A prominent Ipswich church will be redesignated by the Bishop as a Minster

A prominent Ipswich church will be redesignated by the bishop as a Minster in recognition of its increasingly important role serving the community.

The church of St Mary le Tower in Ipswich town centre will become a minster next year, which coincides with the 825th anniversary of Ipswich being granted its Royal Charter by King John, with the election of the first town officials taking place in the churchyard.  The Church of England in Suffolk made the official announcement today.

The Minster designation recognises St Mary le Tower, which has been at the heart of Ipswich for more than 1,000 years, as a church of key significance to the town and reflects its vital spiritual and community role. The church already has a flourishing ministry and mission in Ipswich and this decision is seen by the parish as recognising its commitment to service. 

Bishop Martin made the announcement following months of wide-ranging consultation to assess whether St Mary le Tower should receive this designation, which is rarely granted.  Following a request from civic leaders the Bishop consulted with church and community leaders to gather views on making this historic designation.

In the last three decades, only 15 churches in the Church of England have been granted this designation and there are just 31 in total across the country.

The decision now sets in motion a development plan to strengthen St Mary le Tower’s response to the needs of people living in and visiting central Ipswich, as well as celebrations in Ipswich next year.

The church was lit blue at the weekend in support of Ipswich Town’s successful push for promotion to the Premier League.

The building is recognised as the civic church for the town, hosting important services for civic duties. However, the church has a growing reputation as a place that responds to the needs of many requiring support in today’s modern world.

Bishop Martin said: "I am hugely grateful to all those from across Ipswich and the wider county for the many considered contributions I have received to assist me in this decision. Throughout the consultation process, there was a clear sense of the growing vocation of St Mary le Tower to serve the civic and community life of the town and respond to the spiritual and social needs of those living and working in the town centre, as well as those visiting central Ipswich. In conferring this additional designation, my hope is that their vision will be energised.  I know we all share a growing sense of aspiration for Ipswich as we seek to build up our common life together. The creation of Ipswich Minster is a sign of the continued commitment to strengthen the ties between the Church and our civic and community partners as together we seek to serve the people of Ipswich. I look forward to the new ways in which all churches including the newly created Ipswich Minster will be a part of the transformation and flourishing of the town’s future.  Now we will focus on the minster-making process and share those important details in due course."

The term Ipswich Minster follows the practice of using this term as an honorific title for churches within a town centre and with a key civic role and does not change the relationship between St Mary le Tower and neighbouring churches.

The Revd Tom Mumford, vicar of St Mary le Tower, said: "We are delighted that civic leaders made this request and that Bishop Martin granted approval.  Our mission is to be a welcoming, inclusive and open church offering peace and sanctuary to the people of Ipswich. Reaching out and serving our local community is central to the life of the church. We want to be a place that the people of Ipswich know as their home, a place of care and support.  We also want to be a place that people come to Ipswich to visit, to enjoy the beautiful and historic building, as well as the remarkable town in which it is set.  I hope too that we will become better known as a place to find peace and stillness in a busy world, and a place to experience the warmth and love of God in prayer."

Tom added: ‘‘Our church already has a flourishing ministry and mission in Ipswich and this decision for me is more about service than status, reflecting on our central purpose.  Crucially there is now a hope and momentum for the future, which the church wants to be a part of and help shape. It is very exciting that the designation next year will mark the 825th anniversary since the town’s charter was granted and presented in our churchyard, leading to a number of town-wide celebrations that will take place across the year."

Councillor Lynne Mortimer, Mayor of Ipswich, said: “This recognition is a testament both to the rich heritage and the spiritual significance of St Mary le Tower to the town.  This designation not only honours our past but also brightens our future.  Becoming a minster will mark a new chapter in the life of the church.  It will enhance our town's cultural landscape and will, I am sure, inspire townspeople and visitors to explore the history and vibrant community life that Ipswich offers."

