Early St. Mary’s
There has been a church here for centuries. The striking elevated site above the River Thames suggests that the first church was built on the site of an older, pre-Christian place of worship. The early Christian buildings were probably of wattle and daub construction, susceptible to fire. Traditionally the first stone church on this site was said to have been built by St Ermingeld (Erminildis) in 685A.D. Ermingeld was a nun at Minster in Sheppey, which had been founded by her mother Sexburga. She was enshrined at Ely where she had been Abbess.
The earliest written evidence of a church building is dated 1179 but the Domesday Book of 1068 records that the Vicarage of Staines was held by the abbey of St Peter, that is, Westminster Abbey. The vicar held his tenure by providing two large candles for the altar of St Mary at Westminster to be lit on the eve of Epiphany. Since the reign of Henry VIII the appointment has been invested in the Lord Chancellor.
Little is known of the physical appearance of the medieval church, although later engravings offer some clues. As was customary in many churches, St Mary’s had a number of altars dedicated to particular saints. In 1456 Henry VI granted a licence for the establishment of the Fraternity of the Nativity of our Lady. There were many such fraternities at this time. They would provide practical help for one another as well as, in the case of this fraternity, a chantry in the chapel of the Holy Cross. A copy of the royal charter is on display.
The Current Building
Staines was on the front page of The Mirror in 1820s after a large part of the church had collapsed one Sunday morning. A new church building for the parish of Staines was begun after a Private Act of Parliament was passed allowing the remains to be blown up with powder. It was then, in 1827 that the last Saxon remains of the early St Mary’s disappeared. The present church was begun in 1828. The architect was John Burges Watson.