to inform others that the family was in mourning. After the burial they would have been moved into the church.
The Book of Remembrance was created by the Mayor of Salisbury’s Appeal in 2003-4 to commemorate those from Salisbury who died in the service of their country since 1914. The pages are turned daily. There is a second book in the drawer underneath the Book, which can be perused by the public for their own researches.
South Churchyard. We have a burial area in our South Churchyard which includes gravestones and a Cremated Remains Area. This has all been documented and a plan of the South Churchyard can be found here. We only have data for cremations since 1961 and a few tombstones from 19th century. Since 1994, remains are interred in the Cremated Remains Area which is a communal grassed area in front of the holly tree between the gravestones and the entrance path. There is a large communal memorial stone, however no individual memorials are allowed.
For more information on researching local history, contact:
We have a photo tour of St Thomas's Church available: Photos taken by John Bennett
St Edmund’s church closed as a place of worship in 1974. The Parish of St Edmund was joined to St Thomas’s parish and the vicar of St Thomas became the Rector of the new Benefice. Atthe end of the 1970s St Edmund's Church became the Salisbury Arts Centre.
The history of St Edmund’s church is woven into the history of Salisbury. From its earliest years, Salisbury was planned to be a university city with two colleges – the College of De Vaux in the liberty of the Cathedral and the College of St Edmund of Abingdon on the northern side of the new city.
Bishop Walter de la Wyle founded this college in 1269 for a provost and thirteen priests whose duties included the service of a parish and so the collegiate church of St Edmund was founded. Of this building nothing remains, and what we see today is a later 15th century chancel which in turn became the nave, with a Victorian extension to form a new chancel.
In 1653 the central tower collapsed, demolishing the 13th century nave and unusually for the time of the Commonwealth, a new tower was built with a new west wall and the building became much as we see it today. During the time of the Civil War, St Edmund’s was more disposed to the cause of the Parliamentarians and perhaps this aided the rebuilding of the new tower after its collapse in 1653. St Thomas was more sympathetic to the Royalist cause and did not fare well during that period of history.
Like many churches in England during the 17th and 18th centuries, St Edmund’s church gradually fell into a poor state of repair. In the 19th century it was extensively restored and it was at this time that most of the stained glass windows that we see today were installed. After its closure, the organ from the church was installed in Amesbury Parish church .
The nave altar used today in St Thomas’s church came from St Edmund’s and is believed to be 17th century in origin.
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