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St Mary's Church

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Opening of the first St Mary's Church, December 5th 1926

On Sunday December 5th 1926 the first St Mary's church was opened with Fr Burdett the priest.

In 1925 the building of the three storey extension to the convent orphanage commenced. “Canon Lee, acting as the Bishop's delegate, came to see Rev Mother about a suitable site for the chapel and selected a certain spot which happened to be the calf's shed. When this was pointed out he wittily answered : The calf will willingly make room for the Lamb. So it did. The Sisters made a handsome gift to the Diocese of Clifton in the form of a piece of land on which to build, at some future date, a church more worthy of Glastonbury's glorious past, as well as a presbytery. In the meantime St Mary's parish took definite shape, having for the first time its own priest. The small grey stone Chapel, with seating for about 50, witnessed many baptisms, first Communions, Confirmations, weddings and burials. Many a lapsed Catholic or convert found solace within its walls. Here, too, flocked the first pilgrims to Our Lady's Shrine, consisting of a few hundred devotees who marched in orderly procession through the streets, saying the rosary, singing hymns, with a sermon on the Tor and Benediction in the Convent ground. The good sisters acted as sole caterers for these pilgrims, serving them with a homely tea in the beautiful grounds, always proudly referred to as The Park”.

This is an account from the Central Somerset Gazette for the opening of the church.


There is a wide gap between these two names in time and importance. It was on Nov 15th 1539, that the last Abbot of Glastonbury was martyred on Chalice Hill at the foot of the Tor, within view of the Abbey over which he had ruled to well that even the Commissioners charged to discover any faults wit the place had to return disappointed from their quest, and tat last a charge was formulated against the Abbot of robbing his own Abbey. On Sunday last, December 5th, 1926, Mass was again said in a church under the control of the Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishop for the first time since the Dissolution of the great Abbey, in the cradle of British Christianity. From time to time there have been services conducted in private chapels in the town, notably at that of monks who formerly occupied Chalice Well, and latterly at the private chapel of the sisters in St. Louis Convent, Magdalene Street. These, however, have not been recognised churches under the control of the Bishop.

First St Mary's interior

The new church is only a temporary one till funds are available for the erection of a new building, the land for which is provided in the convent grounds. The fittings have been designed for the present church in such fashion that they can be transferred. One interesting point about these fittings is that they includes a holy water stoup formerly, it is believed, in the Abbey. The pillar for this and those for the altar, with some other stone used at the altar end, also belonged to the Abbey, and had been for some years on the convent premises. Originally the new church was a stable attached to a private residence in Magdalene Street. After those premises were acquired for the convent the building, which was of a substantial character, was used as the laundry of the establishment. The main walls have been left standing, but the interior has been stripped and recased, the necessary lighting alterations have been carried out, and other internal structural renovations and adaptations made. It proves now a very convenient public chapel, with a large enclosed transept for the use of the community. A massive slab of oak forms the holy table of the altar, with the appropriate furniture, which is of a very suitable character. The candlesticks are of carved wood finished in crimson, black and gold. The draperies, veils, etc., are of, the four ecclesiastical colours, white, crimson, purple and green, with vestments for the officiating priest of similar materials and colouring, the whole of beautiful fabrics richly patterned and hand woven and worked. The blessing of the church on Sunday Father Francis Burdett was vested in white with handsome cope of cloth of gold tissue, later assuming a chasuble of purple, wit full set of vestment en suite. To return to the altar fittings, the riddel posts of the canopy and the altar rails are richly turned and carved in the style prevalent about the time the Abbey was in its glory, and Tudor stools have been provided for the sanctuary. Deep green stamped velvet is used for the altar, the canopy of which is of silk of the like shade. A large quantity of the finest linen has been provided for the use of the altar, and of the priest and attendants. The sanctuary lamp is an antique of solid silver. A beautiful statue of St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord - for whom the church is named, after the original wattle church of St. Joseph of Arimathea - is on the was from the Tyrol, to be placed in the niche provided for it in the chapel walls.

The service on Sunday of blessing the church was carried out the resident priest, Father Francis Burdett, under the authority of the Bishop of the Diocese, who was himself unable to be present owing to illness. A procession was formed of the Sister, about thirty being present, and the children of the Convent of St. Louis, and members of the Catholic faith in the town and vicinity, with several visitors from a distance; Father Burdett attended by the crucifer and acolytes. This encompassed the outer area of the building singing, and first the outer walls, and at a later stage of the service the inner walls also, were aspersed with holy water. The ceremony of blessing having been completed, Mass was said, the Sisters providing the vocal and instrumental music.

