In 1497 John Cabot set sail in his ship, the Matthew, from Bristol on a journey of discovery in which he reached the mainland of America.
King Henry V1 ordered the then Sherriff of Bristol, Richard Ameryck, to find funds for Cabot's journey. On his return, Cabot gave thanks for the voyage by presenting a whalebone to St Mary Redcliffe.
Five hundred years later the crew of the second Matthew, a replica of the first, gathered in the north porch to pray for a safe voyage before embarking on the same route across the Atlantic as John Cabot.
Earlier, at a service of dedication and blessing, they had presented the Church with a model of the ship which now rests above the north porch door. Like Cabot, they also returned with a gift of a whalebone for the church, a symbol of the wealth of the fishing grounds discovered around Newfoundland.
William Penn (Born in St. Thomas Parish, Bristol)
A monument of Sir William Penn can be found in St. Mary's church.
Admiral Sir William Penn, 'the famous father of an even more famous son', wrote the code of naval tactics, which formed the basis of the Duke of York's Sailing and Fighting Instructions, the standard book on tactics for the Royal Navy for much of the next two centuries. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, was his subordinate as Secretary to the Navy Board. Together, they reformed the structure and administration of the navy, laying the foundations for Britain's later dominance of the seas and, arguably, of the British Empire itself.
William Penn's elder son, William, was born in London in 1644. He became a leading and most troublesome Quaker. In 1681 Charles II granted him a province in America as redemption of the debts owed by the King to his late father. William had chosen the name "Sylvania" but the King insisted that it be prefaced by "Penn" in honour of the Admiral. Penn was both the founder and first governor of Pennsylvania.
His commitment to religious freedom and his enlightened concepts of democratic government ensured that the state of Pennsylvania later took a leading role in the country's independence and in the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America.