Holy Trinity Church is an active parish church in Stratford, on the banks of the River Avon and used as a place of worship for over 1,000 years. This was the Shakespeare family’s local parish church, and Shakespeare would have attended Holy Trinity Church each Sunday, becoming well versed in biblical tales, which we see in many of his character’s knowledge of the bible.
Although Shakespeare died more than 400 years ago, Holy Trinity Church still has a number of fantastic Shakespeare-related sights to see and experience, including Shakespeare’s grave – with verse carved on his gravestone – the font Shakespeare was baptised at, the Holy Trinity Bust of Shakespeare, and the chained bible that was read from whilst the Shakespeare family attended church.
The History of Holy Trinity Church
There has been a church on the site since at least 713 when a Saxon monastery was built on the same site. The first mention of a church on this bank of the Avon in Stratford is found in the charter of 845 Bertulf, King of Mercia. This would have been a wooden construction, likely then replicated in stone by the Normans. No trace of either of these buildings remains, and the building of the present limestone church was begun 1210, built in the shape of a cross. The chancel – where Shakespeare and his family are buried – was added in the late 1400s, and includes many beautiful stained glass windows.
Holy Trinity Church & Shakespeare
On 23 April 1566 Shakespeare was baptised in Holy Trinity Church according to the common Book of Common Prayer, with Mr and Mrs Smith as his godparents. On 25 April 1616 a funeral service was held in the church at the graveside in a newly built Shakespeare family vault. As well as the Shakespeare grave, the chancel contains the bust of William Shakespeare, erected on the wall in 1623, seven years after his death by his widow and friends. Close by are copies of the register entries for his baptism and burial, and the original font where he was baptised. There is also a chained bible dating from 1611, which would have been read from in the church whilst William Shakespeare was attending service.
Shakespeare and his immediate family are buried in the church, just in front of the altar. It was unusual for anyone to be buried inside the church rather than in the surrounding graveyard. Shakespeare managed this by buying a tithe deed for £440 which gave him the right to have a family vault in the chancel of the church. William Shakespeare is buried in between his wife Anne Hathway and Thomas Nashe (the first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth). Making up the remainder of the family vault in the chancel are son-in-law John Hall and eldest daughter Suzanna Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s grave is famous for having a curse as an epitaph on its’ gravestone, written by Shakespeare himself. Relic hunting was popular in Shakespeare’s day, and Shakespeare was aware that his status as a leading writer meant his bones may have been dug up. The curse on Shakespeare’s grave warns:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
The Holy Trinity Bust
Above the family vault on the wall of the church is the Holy Trinity Bust of William Shakespeare, commissioned by his son in law John Croft in 1621 and created by Gerard Jansen. As Shakespeare’s wife and children were alive when the bust was erected it’s believed to be the most faithful image of Shakespeare we have.
There is an inscription underneath on The Holy Trinity Bust by Shakespeare’s grave reading:
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem
Terra tegit, populus moeret, Olympus habet.
Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious death hath placed
Within this monument: Shakespeare, with whom
Quick nature doed; whose name doth deck his tomb
Far more than cost; sith all that he had writ
Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.
Obiit ano doi 1616. Aetatis 53. Die 23 Ap.
Info On Visiting Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity church is in central Stratford-upon-Avon, as is within walking distance of the sights in the town. Set on the banks of the River Avon, the church is approached along an avenue of lime trees, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.
The church is open to the public, meaning anyone can walk in for a visit. Donations of £4 are requested to visit the chancel to see Shakespeare’s family vault, baptism font and get a closer view of the spectacular stained glass windows.
Broadly speaking the church is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm April to September and 10am to 4pm October to March. Sunday opening hours start at 12,30, and last entry to the church is 20 minutes before closing. The church is closed to visitors on Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. These hours are subject to the demands of a busy parish, with occasional short notice closures. If you’re planning to visit the church, be sure to confirm the opening hours here: http://www.stratford-upon-avon.org/opening-times
Have you visited Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon? What did you think of your visit – any tips for Shakespeare-enthusiasts? Let us know in the comments section below!