St Michael, Lyme Regis, Dorset
The approach to St Michael Lyme Regis through the town is not at first immediately obvious. The church is at the far end of what is now the main shopping street, round a corner, up a slope and virtually hidden behind later building. The graveyard is shielded from the sea by a bank, and the whole impression is of a building hunkered down for protection – not of anything that might be likely to offer a defence for its parishoners.
The reality of the choice of location becomes clear, however, when one sees it from the sea – or at any rate, from the end of the Cobb. Then St Michael stands clear of its surroundings: solidly placed above the River Lym, guarding that liminal zone between the river mouth and the sea and providing a firm locating mark for anyone in or on the water in Lyme Bay.
Inside, by way of a large porch, containing a fascinating collection of short pillars thought to be from an earlier chapel, there is another broad Devon style church – even though this one is just across the border in west Dorset. The body of the building is of coarse local sandstone, and heavily plastered inside. None of the exposed stone door mouldings offered a clear sign of graffiti, and that inside, scribed into the plaster of several of the pillars towards the east end, was dulled by accumulated repainting. A few Marian symbols were distributed around the pillars, along with a number of nine-dot patterns deeply gouged into the plaster. One interesting figure was formed of overlaid crosses, forming either a patriotic flag of the Union, or possibly an attempt at a butterfly cross: the overpainting is sufficient to blur the distinction.
Outside, slightly to the east of the main door, is the grave of Mary Anning, palaeontologist. Daughter of a local carpenter, she caught the nineteenth century imagination, and the attention of the Royal Society, by discovering, in 1811, the first recorded skeleton of an ichthyosaur, followed by the first recorded plesiosaur and then the first pterodactyl. Modern day visitors still bring Mary fossils.
St Michael the Archangel
The church is usually open during daylight hours. There is ample parking in the town. There is no street parking near the church.
Report by Rebecca Ireland, with additional pictures by Anthea Hawdon.
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