Gloucestershire Places of Worship

St Mary's Church, Kempley (1) (76k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (2) (76k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (3) (84k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (4) (54k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (5) (66k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (6) (97k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (7) (63k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (8) (66k) St Mary's Church, Kempley (9) (69k) Above Photograph(s)
Copyright of Rosemary Lockie/John Williams
St Mary's Church, Kempley
St Mary's Church,
Kempley, Gloucestershire.


This Church had a graveyard.

Note: any church within an urban environment may have had its graveyard closed after the Burial Act of 1853. Any new church built after that is unlikely to have had a graveyard at all.

Church History

This Place of Worship was founded in 1095, but we understand it was closed after 1903.

St Mary's Church is Norman in origin, believed to have been built between 1095 and 1100, by Hugh de Lacy, son of a Norman baron, Walter de Lacy, of Lassy in Normandy, and on the site of an older Saxon Church.

Inside the church are some very fine 12th Century murals. The following brief account - describing the murals in their original context - was kindly supplied by Margaret Brooke in 2004, with reference to research carried out by the Revd. R. Hart a few years previously:-

The Three Maries

High up to the right (south) side of the chancel arch are the remains of a 12th Century painting of the Three Maries at the Sepulchre. The scene is represented not as a depiction of the events as described in the Gospels, but as a representation of a liturgical drama such as would have been enacted in the churches at the time. The Three Maries thus carry crosses and thuribles, the smoke from the incense in these being depicted. The mound in front to them represent the church's own Easter sepulchre.

Liturgical dramas were part of the Church's regular pattern of worship in the early middle ages, and the layout of a church was designed with them in mind, especially the various doorways to allow processions to come and go. The unusual layout of the important Saxon church at nearby Deerhurst is thought to have been influenced by the needs of these dramatic presentations.;

In the centre of the chancel arch would have been the rood, the scene on the crucifixion with Mary to the north and John to the south. To the north of the chancel arch, and destroyed by the wall monument would have been an earlier scene from the Holy week Easter story, possibly Jesus' trial or his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, or perhaps the Last Supper or the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The church is believed to have been at the centre of an early agricultural community at Kempley, of which few traces now remain. The area around the church is prone to flooding, and whilst early settlers might have benefited from the nearby water supply as a source of power to drive water wheels, there was a gradual drift of population during the 18th and 19th centuries towards other power sources and to higher ground, where the hamlets known as Kempley Green and Fishpool are sited.

During the 19th century particularly, there was frequent flooding which cut off the villagers from their "spiritual sustenance". It was therefore decided a new church was needed, of which the foundation stone was laid in 1902. The new church, St Edward the Confessor, was dedicated on St Stephen's Day, 1903.

By this time St Mary's church was in a sad state of repair, and the early years of the 20th century saw a struggle for its preservation, and in particular the uncovering, and conservation of the murals. Thanks however to the hard work and perseverance of some dedicated people the church and murals still survive, and the church has now acquired the status of an "Ancient Monument".

Opening hours are 1st March - 31st October 10a.m. to 6p.m.
Winter months by prior notice - Apply Mrs M.E. Brooke:
Telephone 01531 660214.

Our photographs provide a "snapshot" of a visit to the church. The "Mandala", or as it is sometimes called "Wheel of Life" on the north wall is the one which usually catches the eye, but the paintings on the Chancel walls and ceilings are usually cited as being the most significant. The Rev. J.E. Gethyn-Jones, in his handbook St Mary's Church Kempley and its Paintings (1959) provides a most comprehensive account of their discovery, in 1871 by the then curate, Arthur Hislop Drummond, and their subsequent restoration. He suggests they date from the Norman period, being contemporary with the original church building. He also mentions the Parish Chest, of which he provides the following description:

The Parish Chest or Scob is a fine specimen of a 'dug-out', and in addition to the iron bands has been further reinforced and rendered burglar-proof by masses of nails driven into the side where the bands are wide apart, and where it might have been attacked by a 'cutting out' technique. In my book on Parish Registers there is an illustration of the Scob which I dated to fourteenth or fifteenth century. I now feel that it may be even older.

The War Memorial, beneath "The Wheel of Life", lists the following names:

To the Glory of God
and in honoured memory of the Men who
died in the Great War. 1914-1918.
Frederick DyerBenjamin Lane
William Alfred HodgesAlfred Manns
Henry Charles JonesFrank Manns
Samuel KirbyHubert Powell


Now or formerly Church of England.

If more than one congregation has worshipped here, or its congregation has united with others, in most cases this will record its original dedication.


This Church was located at OS grid reference SO6698831255. You can see this on various mapping systems. Note all links open in a new window:

Information last updated on 30 Apr 2012 at 15:33.

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This Report was created 23 Sep 2021 - 18:39:04 BST from information held in the Gloucestershire section of the Places of Worship Database. This was last updated on 27 Mar 2021 at 10:54.

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