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Lord Mayor’s Chapel, Bristol

Originating in the 13th century, the Lord Mayor’s Chapel was then called St Mark’s having been erected by the noble Berkeley family and facing east across the estate belonging to the family. Two Crusaders are entombed inside and are said to have been the founders of the Chapel. In the couple of centuries after its establishment, the Chapel was known as an ‘almonry’, providing basic food and clothing to the medieval poor who had no other means of survival. Wealthy local barons donated tracts of land around College Green so that the friars who came to run the Chapel could grow corn and an apple orchard the better to help the privation-stricken masses. The Chapel’s reputation for tolerance and succour was expanded with the arrival of the Huguenot religious minority in the 1600s. Having been appallingly oppressed elsewhere in England and Europe, the Huguenots were permitted to use the Chapel for worship and religious rituals. Ultimately, the friars were banned from the Chapel and the building was acquired by a private corporation.
These days, the structure’s outstanding feature is St Mark’s Tower, an orange brick affair blessed with some delightful vaulted windows replete with stained glass depictions of New Testament scenes. The oak door entrance arch was added in the twentieth century in the place of a frontage porch. The sundial is in superlatively good condition and tells the time reliably when the weather is good. A recent renovation programme scraped off a good deal of plaster from the facade which happily revealed a large number of handsome fifteenth century stone carvings, many of them Crusader-like figures with beards.

The contemporary name ‘Lord Mayor’s Chapel’ came into being during the Victorian epoch when Sir Herbert Ashman became Lord Mayor of Bristol. J L Pearson is very much the architectural hero of the Lord Mayor’s Chapel. He is credited with designing the new transept and north cloister both of which were installed between 1888 and 1890. These stand out as the most distinguished aspects of the modern appearance of the building and Pearson is rightly revered as a design genius.

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