Archaeological investigations suggest that there was a church on the hill to the north of Buckfastleigh from early Saxon times. It has been suggested that this was where the original Buckfast Abbey stood, but opinions on this vary. We do know that the Abbey, which was originally founded in 1018, was rebuilt in stone on its present site in 1147. In the following century the church on the hill became the parish church of Buckfastleigh, under the name of Holy Trinity Church, and the earliest records show the first Vicar to be Walvanus, appointed by the Abbey in 1263 or 1264.
The town of Buckfastleigh, however, developed in the valley where water from the Dean Burn and the River Mardle was available for the wool trade, which was of great importance in the following centuries. This left the Parish Church well away from the centre of population. Eventually in 1894, after much effort, a simple church building, the old St Luke’s Church, was opened on the present site in the centre of Buckfastleigh for convenient use by those who found Holy Trinity inaccessible.
From the old to the new
In 1992 Holy Trinity Church was severely damaged by fire, believed to be
the result of an arson attack. After the fire, the tower and steeple were
restored and the bells rehung, but the main body of the church was left
without a roof. (For the latest developments on this, please see below).
The church and its churchyard are in an attractive setting and the site is
well worth a visit. The graveyard at Holy Trinity is still used for burials,
usually following a service in St Luke’s.
(Please click on the images for an enlarged picture).
After the fire the PCC (Parochial Church Council), under the leadership of the Revd John Rowland, agreed in 1997 that the best way forward was to demolish the old St Luke’s Church in the town centre, in order to build a modern parish church to serve all the people of the town. Building took place from May 1999 to September 2002, during which period the congregation met for worship in the primary school on Sunday mornings, and at other times were helped by our good friends in the Methodist Church.The consecration of the new church building took place on October 13th 2002 by the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish.
In the new church
The design started with the wish to seat people closer to the communion table, and so instead of the
mediaeval long narrow church we have a hexagonal shape. A side chapel, a lounge and a small
prayer chapel abut the main worship area. The reconstructed font from Holy Trinity (believed to be
Norman) and stained glass windows from the old St Luke's were incorporated in the new building.
On the lower floor, beneath the church, we have a large hall and meeting rooms. Most of the rooms
are available for hire, as well as being used by the church. The new church is a very adaptable
building, though with increasingly severe water-ingress problems which we are currently having to
deal with - see below and see a note on the News & Diary page for more details.
Following the consecration came the work of building up the life of the congregation in its new setting, and this was achieved through the devoted work of John Rowland and others. However, John died very suddenly in October 2011. This was a huge shock, but the church coped very well, and has since moved forward under the leadership of our current vicar, Tom Benson.
In summer 2014 we, together with the 4 churches of Dean Prior, Landscove, Staverton and Littlehempston, became the Dart Valley Mission Community, and then in November 2018 this together with the parishes of South Brent and Rattery became the Dart and Avon Mission Community, (which means that Tom's official title became Team Rector). We are blessed with a very able and very united ministry leadership team of clergy and readers.
Present day problems
However, on the negative side we are hitting major building problems. As said above, St Luke's increasingly lets in the rain, and we have a growing number of buckets catching the drips in various places. The future of the building is unclear at present as re-roofing would be a huge job and enormously expensive. In addition it was found in late 2019 that the ruin of Holy Trinity Church is unsafe, and notices have been placed at the entrances saying "Do not enter the building". A structural enginneer's report is awaited, and on the basis of this we will have to decide what action to take. Away from the building, the graveyard remains safe to visit.
Bee and butterfly haven at Holy Trinity Churchyard
Part of the churchyard at Holy Trinity is to be allowed to grow to provide a haven for bees, butterflies, etc - click here for more information.
The Cabell Tomb in Holy Trinity Churchyard
The historic Cabell Tomb, which stands next to Holy Trinity Church, has recently been restored, (grille and coving). Many legends have grown up about the tomb, mostly of very doubtful veracity, but a brief history can be found here.