This is a Grade I listed building, sitting in a fascinating churchyard. A priest in Painswick is noted in the Domesday Book and so it is assumed that there was also a church here at that time, probably built between 1042 and 1066 by Ernesi, an Anglo Saxon thegn and Lord of the Manor. After the Norman conquest the Lordship passed to the family of de Laci, the patron saint of which was Saint Peter. In 1377 the chapel at the north side of the church was rebuilt and dedicated to St. Peter. This is the oldest part of the church. Shortly afterwards the north aisle was added.
By this time the de Laci family had given the living to the Prior and Canons of Llanthony Priory (founded by William de Lacy and one of the greast medieval buildings of Wales) in the Black Mountains, who had spiritual oversight of the parish until the Reformation.
The nave and tower were built about 1480 and by 1550 the sanctuary had taken its present form. The spire, which declared the presence of the church at a distance and emphasised its link with heaven, was not added until 1632. The church remained in this form until the English Civil War when it was occupied by Parliamentarians in 1644. The Royalists recaptured the village, however, after severe fighting. Bullet and cannon shot marks remain on the church tower to this day.
In 1657 a gallery was added to the north aisle. In 1740 the south aisle was built with a gallery above. A west gallery was added in 1840. In 1877 the church was restored by public subscription. The font dates from 1661 and replaced one destroyed during the Civil War.
A bell ringers' society, still known as the “Ancient Society of Painswick Youths”, was formed in 1686. Before 1731 there were eight bells, but the ring was augmented in 1732 and in 1819 by four further bells. In 1986 to celebrate the tercentenary of the society a thirteenth bell was added and the clock face restored. In 1993 the addition of an extra treble bell, made possible by a generous donation, completed the present ring of fourteen bells.
In the churchyard Painswick has a unique collection of chest tombs and monuments from the early 17th century onwards, carved in local stone by local craftsmen. The oldest tomb, with fossils on the top, is of William Loveday, Yeoman, dated 1623. With its tombs and yews, it has been described as "the grandest churchyard in England". He followed this with the comment: 'far grander than the church itself'.
It is said that no more than 99 yew trees can grow in Painswick churchyard, and that the hundredth will always be pulled out by the devil. A recent count revealed 103 yews, so it seems that deveil has given up. A wide variety of tomb designs, from the upright headstone to the horizontal ledger, the chest, the pedestal and the tea caddy, are to be found here. The earliest chest tombs were conceived as copies of those traditionally provided inside churches for wealthier families. Outside, the customary effigy was omitted. The tomb of William Loveday, Yeoman, deceased the 20th May 1623, is the earliest to be seen in Painswick churchyard: a rectangular box of four panels secured by iron cramps, surmounted by a thick over-hanging slab, all standing on a moulded flared base, it faces the eastern end of the church.
By looking carefully, you can follow the changes in taste and design over the following centuries, culminating in the so-called 'tea-caddy' style. Tombs became taller but more compact and more ornamental, in keeping with the fashions of the day (just as with gardens, like Painswick's own Rococo Garden) but the very workability of the local stone is also its downfall – too many of the tombs have weathered badly. However, you can get some idea of the changes in taste by looking at the row of tombs to the north of the church alongside the yews close to the main road.
Little is known of the masons responsible for the Painswick tombs. Some of the best are ascribed to John Bryan who was born in Painswick in 1716. Together with his brother Joseph, he founded a firm of masons in Gloucester. The firm continued under Joseph's son until it amalgamated with George Wood, finally ceasing trading in 1820.
Clipping the church
On the nearest Sunday to 19 September the ceremony known as "clipping the church" takes place. Local children wear flowers in their hair, join hands and embrace St. Mary's parish church.
Clipping the church is an ancient custom traditionally held on Easter Monday or Shrove Tuesday. The word "clipping" is Anglo-Saxon, derived from "clyp-pan", meaning "embrace" or "clasp". Clipping the church involves either the church congregation or local children holding hands in an outward-facing ring around the church. In Painswick this take place at 3pm. Once formed the service begins and at intervals everyone takes two steps towards the church then two steps back, while singing a special Clypping hymn. After the service all the children are given a freshly made currant bun. The service was held at infrequent intervals until 1897 when the then vicar, Reverend Seddon, made it an annual event. There may be dancing and following the ceremony a sermon may be delivered in the church.
Little is known about the history of clipping, though it is thought to have originated as a Pagan custom. It was revived in the 19th century but since has fallen out of favour in most places except Painswick and a few others.
In Painswick, Puppy Dog Pie, or Bow-Wow Pie, is served in the Royal Oak after the service. No (real) dogs are involved. Several stories account for its origin, based on rivalry between Painswick and the neighbouring town of Stroud. In essence, the story goes that a previous landlord, running out of conventional meat, used the meat of local stray dogs instead and fed these to a group of visitors to Stroud, a deception,once discovered, that led to a punch-up. The first written record about the baking of a pie was by a certain Mrs Gomme in 1897. She discovered that it was a general custom to eat a pie in which the china figure of a dog had been baked. The pies were made at home and could contain either meat or fruit; what was necessary was that it should contain a china dog together with china puppies. There are several other explanations for this odd recipe, the storyline of which, as is usual in such cases, is always a little unsatisfactory and incomplete. A more erudite connection has also been made with Roman offerings to wolf-gods but that seems to be trather tenuous.