The Chapel of St Mary Tory (or ‘hill’) has been in the care of the Saxon Church Trust since 1927. It was noted by John Leland in the course of his west country journey in 1533: ‘There is a Chapelle on the highest place of the Towne, as I entered.’
John Aubrey, writing in the seventeenth century, called it ‘the finest hermitage I have seen in England; severall roomes and a very neate chapell of good freestone. The high hill is rock and gravell, faces the south and southwest, therefore is the best seate for a vineyard of any place I know; better in Engliand cannot be.’
There seems to have been since early times on the site both a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary and a hostel for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. It is thought that a hermit might have occupied the cell in the hillside below the chapel (visible from the path on the way up).
The chapel from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries, which was almost certainly not the first, had fallen into disrepair by 1877: only the east window and the niche to its right were intact. It was restored by its owner, Mr T. B. Saunders QC, in the perpendicular style.
The stained glass in the east window (1999) was designed and made by Mr Mark Angus of Bath. The central motif is a rosa alba, with white as the traditional colour of purity and virginity, and the blue in the background being a colour traditionally associated with the Virgin Marry, to whom this chapel is dedicated.
St Mary Tory is still used as a place of worship and of pilgrimage. It is part of the network of Small Pilgrim Places.
THE CHAPEL REMAINS CLOSED TO VISITORS: CONSULT THIS PAGE FOR UPDATES ON REOPENING.