A history of St Mary's Church, Dedham
The present Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Dedham has stood as a witness to the centuries since 1492. Work started in the year that Columbus discovered America. It was completed before King Henry VIII became Defender of the Faith and before he made himself head of the Church in England.
Clergy have served here in an almost unbroken line stretching back to 1322 when they held services in a smaller one-aisled church on the site of our present Lady Chapel.
It was in this building that the celebrated Puritan Divine Matthew Newcomen who preached several times before the House of Commons at Westminster, expounded the Word of God with such ability. From the turret adjoining the porch roof, 'Roaring' John Rogers thundered the Gospel of Salvation to twelve hundred eager and expectant people gathered in the churchyard, and it was from this building that they carried the well-loved and scholarly Lecturer William Burkitt after he had collapsed at a Sunday Service, a few days before his death.
As you read the memorial plaques, appreciate the skill of those who raised the graceful arches, and think of those who carved their initials in the stonework of the columns, remember that this is more than an historic building. It is a place of prayer and a meeting-house where members of the Body of Christ still gather to worship the Living Lord.
The appearance of the building around you has changed many times through the years. Benches round the walls in early days gave way to box pews, then pine and now oak. The screen dividing the east end of the church from the main body has vanished. Balconies have been removed and the Holy Communion Table has, according to legal requirements, been turned from sideways to lengthwise and back again, carried into the body of the church and returned to the east end. Fashions and actions which reflect the thoughts of worshippers, monarchs or reformers have taken place here in plenty. In 1538, by Order of the King, every parish church in England was instructed to have 'one book of the whole Bible in English in the largest volume'. We no longer have a copy of 'The Great Bible' chained to our lectern, but if you look around you will see that you are never far from an edition of God's Word in this building. The translation may be modern, but the message is the same. You are most welcome in this place.
We hope that you will enjoy your visit and appreciate our lovely old building which has become familiar to many who have never visited it through the work of the great English landscape artist John Constable, in many of whose paintings the tower of Dedham Church may be clearly seen. Sadly, our bells cannot be pealed because the structure is not safe for that purpose, but they are chimed. Five of them were cast before 1552, one in 1675, another before the close of the seventeenth century, and the tenor in 1717.
At the heart of Dedham stands the Church. At the heart of the Church are its members, and they are those who carry out the Apostle's instruction to 'have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honour Him as Lord'. 1 Peter 3: 20 (Good News Bible).
May God Bless Your Visit.
If you want to read a detailed history of the Church use the link below to access the relevant section in "A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10: Lexden Hundred (Part) including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe (2001)".