Addressing the congregation which crowded the new church, Father Burdett said that he was giving no sermon, but he could not let the occasion pass without making a few remarks to them. It was true he said, that there was a Catholic chapel at Chalice Well some years ago which belonged to a community which had now left there, and latterly the Sisters of St. Louis had allowed their chapel to be used for the people of the neighbourhood. But these were private chapels in private houses. Now, he thought he was right in saying, for the first time since the Reformation, since the destruction of the Abbey which made Glastonbury famous, which even in its ruin, decay, desolation and abandonment was still famous, they were able to meet in a Diocesan church, in a place which was subject to the Bishop of the Diocese, and which belonged to the Bishop and which was interested with a sort of permanence. Their claim, which he said had the highest support of practically every historian of repute, was that here in that building - first a stable and then a wash-house - there and there alone in Glastonbury was taught and would be taught the same faith, the same divine truth, which was taught for hundred of years in the Abbey opposite. The great majority of historians of repute, but not all, were bound to admit that what he said was true. They might say, some did say, that the church, the Roman catholic Church, the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church, descended from St. Peter, the church that alone possess the longest line in Europe, in the world, that great church taught wrong things, perhaps that it teaches wrong things, but they could not deny that the same things it taught at the Reformation it teaches to-day, and as it did in the first centuries after the Ascension of Our Lord. They taught what they believed to be the truth, that God was true and that there was only one true faith. They could not pick and choose. There was only one right faith, though there might be thousands of wrong. People might have good hearts but weak heads, but they had to stand by what they believed and knew to be the truth, though other went on living in blindness, weakness and ignorance. They taught with definite authority and voice, however much other people might dispute and dislike it. That voice came from Rome, and always had come from Rome. Here they had set up again a diocesan altar where the same mass would be said, the same sacraments administered as of old, the same truths proclaimed that were proclaimed at the time of the Reformation. He claimed that if Abbot Whiting, martyred and murdered Abbot Whiting, were alive to-day he would come to that place and that along in Glastonbury to worship, to teach and to utter his words of truth to the people who came to that church, and to offer up the mass which was the same to-day as when he lived here in Glastonbury; same as when given them by St. Peter. He express the hope that from that place, as from the stable where the incarnation took place of Our Lord, they might as that incarnation changed the whole world work a change in Glastonbury.

In the evening compline and benediction were held.

A regular series of public service have been arranged to be held in the new church. The whole cost of the church had been raised within a very little before last week.

Eric Gill Statue

In 1928, Father Francis Burdett of St Mary's church, commissioned Eric Gill to carve a 75cm high statue of Madonna and Child out of Portland stone for a niche on the outside of the west wall of the old church.

In 1927, Christopher Hollis, who was born in Wells, wrote a book about Glastonbury entitled “Glastonbury and England”, and it was dedicated to Father Burdett.

Following the demolition of the former church in 1938, the statue was placed in the convent garden. In 1940 it was purchased by a Cambridge Don, Mr William Mortlock,(1880-1950), who used it as a memorial on his wife Florence's (1888-1940) grave in Glastonbury cemetery.

Here it remained until 1982, when it was rediscovered and found to be by the famous sculptor and returned to St Mary's church. In 2003 it was recognised as a valuable Eric Gill statue and it was moved to a secure vault in Bristol. A half size copy was made by Garnesh Bhatt and is now located in Chalice Well gardens in Glastonbury.

In March 2011, the Eric Gill statue of Madonna and child returned to Glastonbury, and is on permanent display in the visitor centre of Glastonbury Abbey.

Opening of St Mary's Church, July 2nd 1940

On the 2nd July 1940, the newly built church of St Mary's and the presbytery opened. Over 700 people attended the service; with the church only seating 300, many had to hear the service outside. Fr Michael Fitzpatrick was the priest who worked tirelessly to raise the money to see the church built. The total cost was £11,000, with over £900 being raised by the parishioners themselves. Work started on the church in 1939, and although World War II commenced that year, the church building work went on.

A couple of weeks after the official opening, a party for the parishioners was held at the Drill Hall in Glastonbury. Here, Fr Michael was thanked for all his hard work in raising the money for the church and he was presented with furniture for his new home. Also, various items were presented to the church, including the altar and stained glass window in the Lady chapel in memory of the late Miss D'Abreu (former boarder in the convent). The window in the Sacred Heart chapel was donated by Mr Gilmer, a jeweller from Bath. At this party, Fr Michael hoped that all the debts would be cleared on the church by the end of 1941, in fact they were cleared by July 1941, when the church was consecrated.

