Community of St Mary the Virgin

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The Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) is an Anglican religious order based at Wantage in Oxfordshire, England. It was founded in 1848 by the vicar of Wantage, the Reverend William John Butler and is one of the oldest surviving religious communities in the Church of England.


In the middle of the 19th century a spiritual revival known as the Oxford Movement began in the Church of England. Those involved came to be known as Anglo-Catholics whose aim was to recall the Church of England to its origins and to restore reverence and beauty in worship. Out of the Oxford Movement came the first religious communities to be founded since the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII of England and among these the Community of St Mary the Virgin was one of the first.

The community was founded by William John Butler, the vicar of Wantage. He and Mother Harriet, the first superior, left their mark on the community. From the start there was an emphasis on simplicity of life.

From small beginnings the community grew over the years, with many active ministries in schools, mission houses and homes for the elderly, mothers and babies. Other ministries involved people with learning difficulties, young offenders and the rehabilitation of people with alcohol or drug addictions. Branch houses were started elsewhere in the United Kingdom and in India and South Africa, opening up many new ministry opportunities.

In more recent times, as numbers grew smaller and institutional works were given up in favour of smaller houses and more individual ministries, the community became engaged in spiritual direction and leading retreats, assisting as hospital chaplains and ministry in parishes and schools.

The five main Daily Offices said or sung in the CSMV chapel (Lauds, Terce, Sext, Vespers and Compline) were streamed live on the internet until 15 December 2012, when the streaming ended after Compline, the final office of the day.

On 1 January 2013 eleven of the sisters of the community, including the Mother Superior, left the convent at Wantage to join the Roman Catholic Anglican ordinariate for Britain, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.[1][2]

William John Butler[edit]

William John Butler (1818–1894), a high church Anglican priest, was Vicar of Wantage from 1846, and several of his curates became notable clerics (e.g. Henry Parry Liddon). In 1880 he became a canon of Worcester and in 1885 Dean of Lincoln. He was offered the bishopric of Natal in 1864 but did not accept it. He was the founder of the community and continued as warden until his death.


Butler founded St Mary's School in Wantage, Oxfordshire in 1873. In 2007 St Mary's was absorbed into Heathfield School, an Anglican boarding school in Ascot, Berkshire.

The order founded St Helen's School in Abingdon in 1903. In 1938, St Helen's merged with the school of St Katharine in Wantage to become the School of St Helen and St Katharine, Abingdon.


  • Butler, William John (1897) Life and Letters of William John Butler; ed. by A. J. Butler. London: Macmillan
  • Annie Louisa, Mother C.S.M.V. (1948) Butler of Wantage: his inheritance and his legacy; an offering from his Community of S. Mary the Virgin. Westminster: Dacre Press (author identified as A. L. Hoare in ODCC)
  • Cross, F. L. (ed.) (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford U. P.; p. 212 (gives foundation date as 1850)