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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Dorset

by Peter Kessler, 7 November 2020

Dorset Council (West) Part 2: Churches of Abbotsbury to Forde Abbey

St Peter's Benedictine Priory, Abbotsbury, Dorset

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, Abbotsbury, Dorset

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.

St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury, Dorset

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.

Church of St Andrew, Monkton Wyld, Dorset

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.

Church of St Andrew, Monkton Wyld, Dorset

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, Forde, Dorset

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'.



Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.