From its beginnings over a thousand years ago, St Mary’s has witnessed the foundation of the University of Oxford and some of the most significant events in English church history.
Fellows of Oxford Colleges were regularly invited to preach at the church in the 18th Century – in the case of John Wesley, on three occasions.
Wesley’s years in Georgia, subsequent conversion experience and new found energy to spread the Gospel to all who would hear, had by 1741, distanced him from Oxford both physically and spiritually.
In 1741 he returned planning to deliver a condemnatory sermon at St Mary’s but was persuaded by a friend to substitute this criticism of Oxford’s lack of godliness for the sermon on the ‘almost Christian’, which he preached on 25th July 1741.
No such restraint applied in 1744 when towards the end of his sermon on ‘Scriptural Christianity’ he made a powerful attack on the University’s spiritual apathy. Not surprisingly, Wesley was not invited to give the University sermon again.
Indeed, he recognised that effect his sermon might have reflecting: “I preached I suppose the last time at St Mary’s. Be it so…. I have fully delivered my own soul.”
Tact and timing might have been missing in Wesley’s words but spiritual renewal was to come to Oxford nearly hundred years later in the form of the Oxford Movement developed by such thinkers as John Henry Newman, who came to St Mary’s as vicar in 1837.
The Church is free to visit. Opening times are as follows:
Monday – Saturday 9.30 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 12.00 – 5.00 pm
In July and August the church stays open until 6 pm.
Admission charges apply to the Tower, which has spectacular views over central Oxford.