If you are planning a trip to the Salisbury area to see Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, why not drop into nearby Wilton and see this very interesting church?
Italianate Church – First Impressions
Your first impression will be a bit of cognitive dissonance: in the midst of an undistinguished Wiltshire market town is a very elegant Italian church complete with a free-standing campanile (bell tower). The church is set back from the street and has the rounded arches typical of Romanesque buildings. The rose window is a bit unusual for a Romanesque church and adds a bit of lightness to offset the solid, bulky look.
By the 1800s the medieval church of St Mary on this site had fallen into disrepair. The Hon. Sidney Herbert, a younger son of the 11th Earl of Pembroke, provided a large portion of the funds needed to build a new church. Herbert was apparently a fan of the Italianate architecture that was in vogue in the first half of the 19th Century contributed and commissioned Thomas Henry Wyatt to design a church in that style. The church was completed in 1845.
Formal name: St Mary and St Nicholas Church
Style: This church is constructed in the basilica form, with neo-Romanesque architecture mirroring the style features of many churches in Italy, including a separate campanile. One unusual aspect is that the church is not oriented East-West in the normal fashion (with the altar at the East end). The front entrance is on the Northwest side, facing West Street.
Patron Saints: Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas.
Denomination: Church of England. The Italianate Church is the parish church of Wilton.
The Capocci Shrine
This shrine was originally located in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It was dismantled in 1768 and most of it was carted off to England where it was used to decorate the home of Sir Horace Walpole. Sidney Herbert later purchased the remnants for the Italianate Church. Various elements such as the black marble columns above were used to embellish the church. They can be seen in the cloister doors, the pulpit, the high altar and the bishop’s chair.
A short cloister, constructed with highly decorative columns, connects the church to the campanile.
The windows in the North Apse is a mix of German, Swiss, Flemish and English stained glass, dated from the late 14th, 15th and 16th Century. The central window was originally part of the Cathedral of St Denis, the first Gothic cathedral. The windows in the Central Apse are 13th and 14th Century remnants from a number of French cathedrals.
The Central Apse is decorated by a mosaic of Christ in Glory, flanked by St Mary and St Nicholas. The mosaic was created by Miss Gertrude Martin, who was also responsible for the outstanding mosaics in Westminster Cathedral in London.
Address: West Street, Wilton, Wiltshire, England, SP2 0DL. There are a limited number of parking spaces on West Street. The church is within easy walking distance of the Market Square or South Street parking lots.
The Britain Express page on the Italianate Church lists a number of other historic attractions near Wilton.
The architecture of this church is its main drawing card, but there are some interesting artwork and historical artifacts inside and a lovely churchyard and cemetery. If you are in the Salisbury area it would be well worth setting aside an hour or two to visit.
St Mary and St Nicholas Church in Wilton – Undated pamphlet available at the church and well worth the £2 price.