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Ottery St. Mary
St. Mary's Church


Sitting on a hill, above the small town of Ottery, is a miniature version of Exeter Cathedral: a very friendly place to visit. Though the bulk of the choir and transepts date from around 1280, the parish church was completed transformed into what we see toady by Bishop John Grandisson in 1337. He had purchased the site for the founding of a College of Ecclesiastical Canons and wished their place of worship to simulate exactly the Cathedral he was building in the nearby city of Exeter. His little figure can still be seen on the central boss of the beautifully painted vaulting under the crossing. The arms of his sister, Katherine, are to be seen throughout the nave and the matching canopied monuments below remember his brother, Odo, and the latter's wife, Beatrice.

The Church is full of interest. The choir is stunning. The painted altar screen is original, but the statues modern. A highly pinnacled sedilia sits to the right and a good, though somewhat rustic, 16th century tomb to the left. The Lady Chapel behind is quite delightful and the elegant stone minstrels' gallery, a rare survival. The corbels depict more members of Bishop Grandisson's family and the wooden eagle lectern is that commissioned for the same man in 1337. The choir stalls are of similar date, but there is also a fine pre-Raphaelite altar-screen depicting the annunciation in mosaic-work. A ledger stone at the entrance remembers the parents of Coleridge, the famous poet, who was born in the town.

The great Ottery Clock, in the south transept, is also attributed as a present of Bishop Grandisson. One of only four pre-Copernican clocks in the country, it clearly shows the sun moving round the earth and marks the phases of the moon as well as the hours of the day and night.

The only later part of the church is the north 'Dorset Aisle,' erected, with its excellent fan vaulting, around 1520 through the munificence of Cecily Grey, Marchioness of Dorset, who lived at nearby Shute Barton. Look closely at the well-carved capitals to find the owl rebus of the Bishop of Exeter, Hugh Oldham, and the very early portrayal of an elephant.

The canons finally left in 1545, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the college buildings were handed over to the town under the watchful eyes of four church governors. The cloisters and chapter house have been torn down, but associated houses remain in the surrounding street known as "The College".

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