Ss Mary & John churchyard
Ss Mary & John Churchyard, Cowley Road: a peaceful sanctuary and the green lung of East Oxford
Ss Mary & John churchyard is a secluded 2-acre Victorian cemetery, now closed for burials, adjacent to the busy Cowley Road in East Oxford. It dates from the time of Father Benson, founder of the Cowley Fathers
. The mature specimen trees are a mark of the original landscape design, but unfortunately, by the 1990's, it had become massively overgrown with brambles, persistent weeds and tree saplings, with many of the crowded gravestones in a state of disrepair. The large shrubs and overhanging branches provided cover for drug abuse. Since 2000, a major effort has been underway to restore it as a tranquil green space, wildlife conservation area, and an educational resource for the local community. Sage is pleased to provide this page to publicise the activities of the Ss Mary & John churchyard project. The project now also has its own web site at Ss Mary & John Churchyard Educational Resource.
We hope to use this page to keep you up to date on developments.
To provide a peaceful sanctuary, evoking an atmosphere of remembrance and reflection
To improve the aesthetic surroundings of the church
To provide a haven for wildlife
To increase the biodiversity in the area
To promote the enjoyment and understanding of the natural world
To develop the potential of the churchyard as an educational resource on natural and local history
To increase the involvement of the local community in its use and care.
LANDMARKS ON THE WAY
Sunday 16th February 2003- Thanksgiving and care for God's Creation was the focus of the Parish Eucharist at Ss Mary & John Church, Cowley Road, East Oxford.
Ruth Conway wrote "I'm very happy to report that we had a splendid service and LOAF lunch (L
ocally produced, O
rganically grown, A
nimal friendly, F
airly traded) - soup, wine and chocolate cake - with the Bishop today, with some key people in the local community turning up for the presentation. It feels as if the whole churchyard project is much more fully on people's minds and hearts." Ruth sent us the Intercessions
which give a flavour of the event. See the article by Chris Holland in Sage Words May 2003
November 2003-The Trinity Labyrinth Installed.
The design, executed in multi cobbles, is based on the Christian Trinity and set into a circle 4m across that symbolises unity, universality and eternity. The 'pathway', predominantly gold, includes individual tiles made by the local workshop participants using techniques such as clay carving and mosaic making. The design of the tiles reflect flora and fauna from the churchyard, historical references and personal symbols. The central circular feature is floral and includes polished pebbles and gemstones.
The labyrinth was commissioned by Fusion, Oxford's Community Arts Agency and was designed by Fuller MacKeith Public Art & Design Partnership in collaboration with members of the congregation and of Mental Health Groups in East Oxford. More Details
Tuesday 18th January 2005-
Martin Conway of The Oxford Diocese Board of Social Responsibilty wrote an interesting reply to a question from a church in Slough- What to do with a church yard
The reply is based very much on the experience of the Ss Mary & John churchyard project.
the project was given a major grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund
to develop an educational trail. Adding to all the voluntary effort, this enabled the repair of memorials linked with local history, better management of the wildlife habitats, and the development of the educational website www.ssmjchurchyard.org.uk
Wednesday 14th December 2005-
The Ss Mary & John churchyard project formed part of a successful application by the church to gain an Ecocongregation
award. Ecocongregation aims to encourage churches to consider environmental issues within a Christian context and enable local churches to make positive contributions in their life and mission. The assessors for the award were Dr. Paul Robinson of Oxford City Council and Sage
member, Dr. Martin Hodson.
Sunday 30th April 2006-
Ss Mary and John, Cowley, Oxford, held a Sunday Eucharist with a green theme, and celebrated their Ecocongregation
award, which they gained the previous December. Go to the special Celebration
Sunday 28th May 2006-
The project received national attention when Ruth Conway of Ss Mary & John was featured on Songs of Praise
on BBC1, talking about the transformation of the churchyard. The program, which was part of the BBC’s season on climate change, also included Jo Rathbone of the Ecocongregation
scheme. Details of the programme can be found at Songs of Praise factsheet for Sunday 28 May 2006
Mothering Sunday 2007- Apple tree planted and blessed as a Baptism tree which will be cared for by the children and watered with the water used in baptisms.
Friday 11th May 2007- Launch of the churchyard website -
see press release
Thursday 31st May 2007-
It was announced today that Ss Mary & John churchyard
have won a Big Lottery Breathing Places Award for £8,730 to increase the biodiversity in the churchyard. This will be used to transform a desolate corner with plants conducive to butterflies, moths and insects and to introduce a greater variety of marsh plants into the boggy area. In addition, the award will enable the project to provide training for volunteers and to organise special events with wildlife themes for the local community.
Transcription of the Monumental Inscriptions
The work of the volunteers
"The group is a diverse mix of people from the local community, from students to senior citizens, from regulars to 'droppers in'. So far we have cleared rubble, helped prepare the ground for a wildflower remembrance garden, dug a trench for a new hedge, built compost heaps and habitat piles, planted shrubs and begun to think about spring bulbs. Now the nights are closing in we will try our hand at building bird boxes. We will also be getting together on the occasional Saturday or Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours. We want to keep up the progress! We have made new friends, learnt a lot, and always enjoy ourselves, often finishing the evening with a quick pint!"
are held every Weds evening 6-8pm (in summer time) and every Sat afternoon 2-4pm. Either regular or one-off volunteers are very welcome. Meet outside the south porch of the church facing the churchyard. Further details at Volunteers
or Ruth Conway 01865 723085