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St Martin's Cathedral

Although St Martin's is one of England's smallest cathedrals, it is not without beauty. Long regarded as Leicester's civic church, it was elevated to the status of a
Cathedral on the reconstitution of the Leicestershire Diocese in 1927.

Now dedicated to St Martin, the missionary bishop of Tours (c.1400), in medieval documents the church is sometimes referred to as the Church of St Cross. St Martin's has always been the civic church of the town, situated as it is near the Guildhall,
which for over three hundred years served as the Town Hall.

Roman foundations were found when the tower was rebuilt in 1861. Although it is not known to what use the Roman building was put, it can be conjectured that it may have been a pagan temple on the site of which a Saxon Christian church was erected.

The oldest part of the present structure is a short section of a Romanesque stringcourse in the eastern end of the north side of the north arcade to the nave and, necessarily, part of the wall in which it is embedded. This is probably a survival
of the ornamentation on the outside of an aisleless Romanesque nave.

Pre-Reformation Ceremonies

In the thirteenth century the nave was rebuilt with an aisle on either side. During
the next hundred years the second south aisle was added.

It is known that at least two gilds had chapels in St Martins - St George (in the
present St George’s Chapel) and the Corpus Christi Gild, which was founded in 1343
(at the east end of the south aisle where the Consistory Court now sits). This altar
must have been very big for the churchwardens accounts of 1550-51 tell us that it
took two men a week to remove it.

The main object of the gilds, which were dissolved at the time of the Reformation
was to say masses for the souls of both living and deceased members, chantry priests being employed for that purpose. On the annual feast day of the saint after whom the gild was dedicated, the members would process through the town in their brightly coloured robes. The most spectacular of these processions would have been that of
the Gild of St George who had a life-size figure of the saint on horseback that
they wheeled through the streets, the Riding of the George as it was called. In 1547
the ‘horse that George rode on’ was sold to one Henry Mayblay for the sum
of one shilling [5p].

An Unusual Wedding

On 5 February 1576 an unusual wedding took place in St Martins. The Parish
Register tells us that Ursula Russel was married to one Thomas Tilsye who, because
he was deaf and dumb,

instead of words used these signes: first he embraced her with his armes, and took
her by the hande, putt a ringe upon her finger, and layed his hande upon his hearte, and then upon her hearte; and held up his hands toward heaven; and to shewe his continuance to dwell with her to his lyves ende, he did it by closing of his eyes with
his hands, and digginge out of the earth with his foote, and pullinge as though he would ring a bell, with diverse other signes approved.

Royal Visitor

On Sunday 10 August 1634, King Charles II attended Divine Service at St Martin's while on a visit to Leicester. Several rows of seats having to be removed to make way for the erection of the King’s throne. When the vicar gave out the 52nd Psalm, the words of which, whether by accident or design, appeared to be singularly
appropriate to the occasion:

"Why dost thou, tyrant, boast thyself, thy wicked works to praise".

This appeared to the king to be a home thrust, so his Majesty stood up and called
for the 56th Psalm, which begins with the words:

"Have mercy, Lord, on me I pray, for man would me devour".

Civil War

In 1645 the church did not escape the violence and destruction that accompanied
the Siege of Leicester during the Civil Wars. The church was broken into and the door locks had to be mended, having been broken by the King’s Army. Although many of
the Royalist forces that were killed during the Siege were buried in the churchyard there is no record of any of their names.

Nineteenth Century Restoration

During the 19th century, like so many churches in England, St Martin's underwent extensive restoration. In 1846 the brothers Raphael and Joshua Brandon were appointed church architects. However, Joshua died the following year and was buried
in the church sanctuary.

  • 1846-48: The south aisles reroofed. The east part of the chancel and the clerestory rebuilt.
  • 1849: New font
  • 1851-52: New reredos, new corbels to the outer south aisle, new west window, stained glass put into east window.
  • 1861-62: The tower was rebuilt and the north porch renovated.
  • 1864: The east end of the church was decorated by C J Lea of Lutterworth.
  • 1865The north and south chapels rebuilt
  • 1867: The spire was rebuilt.
  • 1879: A five-light window was put in the east end of the south aisle in memory of Raphael Brandon.
  • 1880: G E Street restored the north aisle and porch.
  • 1896-97: The south porch was built by J C Pearson as a memorial to the Vaughan family.

Visit the:

Index of Monuments

North Aisle
North Transept
St Katharine's or the Herrick Chapel
St Dunstan's Chapel
Inner South Aisle
South Aisle
St George's Chapel

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