The original Saxon parish church lies buried beneath William the Conqueror’s Romanesque cathedral, consecrated in 1072. The dispossessed parishioners had the right to hold services in the Cathedral, traditionally in the Morning Chapel which is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.
The present-day congregation continues to exercise this ancient right on the Patronal Festival Day, when the choir and congregation process from the church to the Great West Doors of the Cathedral. These open, allowing the parishioners free-passage to hold Festival Evensong in the Morning Chapel. Nowadays, however, the congregation at this service numbers too many to fit into the Morning Chapel, and so the service is held in the main cathedral choir, and a visitation to the Morning Chapel is made in procession before returning back to the new church.
The present church stands on the site granted to the parishioners by Bishop Sutton c.1280. It contains fragments of the original medieval building, including one of Lincolnshire’s oldest bells (c.1350), inscribed ‘Sacra Maria Magdalene ora pro nobis’ (Holy Mary Magdalene pray for us). This bell is still rung before services, calling people to prayer as it did over six-hundred years ago.
Medieval St Mary’s formed the north side of the Chequer, a 14th-century shopping centre belonging to the Dean and Chapter. There were shop units in archways at each end of the square (one of which, Exchequergate Arch, remains), and also in the buildings on either side, including commercial premises beneath the church!
The simple late-17th century St Mary’s, rebuilt after the Civil War, can be seen on paintings in the Usher Art Gallery. The church was twice renovated and embellished by the Victorians, and the 1882 restoration by G F Bodley survives virtually intact. Modern St Mary’s is home to a lively, all-age church family. Regular Sunday worship and daily prayers sustain a ministry of Christian witness, welcome and outreach to the many people who pass by, or through, its doors each day.