A very rare survival from Saxon times.
Odda, the Earl of Hwicce and a relative of King Edward the Confessor, had a palace here and this chapel is what remains of that palace.
Strangely, the chapel was ony recognised for what it is in 1885, even though an inscribed stone was found nearby two hundred years earlier, stating:
'Earl Odda had this Royal Hall built and dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity for the soul of his brother, Aelfric, which left the body in this place. Bishop Ealdred dedicated it the second of the Ides of April in the fourteenth year of the reign of Edward, King of the English.'
It is a very tiny chapel, now part of a much later farmhouse building. But its plainness and simplicity speak clearly of Saxon worship.
A wonderful, wonderful church.
The tower and walls have rough herringbone sections, there are stupendous Saxon stone gargoyles guarding the corners of each. In the entrance porch you can see a badly worn statue of Mary the Virgin high above and, if you walk to the rear of the church, a beautiful Saxon angel sculpture, the sole survivor of what once was a series of panels within a now-destroyed section of the church.
Originally St Mary's was a minster church, adjoining a priory from which monks travelled out to 'minister' to the people. The farmhouse building which still joins the church was once the monks' dormitory.
Inside the church are more Saxon wonders.....a superb font, its spiral designs typically 'Celtic' and harking back to the Iron Age patterns seen on swords, shields, stones and jewellery........two carved stone beasts' heads from the 9th century, set into the doorway since the 1800s......two more beasts' heads from the 10th century, snarling at each end of the Sanctuary arch in the chancel...wonderful windows set high up, made of re-used carved Roman stones, dating from the 10th century and the finest to be found in the country.......craved heads of people and animals on the pillars...doorways and stairs to nowhere......
A most wonderful and evocative place, full of architectural treasures and the atmosphere of ages.