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Gallery: Churches of Dorset
by Peter Kessler, 7 November 2020
Dorset Council (West) Part 2:
Churches of Abbotsbury to Forde Abbey
The ruins of St Peter's Benedictine Priory,
Abbotsbury, largely surround the church of St Nicholas (left of photo
- see links). Little remains now of the Benedictine abbey other
than foundations and some relics of walls, although the abbey's
tithe barn does survive. The abbey was founded in 1044 by Orc, a
house steward of King Cnut. Its layout probably followed the normal
Benedictine pattern of that time. Dissolved in 1539, much of the
abbey was soon demolished.
St Catherine's Chapel, near Abbotsbury,
is on the hilltop between Chesil Beach and Abbotsbury, and
overlooking Grove Lane to its near east. The chapel dates to the
fourteenth century. It was built by the monks of Abbotsbury Priory
(see above), possibly as a beacon for pilgrims who were coming to
worship at the abbey in the village below. It survived the
Dissolution which destroyed the abbey because it was so valued as
a navigational beacon to sailors crossing Lyme Bay.
As it was dedicated to St Catherine, the patron
saint of spinsters, the chapel became a popular place for women to
pray for a husband, with a particular prayer being especially used
here. It is built entirely of local stone, hauled up the hill to the
building site. There is a small oratory in the turret. The interior
is bare, although regular musical events are held here. Surrounding
the chapel are a series of medieval agricultural strip lynchets,
terraces cut into the hillside.
The Church of St Andrew, Monkton Wyld, is
on the west side of Elsdon's Road, opposite Monkton Wyld Court. A
Victorian church, construction began in 1848, with the work being
carried out in blue lias and flint, dressed with Caen stone. The
body of the church consists of a nave and a chancel of almost equal
size, with side aisles and a central tower topped by a broach spire,
one of very few such spires in Dorset, which reaches a height of
36.5 metres above the church.
The name Monkton refers to the past ownership
here of land by the monks of Forde Abbey (see below). There has
never been a village here, but this rural church benefited greatly
from the patronage of Mrs Elizabeth Dodson (circa 1798-1883),
the wealthy widow of Charles Philip Dodson Esq of Stainly Hall,
Yorkshire. The church was consecrated in 1850, but the spire was not
completed until 1856, so that the architect on the project never saw
his finished work.
Forde Abbey used to lay within what are
now the grounds of Forde Abbey House and its fine gardens. In 1136,
Richard de Redvers, earl of Exeter, founded near Okehampton a
daughter house of Surrey's Waverley Cistercian Abbey at Brightley.
This was transferred to Forde in 1141. Following dissolution in
1539, the abbey was left unused until 1649, after which substantial
portions of it were incorporated into the magnificent mansion that
can be seen today.
Two photos originally published on Lynne's
'Echoes of the Past' blog and reproduced here with permission, with
four photos kindly contributed by Bangkok Bloke, Douglas Law, and
Keith Bowden, all via the 'History Files: Churches of the British
Isles' Flickr group. Additional information by Karen White and
Keith Bowden, and from 'Echoes of the Past'.