Consecration of St Mary's Church July 2nd 1941

The service took place a year after the church was opened. It was led by Bishop of Clifton, Rt. Rev William Lee. The church was empty, even the benches were removed. The church was blessed with holy water and holy oil. Then everyone was admitted. The procession of the relics then took place. Relics of saints were placed in the altars. Those of St Thomas of Canterbury, St Innocentius and St Benedict were placed in the High Altar. Sts. Victoria and Barbara in the Lady Altar and Sts Innocentius and Clement in the Sacred Heart Altar. In addition, a special relic of Blessed Oliver Plunkett, was deposited in each of the reliquaries. Glastonbury's church is thus the only one having in all its altars a relic of this Martyr. The Mass of the Dedication of a Church followed.

Stained Glass Windows in St Mary's Church

The stained glass west window in St Mary's church was donated by Mrs Mostyn1 in memory of her husband, Charles, who died in 1935. Mrs Lilian Mostyn (1865 -1962) also gave many generous donations of money to the church. She lived in Pennard House, East Pennard and also had the village hall at West Pennard built in 1937. In the later years, Mrs Mostyn moved to Glastonbury and lived in "Tor Down" in Ashwell Lane. She was a familiar figure around Glastonbury and West Pennard. Her funeral in St Mary's RC church, Glastonbury, in 1962, was conducted by her brother-in-law, Fr Mostyn. Her obituary in the local newspaper, stated that "Glastonbury is the poorer for her passing". She is buried in West Pennard cemetery.

It is not known when the stained glass window was installed in the church, early photographs of the new church show a plain glass window. The windows may have been designed and built by Hardman of Birmingham.

Here is a brief description of the window. In the centre of the window is the Crucifixion with Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus. On the left is Our Lady, Mary and on the right is St John, a disciple of Jesus.

Below Our Lady is St Dunstan2 and the coat of arms of the Clifton Diocese. Below St John is Richard Whiting3 and the coat of arms of the Mostyn family.

The scene depicted in the centre section of the window is the signing of the First Privilege (grant) in 704 by Ine, King of Wessex (688-726), in the presence of St Aldhelm (639-709), Abbot of Malmesbury and first Bishop of Sherborne. It shows the Wattle church, which stood opposite where St. Mary's stands now and where the Abbey was built. When the Saxons reached Glastonbury in AD 658 the "old church" was already standing and dedicated to Our Lady.

Also, outside of St Mary's church on the front wall are the stone statues of Madonna and child, St Dunstan and Richard Whiting.

1 The Mostyn family have many connections to Wales. Charles Mostyn JP (1865 - 1935) was the great-great grandson of Sir Edward Mostyn of Talacre, the 5th baronet (1725-1775).

2 St Dunstan was born in 910 in the nearby village of Baltonsborough. He was Abbot of Glastonbury and died in 988.

3 Richard Whiting was the last Abbot of Glastonbury. He died 1539 being hanged, drawn and quartered on top of Glastonbury Tor.

Celebrations in 1965

There was a lunch held in the Convent hall attended by over 100 parishioners.

In early July the pilgrimage was held, attended by over 20,000 people. It took place in the grounds of the Abbey Ruins (the first time held there for 400 years). The Pilgrimage procession started in the Convent field and was 2 miles long, taking over an hour to pass through the Abbey gates. During the mass in the Abbey, the Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Igino Cardinale, placed a new diadem on the Statue of St Mary. This diadem had been made from melted down gold jewellery donated by the parishioners, and was carried on a cushion in the procession. Mass was said by the Rt. Rev. Joseph Rudderham, Bishop of Clifton. After Mass, the procession went back to St Mary's church, where the Glastonbury tapestry was unvieled, being a reredos to the High Altar. (Details of the Tapestry can be found on

Parish Jubilee dinner

In 1991 the church of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury celebrated the 50th anniversary of its consecration, and the Central Somerset Gazette (27th June) marked this 'Golden Jubilee' with a special feature, by Rachel Humphries.

This recorded that 'two of the longest worshipping parishioners are Molly Weeks, who came from Ireland in 1933 as a nanny at Keinton Mandeville and went on to work the the Clark family, and Joan Gifford, whose godmother had her baptised into the faith, and who worshipped in Glastonbury for almost all her 72 years. Both remember worshipping in the old stable building and the convent, which took in French children and later evacuees, as well as teaching children of the district. To Mollie and Joan, who have polished and cleaned the church over the years, their faith means everything. "I would not be without it. It's my mainstay" said Joan.'

