Catholic Church in Wiltshire celebrates one thousand years

 There are few churches that can lay claim to one thousand years of history, and fewer still that are in Catholic use. The Church of St Mary in the town of Cricklade in North Wiltshire has come full circle from Catholic to Anglican and back to Catholic in the space of approximately one millennium.

St Mary's is a beautiful medieval church the north chapel of which occupies the site of an earlier Saxon gate-house chapel, part of the fortifications of the Saxon town, and identified during excavations in the 1960s. Thus it is possible to claim worship on the site for about one thousand years.

The church has a complex architectural history which is reflected in the variety of styles of windows, arches and carved stone mouldings. Its most obvious feature is the Norman chancel arch. It is a small church, housing approximately 120 worshippers. Like many older churches it was subjected to a Victorian restoration. These changes were largely beneficial, stripping out all that was described as "churchwarden gothic" and renewing or repairing the basic fabric whilst retaining some earlier furnishings.

In 1981 St Mary's, which had been in Anglican use since the Reformation, was declared redundant by the Diocese of Bristol. At that time, the congregation of Catholics in and around Cricklade was about 75 and in need of a church larger than the former Baptist Chapel in which they were worshipping. After much deliberation St Mary's was leased by the Clifton Diocese for a 'peppercorn' rent.

St Mary's reopened as a place for Catholic worship on 1 January 1984 when Bishop Mervyn Alexander celebrated the first Mass.

In the two months preceding the reopening much had to be done by way of repair and redecoration. St Mary's had not been in regular use for a number of years and neglect had taken its toll. That maintenance continues today and being a grade II* listed building any work undertaken can prove costly. The Friends of St Mary's Church was launched on 10 October 1998 with a remit to care for and maintain the church. It is a nondenominational body enjoying good rapport with the townsfolk of Cricklade who are very protective of 'their' church.

To celebrate their tenth anniversary the Friends are marking the occasion with a pageant depicting one thousand years of worship on the site of St Mary's. Millennium is being produced in conjunction with Prior Park Preparatory School, which is based on Cricklade, and takes place in St Mary's on 9 and 10 October at 7.15 pm.

For a fuller history of St Mary's and the work of the Friends go to their fascinating website:/

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