Christianity would have arrived in Gloucestershire within the first century of the Roman occupation. Following their departure, it is probable that a Gloucester diocese existed (possibly centred on a church where St. Mary de Lode now stands), with the Severn vale remaining Celtic Christian until the British kings of Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath were defeated by pagan Wessex Saxons. Following the battle, the lower Severn valley was occupied by a tribe called the Hwicce. The Hwicce became a dependant province of Mercia, then ruled by Penda, who although a pagan, was noted by Bede as being tolerant of Christianity. The area they occupied, which included Hartpury, may have remained Celtic Christian until Penda’s death in 655, when the Christian allegiance of the area transferred to Canterbury.
The first abbey at Gloucester was founded in 679 as a community of monks and nuns by Osric, King of the Hwicce, subregulus of Aethelred, King of Mercia, with an endowment of three ‘hundreds’. Its possessions (the three hundreds) probably included King’s Barton of which Hartpury was a part. The manor is known to have remained a possession of the successive Christian communities that were accommodated in Gloucester on what is now the cathedral site. Offa, King of Mercia, confirmed or gave the Manor of Hardperie to the Abbey in about the year 760. Minster churches were established throughout the Diocese and priests from these churches ministered to the surrounding villages. It is likely that Hartpury came within the area originally served by St Mary de Lode, the church that appears to have been responsible for all those dependent on the Abbey’s minster church. This area would eventually have been divided into several parishes and the parish at Hartpury was probably an early creation when the first church, probably a timber structure, was built.
The abbey was refounded as a community of Benedictine monks in 1022, during the reign of Canute and dedicated to St Peter. Hartpury manor remained a part of Abbots Barton, and belonged to the Abbey. After the Norman Conquest, the Abbey continued to be responsible for the church in Hartpury and received its revenues.
A 16 page guide booklet on the Church, with many photos, and a leaflet on the churchyard are available to purchase.