Molly passed away in 2002 (in her 89th year), but Joan is still very much with us, and thus still our 'longest worshipping' parishioner. As well as remembering what she call the 'tin church' (and Fr Burdett, Glastonbury's first parish priest), she recollects the days (in the 1930s) when Mass was offered in Strode school (Leigh road, Street), and later in a room belonging to 'Grooms the grocers' (opposite what is now the 'Wessex Hotel'?); and also in the 1950/60s, when a coach transported parishioners from Street and Ashcott to Sunday Mass at St Mary's, making church-going something of a social event for families.1

Born four months after the end of the Great War, on 21 March 1919, Joan was brought up in the same house in Street where she has lived all her life. Although her parents were not Catholics, she was baptised (her names being recorded in Latin and 'Anna Joanna' in the Church register) in the Convent chapel in 1921 by Fr Jackson, a Mill Hill missionary priest - as her godmother ('aunt' Myra Gifford - incidentally no relation of Joan's future husband!) had been received into the Church not long before.

Myra and a friend, Florence Courage, were (Joan suggests) two of 'three converts, the first for many years' received by a seemingly inspirational French priest, Fr Edward Chauvat, during the ten months that he spent in Glastonbury as convent chaplain (1919-20). It also would seem most likely that it was Myra who contributed the chapter 'Reminiscences of an old parishioner of St Mary's' which was found in the potted history of the the parish that was published to commemorate the church's 'Silver Jubilee' in 1966.2

Joan, whose maiden name was Marsh, made her first Holy Communion in 1928 - perhaps at the hands of Fr Burdett (a former Jesuit, who had served at St Aloysius', Oxford, 1922-24, when presumably he and Christopher Hollis - then an undergraduate at Balliol, and a recent convent became acquainted). If not, then it was shortly after he took sick leave, and two Carmelite priests (from Wincanton?) 'supplied' until the arrival Fr O'Beirne (in 1929).

Joan was educated at the Convent school between the ages of 4 and 14 (1923-1933), she particularly remembers the names of two of the 'nuns' who taught her: sisters Aloysius and Sebastian, and also Miss Farrell - a lay teacher who later joined the order, as St Patricia (subsequently headmistress, and eventually superior at Frome convent). Joan's favourite subject was 'sports' (netball and rounders), although she did quite like English lessons! Her father was a great sportsman (she recollects) - playing soccer for Street, and umpiring cricket the the Victoria Club - despite the TB he contracted, whilst serving as a Sergeant in the Royal Artillery in the Great War.

In an recent talk with Joan, she recollects her early childhood:

Joan Gifford

I reached for Miss Gifford's hand and, together, we climbed Weary-All Hill, walking the familiar path as we made our way to Glastonbury. Due to attend church, Wednesdays were earmarked for Benediction with Litany of the Saints, and even at the young age of five, I could recite some of the Latin. As I walked along I thought of Saturday and looked forward to it. I wondered how long it might take to come; three days can be a long time at the age of five.

Saturdays were special. Miss Gifford would treat me to a chocolate bar which I would relish all the way up Weary-All, as we made our way to Confession. Of course, being so young, I was not allowed to take part, but would sit quietly and observe...

Sundays were the busiest. Firstly, there was Mass in the mornings. After lunch, I would spend the afternoon at Miss Gifford's house, learning the Catechism. Finally, the two of us would return to Glastonbury on Sunday evenings, when we would attend the last service of the day. Not until I had become a fully-fledged member of the Catholic Church myself, when I was 7, would Myra Gifford be permitted to be my legally appointed godmother.

All in all, the weeks were busy with ecclesiastical routine, and Weary-All Hill well trodden.

Joan married Bert Gifford (who died in 2001) on 14th September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War - by 'special licence' - at the church of SS Joseph and Teresa (Wells) by Glastonbury's dynamic, young PP (Fr Michael Fitzpatrick) as our church was in the process of being rebuilt. The foundation stone had been laid and blessed, by Bishop Lee (by whom she had been confirmed in her early teens) just two month earlier - in service within the shell of the present church, that she may have attended. Her otherwise good memory fails her on that point!

1 In the 1970s, our Parish priest (1968-72) Fr John O'Connor for a while offered a Sunday evening Mass specifically for parishioners living in Street. This was celebrated in the 'Henderson Room', attached to what was then Street surgery and formerly Strode school.

Previously (as the Silver Jubilee 'history' records) Fr (later Canon)William Ryan (PP 1944-8) had 'worked very hard to raise money for a church in Street which for a time was thought necessary because of the increase in the number of Catholics during (and surely after?) the war years. Mass had been said for a time in the Bear Inn; in Strode School; and when they were no longer available, Mrs Groom very kindly put her tea-rooms at the disposal of the Catholic on Sunday mornings.'