Professor Helen Langton, Vice-Chancellor and CEO, University of Suffolk said: “I am delighted to support the designation of St Mary-Le-Tower as a Minster.  This is an important moment, signalling further ambition and aspiration for our town and its community. As Ipswich continues to transform, there will be more opportunities for university students not only to study but also to access the rich spiritual, cultural, arts and heritage offering."

Terry Baxter, BID Chair Ipswich Central, welcomed the news and to working with all involved to maximise its positive impact for the town.  He said: “The church is currently recognised as the civic focal point for many in the town centre and plays such an important role in engaging with the people of Ipswich."

Lady Clare, Countess of Euston, said: “So wonderful to hear that blessings continue to arrive for Ipswich from on high! Now, in addition to celebrating the exceptional performance of our team in blue and white, Ipswich will now have a Minster that truly befits the rich cultural heritage of our county town and the many centuries of dedicated worship and community support that St Mary le Tower has and will continue to deliver for local people long into the future."

Chief Constable Rachel Kearton said: "This is wonderful news for St Mary's Tower and the wider communities of Ipswich more generally.  I look forward to Suffolk police continuing to work alongside the church and other community groups and businesses, to support the area and those that live in, work and visit our wonderful county."

John Dugmore, Chief Executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “Every element of Suffolk’s civil and public society has its own unique role in contributing to a positive future narrative for Ipswich and Suffolk as a whole. That is why, Suffolk Chamber as the voice of business in the county, welcomes the decision to accord St Mary le Tower Minister status. The church is already an iconic part of Ipswich’s skyline and a focal point for life in Ipswich. Being a Minister would give it an even more important role in providing opportunities and spaces for bringing together the county town’s incredibly diverse communities – whose blended attributes and insights will underpin our shared prospects for even greater cohesion and shared, sustainable prosperity.”

Martyn Levett, Ipswich Crown Court Judge says, "It is Ascension Day on Thursday and 40 days after Easter. With Levelling Up and  ITFC promoted to the Premier Division everything is upwards and aspirational and by designating St Mary Le Tower as a Minster will be a recognition of inspiring regeneration and spirituality. The Church is an important Town and County landmark connecting and inspiring village Parish Churches  to be more active in the community .  Designating St Mary Le Tower with the status of a Minster is going to achieve  a real boost and strength between the Church and the community. In this we will discover the role Religion plays in the public realm and hopefully will provide a vehicle motivating transformative change in the Towns fortunes. The current Church is the fourth to occupy that site: the first recorded in the Domesday Book, commissioned in 1085, it was granted a Royal Charter  by King John in 1200."

St Mary le Tower is one of the churches that offers the community a top up shop across Ipswich.  At St Mary le Tower activities include a weekly Wednesday top-up shop where people fill a bag of groceries for £2, and lunchtime recitals. Thousands of visitors every year also enjoy the Christmas Tree Festival (Trees @ the Tower) where the trees are bought or sponsored by a business, charity, community group or charity from Ipswich.

Minster fact file:

  • The status of Minster is an honorific title bestowed on major churches of regional significance in the Church of England, to reflect their importance and contribution to the local communities they serve.
  • The name of St Mary le Tower will remain, with the designation as Minster an additional honorific title.
  • In the last 30 years 15 churches have been granted the status. There are 31 in total in England.
  • The term minster dates back to the seventh century. It has been bestowed on parish churches and cathedrals including Hull Minster, Lincoln Cathedral and York Minster.
  • The first St Mary le Tower church is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.
  • By 29 June 1200, when King John’s Charter was received in the churchyard, the second Romanesque church shown on the Borough Seal had replaced the former Saxon building. St Mary le Tower has been the town’s civic church ever since.
  • St Mary le Tower has long been recognised as a centre for choral excellence. Today it continues to offer a traditional style of choral performance with an emphasis on the involvement of young people. 
  • The church’s support for the community includes a top-up shop every Wednesday for local people facing financial hardship.

Top photograph credit: Paul Nixon.

Page last updated: Thursday 9th May 2024 9:01 AM
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