St Olave’s is the dominant building on Marygate, a street sloping down from Bootham to the river. The south side of the street, where the church stands, is bounded on most of its length by the fortified walls of St Mary’s Abbey built, like the church, in magnesium limestone and dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. The church, consisting of tower, nave and chancel in 15th century perpendicular style, is separated from the street by a brick wall and 19th century railings. Monastic ruins adjoin the church both on the east and west. The north side of the street consists of a mixture of largely terraced domestic and commercial buildings mainly from the 18th to 20th centuries.
The chief significance of the church setting, however, is to the south, where there is a churchyard with a number of mature trees and graves of 18th and 19th century date, including the listed tomb of William Etty RA (d 1849). The southern boundary is formed by the north aisle of the abbey church, much of which still remains and dates from the late 13th century. The abbey ruins are probably the most significant of any medieval city monastery in western Europe. They stand within the Museum Gardens, which contains other remains of the Roman and medieval periods and the Yorkshire Museum, and are a popular tourist location. To the southeast of the churchyard, and separated from it by a bowling green and abbey ruins, lies King’s Manor, substantially 15th to 17th century in date. Largely screened by trees and the abbey ruins, the glimpses of the church from the gardens make an important contribution to the scene.
The importance of St Olave’s Church and its setting is recognised by the statutory protection afforded to it. The church itself is listed as Grade I, some of the adjoining structures are a scheduled ancient monument, many of the buildings in its vicinity are listed at either grade I or II, and it is sited within a park in the register of Historic Parks and Gardens at grade II. It is within York’s central conservation area.