Coventry - St Mary and St Benedict

Hood Street, Hillfields, Coventry CV1

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A small urban church in the Early English Gothic Revival style, built to serve the second oldest mission in Coventry. It retains several original furnishings such as the pulpit, high altar, reredos and font. Lady Gwendeline Petre of Whitley Abbey was a benefactress. The church has a 1970s narthex with dalle-de-verre stained glass. It is a building of local architectural and historical interest.

In 1861, St Mary’s Convent was established by the Sisters of Mercy in Raglan Street, who also set up a school on the site. Their chapel was open for public Sunday Mass. In 1889, the mission was founded from St Osburg’s parish. The first mission priest was Rev. Placid Rea OSB (d.1915) who in 1891 acquired a plot of land beside the convent. The architect Thomas Richmond Donnelly had already prepared plans for a church and presbytery in July 1890, with a tower over a baptistery and side aisle (both remained unexecuted). On 9 February 1893 the foundation stone for the present church was laid by the Bishop of Birmingham. This was opened on 21 November 1893 in the presence of Cardinal Vaughan. The architect was again Thomas Richmond Donnelly and the builder C. Gray Hill, Coventry. The cost was about £4,500. The building included a chantry for the nuns, which connected the church to the convent. The high altar and reredos (designed by Donnelly and made by A. B. Wall of Cheltenham), the tabernacle and a statue of the Virgin Mary were the gift of Lady Gwendeline Petre (1836-1910) of Whitley Abbey. Lady Petre was involved in the fundraising for the church, hosting in 1894 ‘a rural fête and village fair’ at Whitley Abbey. In 1910, her funeral took place in the church.

The church was built in 1893 from designs by T. R. Donnelly. The west narthex was added in 1975-6 by Rayner & Fedeski. The current two-storey Lady Chapel appears to be part of the church, rather than part of the earlier convent. The south porch with adjoining confessionals to Hood Street was added during the interwar period.

The church is a small brick church in the Early English style with Bath stone dressings and slate roofs. The plan is oblong, comprising an unaisled nave, three-sided apse, side chapels, south porch and west narthex. The west elevation has a circular window with plate tracery and two lancets flanking the pitched roof of the central portion of the narthex. The three-sided apse has twin lancets on the outer faces and a carved stone cross with the Marian monogram and lilies on the central face. The Sacred Heart chapel to the south has a circular window with four quatrefoils. The two-storey Lady Chapel has plain oblong windows to the street, but cusped windows to the side and rear.

The narthex has a central dalle-de-verre window of the Virgin and Child, as well as five other abstract dalle-de-verre windows. The original octagonal font (T. R. Donnelly, 1894) of Caen stone stands in the narthex (its original oak cover has been replaced).

The six-bay nave has a panelled hammerbeam roof of pitch pine. Under the organ gallery are the former baptistery and the gallery stair. The organ was built by F. W. Burns & Son of Nuneaton in 1898. The side windows have plate tracery of two cusped lights below a quatrefoil. A crucifix hangs from the moulded chancel arch. On either side of the arch are Gothic canopied niches with statues – one of which is the statue of the Virgin Mary given by Lady Petre in 1893. To the north of the chancel arch is the circular pulpit (1894, T. R. Donnelly) with carved lily panels of Caen stone, colonnettes of green Italian marble, an alabaster cornice and a stem of red Devonshire marble. (The Caen stone portions are now painted.)

The apse has carved timber panelling on either side of the reredos. The main reredos panel comprises an arch of pierced tracery framing a relief of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. The arch is supported on twin marble colonnettes. In the spandrels above the arch are painted angels. Below the relief are an inscription (‘Ave Maria…’) and a sculpted curtain. The original tabernacle has been much simplified. The altar of marble and alabaster has been moved forward in a post-Vatican II reordering. The central panel of the altar frontal depicts the Annunciation; it is flanked by Marian monograms. The two groups of apse windows have rere-arches on coloured marble colonnettes. Above the reredos hangs a timber canopy. Arches with two arched openings under a carved quatrefoil lead from the sanctuary into the side chapels.

The Sacred Heart Chapel has a mosaic floor, a statue of the Sacred Heart, and a stone and marble altar (1895; figure 2) whose frontal depicts the Agnus Dei under a pointed segmental arch. (The altar has been altered to incorporate a brass tabernacle.) The Lady Chapel is a plain, ceiled room with a timber altar and a crucifix.

The four apse windows have stained glass depicting the Four Evangelists. The Sacred Heart chapel has stained glass with the Instruments of the Passion. Only the two easternmost nave bays have stained glass, depicting, respectively, St Mary Immaculate and St Theresa (south) and St Francis and Christ the King (north). The mosaic Stations of the Cross were bought in 1955. The nave benches are shown in a photo dated 1895 (parish archive) and are likely to be the original ones. At the time of the visit, all the statues were shrouded due to Lent.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Thomas Richmond Donnelly

Original Date: 1893

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed