For almost 900 years the Parish Church of Rye, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, has dominated the hill on which the old town stands. It has stood through good times and bad. In 1377 when the town was looted and set on fire by French invaders the church was extensively damaged. The roof fell in and the bells were carried off to France. They were recovered the next year when men from Rye and Winchelsea sailed to Normandy and took them back!
In 1742 a murder took place in the churchyard when Allen Grebell was killed by John Breeds who mistook him for the Mayor. John Breeds was hung and his remains placed in an iron cage on Gibbets Marsh. Later this was moved to the church and later still to the Town Hall where it is to this day. The grave of Allen Grebell can be seen in the Clare Chapel.
There are several interesting stained glass windows in the church, although none are very old. The most beautiful is by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1891) in memory of Mary Tiltman and can be seen in the North Aisle.
Today St Mary’s is a popular destination for tourists who come to see the oldest church turret clock in the country which is still functioning. It dates from 1561-2 and has an 18ft long pendulum (a much later addition) which can be seen swinging in the body of the church. The present exterior clock face and the original ‘Quarter Boys’ (so called because they strike the quarters but not the hours) were added in 1760.
The church is open daily from 9 am – 5.30pm (4.30pm in winter). The tower is also open daily and can be climbed, for a charge, to see the clock mechanism, the bells and a wonderful view of Rye and the surrounding countryside.
Regular services take place as follows:
– 8.30am. Holy Communion (Traditional)
– 10.30am. Parish Communion (Modern)1st Sunday ~ Family Service
– Thursdays: 10.00am. Holy Communion (Modern)
Parish Records: All parish records of baptism / marriage / death are kept in East Sussex County Records Office.