St Mary’s is an historic Church of England Parish Church in the Diocese of Bristol, South Gloucestershire. We are very much concerned with both the present and the future, and supported by a strong and committed congregation we are trying to move forwards while discerning God’s will for us.
Our aim is to provide stimulating and challenging worship, to assist each other to grow in faith in Christ, and to show his love in the parish and beyond.
A Brief History
(based on ‘A Thousand Years of Witness’ by David and Jennifer Bone)
St Mary’s is certainly an ancient church but there is no actual record of a church building prior to the eleventh century. The Domesday Book, produced at the end of that century, refers to there being a priest in Olveston but there is no mention of a building. The Normans started building churches in the twelfth century, and St Mary’s certainly has Norman arches, but that’s as near as we get. Its earliest recorded vicar was Master Richard of Vienne, inducted in October 1280
St Mary’s was always an attractive and prosperous parish from its earliest days. It began as a much smaller building, cruciform in shape, which was then enlarged in the fourteenth century and made rectangular, with a two storey porch on the side. The usual entrance for many centuries was the small door in the south east corner of the south aisle, rarely used now apart from as an extra exit when the church is full. The sixteenth century brought the beginnings of the Reformation and every church was valued, St Mary’s ending up in the top thousand of the wealthiest. There are few records of the Elizabethan age, but perhaps the most important thing was the appointment of Ralph Greene as Vicar in 1590, who stayed for 49 years, brought much needed stability, and left a communion cup which is still used today.
In 1605 the steeple fell, struck by lightning, and caused extensive damage to the church below. It was recorded in detail by the schoolmaster of the day who wrote to the King, assigning the events to the wrath of God, and connecting it to the Gunpowder Plot which had happened only weeks previously. The church was rebuilt in record time. The tower which had always been the church’s distinctive feature was restored but without a steeple, though the bells were retained.
There were only three clergy between 1720-99. Hugh Waterman was described as “Tory, sober, good, resident”. He was followed by Christopher Shute who did a census of the parish’s 586 inhabitants in 1742. His memorial reads: “he constantly resided, charitably relieving the distressed, dispensing medicines, counsel and comfort to the sick and needy. He was of an ancient and good family, a man of parts, a genius refined by his knowledge of men and books”. John Camplin finished the century off. One legacy of that century is the Vinegar Bible which is still in the church’s possession. It is so-called because of the printing error at the top of the page containing the parable of the vineyard, which reads the parable of the vinegar! The chancel was reordered in 1748 and St Mary’s soon installed altar rails, long before many other churches did.
The nineteenth century saw the erection of a gallery, and there was certainly a choir and band. Robert John Charleston became Vicar for over forty years, and it soon became obvious the church was too small for the increasing congregation. The church was lengthened, the galleries dismantled and a boiler house added. The average attendance was reputed to be 500 people, with 80 sunday scholars. Henry Moseley, the pre-eminent clergyman in St Mary’s history, was appointed in 1854. The organ was finally completed in 1866, and in 1871 the choir and organ were moved under the tower (to aid their concentration, we’re told!). In 1887 the surveyor reported on the parlous condition of the church, not least the box pews which “form the most strikingly ugly feature of the interior of the church, an interior the unkempt look of which with the unwholesome smells, dirty appearance, and generally depressing effect is happily almost unique in the county of Gloucester”. Something had to be done, and it was! The floor was concreted, the pews replaced, tombstones were shifted, and the church reopened on February 6th, 1889.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the peal of bells was increased from six to eight. The war memorial was dedicated in 1920. After the second world war, in the early fifties, the old vicarage was sold and the new one built, a new roof put on, and oil fired central heating installed. The heating had never been entirely satisfactory. New lighting and a new organ followed. The Christmas Midnight Communion was introduced, which continues to prove very popular. In the 1960’s the altar was moved under the tower and the choir and organ returned to the west end of the church. the nave altar moved to its present position in the seventies. A new organ was given to the church by the JM Britton Charitable Foundation and its inaugural recital was in 1990.
Now in the twenty first century the building has been developed further and has changed again. Most noticeably, the new choir stalls and the introduction of a second (disabled) toilet. But the purpose and focus will always remain the same – it is built to the Glory of God, and the people who worship inside this very holy and sacred place continue to do their best to worship God and serve the community.