History

St Mary's Parish Church has a unique place in the history Barnard Castle. Founded in 1130, it sits at the heart of the town, and its story.

St Mary’s – the historic heart of Barnard Castle

St Mary’s Church has stood at the heart of Barnard Castle’s story from the very beginning. When Bernard Baliol built his stone castle here in 1130, St Mary’s Church was founded alongside it. As the castle grew, so too did St Mary’s; positioned close to the marketplace in the centre of the new town, at the crossing of its two most important roads, and opposite the castle entrance, St Mary’s was one of the first buildings visitors to the town would see. And while the castle, set high on a rocky crag, bears the stories of invasions, barons and kings, St Mary’s sits proudly in the town centre, bearing witness to the everyday life of the town and its residents, from cradle to grave, for over 800 years.

Richard III, Lord of Barnard Castle, and St Mary’s Church

The chancel arch at St Mary’s Church features the only known sculpted image of Richard’s face, and his boar badge is also carved into the building. Why? Because when Richard Duke of Gloucester was made Lord of Barnard Castle in 1474, both the castle and St Mary’s Church became of great importance to him. With his large grants of money, St Mary’s grew in size and height, flooded with light from new windows. He even planned a large religious college based at St Mary’s, with a Dean, twelve chaplains and numerous choristers.

Virtual Tours

Want to discover the history of St Mary’s Church, explore the stories hidden in its architecture, and view its sculptures in detail? From the evolution of the church building, to the strange architectural features hidden in its corners, you can download a History Guide, watch a Virtual Tour, or take a close-up look at the history of St Mary’s in our online gallery of 3D models.

History Articles

Read more about some of the most curious historical gems that have been re-discovered at St Mary's Church on our blog

How did Barnard Castle survive the Plague?

4th May 2021

In the 17th century, Britain was wracked by plague epidemics that devastated communities. When the plague arrived in Barnard Castle in 1653, the community needed to act fast to stop the disease from spreading. But how did they cope? Read more

Windows to the World – project update

Windows to the World – project update

27th April 2021

Read more

Teesdale’s Hidden Art Gallery

15th April 2021

Just 5 minutes from St Mary's, on the outskirts of Barnard Castle stands the Bowes Museum. A center for the arts with a story full of love, tragedy and a powerful dream... Read more

The Fascinating Folklore of Teesdale and Weardale

17th March 2021

Delve into the secretive and magical world of County Durham's favourite creatures and monsters. What folklore tales does this beautiful part of the world have to share? Read more

What happened to Barnard Castle’s train station?

24th February 2021

Barnard Castle flourished in the 19th century when its new railway station brought visitors from far and wide to explore all it had to offer, but where is this station now? Read more

Stained glass restoration – Step 1

13th January 2021

On a crisp January morning, another one of St Mary's beautiful stained-glass windows was removed to be restored. Immerse yourself in the scenery and maybe even learn a little something about this wonderful craft... Read more

Saving St Mary’s Stained-Glass from Ruin

1st January 2021

Hear from Jonathan Cooke as he describes the challenges of restoring St Mary's beautiful stained-glass windows over the summer of 2020. Despite the difficulties of the year, he and his son, Tristram, have worked hard to save these historical treasures from the decay of time. Read more

What did archaeologists find at St Mary’s?

21st December 2020

One of DigVentures' own field archaeologists took part in an excavation at St Mary's over the summer, but what did they uncover in the graveyard? Read more

Stained glass window

How To Make Stained Glass Windows

20th December 2020

Stained glass window-making is an art form that has been around for over 1,000 years, so how's it done? Read more

Why are there so many boars in Barnard Castle?

15th December 2020

The historic market town of Barnard Castle is dotted with carved stone boars. Perched above doors, and embedded in walls, these mysterious carvings are the distinctive mark of one England's most famous kings - Richard III. Read more

Stained Glass windows St. Mary's Barnard Castle

What happened at St Mary’s during lockdown?

25th November 2020

Vicar Alec Harding discusses the recent changes undergone at St Mary's in the summer of 2020, and highlights the wealth of heritage the church has to offer. Read more

Church building works

Building works have started

16th March 2020

Repair works have started and the clock has been stopped. Read more

Stained Glass windows St. Mary's Barnard Castle

Windows to the World

11th June 2019

Church building repairs and heritage interpretation project secures £320,500 National Lottery support. Read more

Windows to the World

St Mary’s Parish Church has partnered with DigVentures to launch Windows to the World, an interactive project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to revitalise the church.

Besides necessary restorations, the project aims at refocusing St Mary’s position in the town and turning it into a heritage destination while still keeping its purpose as a house of worship.

Windows to the World

Upcoming events

There are currently no upcoming events but they will be announced soon.