Apparently, Fr Ryan 'acquired a site'* where 'a temporary building was to be erected.' The Bishop (William Lee, 1931-48) 'at first agreed, but had second thoughts', finally deciding that 'the new St Mary's' - with a large 'Lady Chapel' serving as the 'ordinary Parish Church' - was far from fully realised) would have 'to serve Street and Glastonbury for a number of years, until a considerable increase in the number of Catholics warranted another church.' This latter development was thus postponed - sine die? - although in the list of parish benefactors (in the Silver Jubilee publication) it is noted that a 'Mr Mortlake gave a generous donation for a new church in Street.' Presumably this refers to Mr William Mortlock (1880-1950) whose name will for ever be linked with the Glastonbury 'Madonna and Child'.

* Where exactly was this? Can anyone let us know the answer or share any other memories of Mass 'centres' in Street during the 1950/60/70s?

2 The anonymous writer (Myra?) also recorded: 'About the year 1914, with the outbreak of World War 1, refugees from Belgium and France came to Street and Glastonbury, and my first contact with the Faith was with two friends I used to go to the convent for French lessons. One Sunday I was asked to accompany a Belgian refugee to Mass as she did not know where it was offered. My French lessons led to a number of friendships, one with Rev Mother Sr Eugenie. She was a wonderful woman, who could discourse freely on any subject that came up for discussion. Also with Mother Joseph the only English sister. It was Mother Joseph who introduced us to the Convent chaplain, who was none other than the Frenchman, the Rev Father Edward Chauvat, who had received the gift of a vocation to the priesthood at Lourdes. He was convinced that the three convert he received were the ginning of a big parish, and he was convinced that pilgrims would come to Glastonbury. He wrote to the Bishop of Clifton (Bishop Ambrose Burton) saying the time had come for an English priest as the return of the Faith to the area was imminent. As a result of this suggestion, he returned to his diocese of Angers in France, and Fr Philip Jackson, MHM, came to Glastonbury , as chaplain to the sisters, and conversions continued slowly, and Catholics from other parts settled here. It is during these years that one had a revelation of the wonderful work of the St Louis sisters. They had in their care a number of children whose parents were unable to maintain them, and they worked hard to have them a home, doing beautiful embroidery, running a laundry, etc. The children were receiving a regular education. The could write beautifully, read well, sew and paint, and could give an entertainment of a very high standard. A casual suggestion that outside pupils be taken as day scholars was acted upon. Mother Joseph, seemingly the first English sister to join the French community became a pupil of Clough's Correspondence College in preparation for the school teaching she knew the future would be requiring. This was the foundation of the convent school. Together Mother Joseph and I drew up the first time table, and I loved helping in my small way and saw the work well stated. The Church could not have been built on the present site had not the sisters made the site over for the purpose. I wish I could write more fully of that wonderful time, when we went forward slowly but surely and felt God was with us. How Father Burdett took over the charge of the temporary church and lovingly collect the beautiful furniture for it".3

3 On Sunday 5th December, 1926, Fr Burdett was deputed by Bishop Burton ('who was himself unable to be present owing to illness') to carry out the blessing of the temporary public chapel; and celebrate the first Mass to be offered in 'a church under the control of the Roman Catholic diocesan bishop, since the Dissolution of the great Abbey' (the Central Somerset Gazette reported). Apparently the 'Madonna and Child' that he commissioned was carved between 1st and 6th September 1928 (although whether in Gill's workshop, or on site, is unknown) and was in effect Fr Burdett's parting gift to the church that he had so sensitively adorned.

Priests of St Mary's

Fr Francis Burdett

Fr Francis Burdett

Fr Patrick O'Beirne

Fr Patrick O'Beirne

Fr Michael Fitzpatrick

Fr Michael Fitzpatrick

Fr William Ryan

Fr William Ryan

Fr Joseph Sheehan

Fr Joseph Sheehan

Fr James O'Brien

Fr James O'Brien

Fr Sean McNamara

Fr Sean McNamara

Fr John O'Connor

Fr John O'Connor

Fr Nicholas Tranter

Fr Nicholas Tranter

Fr Paul Sankey

Fr Paul Sankey

Fr Kevin Knox-Lecky

Fr Kevin Knox-Lecky

Fr James Finan

Fr James Finan

Fr Bede Rowe

Fr Bede Rowe

Fr Anselm

Fr Anselm Redman

Fr Dominic Findlay-Wilson

Fr Dominic Findlay-Wilson