Church of St Olave

This ancient church recalls York’s Viking past.  St Olave’s was dedicated to the patron saint of Norway, St Olaf, in 1055.  Olaf was a Viking warrior who attacked London by boat in 1009 and destroyed London Bridge.  This attack is thought to be the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is falling down’.  Olaf converted to Christianity when in England and was responsible for establishing the church of Norway.  He is depicted in the east window of the church.

St Olave's church is believed to have been founded by Earl Siward, a Danish warrior whose defeat of Macbeth is recorded by Shakespeare.  Before the Norman Conquest the area outside the city walls now known as Museum Gardens was called 'Earlsborough'.  It was a residence of the nobility, like Siward, who governed northern England at the time.  There is evidence in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle that when Siward died in 1055 he was buried on this site.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066 St Olave’s became the church of the Benedictine order in York.  In 1008 the monks built a much larger abbey and church, dedicated to St Mary, on adjoining land.

The shape of the present St Olave's really dates from 1446 when major rebuilding took place.  The church was widened as far as possible on the north side, so that the Abbey wall formed the north wall of the church.

In 1644, during the Civil War, the church tower was used as a gun platform in the Siege of York and the building was badly damaged.  Stone from the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey was used to repair and rebuild the church in the early 18th century. The church was enlarged again early in the 20th century.

Features to look out for include the medieval glass in the middle of the east window and an impressive 20th century crucifix over the pulpit.  York's famous artist, William Etty, is buried in the graveyard; his grave can be seen through the wall of the ruined St Mary's Abbey church.  St Olave's is still a lively parish church.