St Mary’s Church
The only parish church in the country to have retained its complete set of medieval stained glass windows.
In the 1490’s a local wool merchant named John Tame added the present church onto an earlier tower built by the fifth Earl of Warwick earlier in the 15th century. The structure of Tame’s church has remained virtually unchanged to the present day. The screens were added in the early part of the 16th century by his son, Sir Edmund Tame, and bear the symbol of Catherine of Aragon – a pomegranate.
The stalls in the Chancel, with their misericords, were probably made in the time of Edward I (1272-1307) for Cirencester Abbey and taken from there to Fairford after the dissolution of the monastery in 1539. Henry VIII must have attended the Church on the saint’s day which occurred during his stay in Fairford in 1520; his attention would have been drawn to the Prince of Wales’ feather and motto which had been included five times in the windows as a compliment to either his elder brother, Prince Arthur who died in 1502, or to Henry himself.
The windows illustrate the Christian faith as in the pages of a picture book. They were made under the direction of the King’s glazier at Westminster, Barnard Flower, and the designs of some have been taken from the Biblia Pauperum – an early printed book. At least a score of glaziers worked on the glass, some English, some Flemish. Their portrayals of the devils in the West Window and also in the clerestory, above the persecutors of the church are intriguing. The windows escaped destruction by the Puritans during the Civil War but the great west window was severely damaged by a storm in 1703.
They were removed in 1939 for the duration of the war. Corrosion and some loss of detail of the glass have been taking place for nearly 500 years and have probably been much more serious in the last 50 years. In 1987 it was decided that the glass must be cleaned and protected, the work undertaken by Mr. Keith Barley at an expected cost of around £500,000.
In 1988 the first window was treated. By the year 2000 the project was three-quarters of the way to completion. The Friends of Fairford Church assumed responsibility for fund-raising. Much of the large sum needed has come from local people, some has come in the form of grants from various organisations and latterly, the Heritage Lottery Fund. See the Fairford History Society website for more details on the Windows. and the Church.