THE Archbishop of Canterbury made a visit to one of Swindon’s best kept secrets when he viewed the famous St John Polyptych in St Mary’s Church.

The Most Rev Justin Welby visited the church, in Lydiard Tregoze, as part of his whistle-stop tour of the Diocese of Bristol on Saturday.

The principal leader of the Anglican church was particularly interested in the monument to the St John family, which comprises 15 painted folded panels and dates back to 1615.

Clive Deverell, leader of St Mary’s and Anglican team minister in the West Swindon and the Lydiards Church Partnership, helped organise the visit with the Diocese of Bristol and was delighted to welcome the archbishop to the church.

“It’s a real privilege for us to welcome him to the church and to Swindon,” he said.

“The church here is one of Swindon’s best kept secrets and I hope his visit will encourage more people to come along and take a look at what’s on offer here for themselves.”

While visiting the church, in the grounds of Lydiard Park, the Archbishop also officially opened the annual Heritage Open Days on the steps of Lydiard House.

Heritage Open Days celebrates England’s architecture and culture by allowing visitors free access to interesting properties that are either not usually open, or would normally charge an entrance fee.

Coun Garry Perkins, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for the economy, regeneration and skills, said: “His visit has really shown that Swindon is a very important part of the South West and it really puts us on the map.

“We’ve had a really good turnout. This is a fantastic place and this is what Lydiard is all about.”

Archbishop Welby also launched the start of a sponsored walk and bike ride outside St Mary’s Church as part of the Ride+Stride National Churches Trust initiative, which raises money to help preserve some of the churches, chapels and meeting houses around the country which are at risk of falling into serious disrepair.

During the afternoon, the archbishop also visited a fun day in Pinehurst where he met with young people and youth workers including from the Swindon Youth for Christ (SYFC) project.

Chris Priddy, director of the SYFC, said: “It was really exciting to have him visit the SYFC and to meet the young people we work with.

“He’s really human. That’s the key really. He sat down and talked to us and it took a few minutes for us to remember that he was the Archbishop of Canterbury.”