Christchurch, Dorset, England
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Page Contents

 The Exterior
   The North Side
   The North Porch
   The West Tower
    The Bells
   The North Aisle
   The North Transept
   The Choir, Presbytry & Lady Chapel
   The South Transept
 The Interior
   St Michael's Loft
   The Lady Chapel
   The Ambulatory
   The Choir
   The North Choir Aisle
   St Michael's Loft
   Salisbury Chantry
Monuments & Memorials
 War Memorial Chapel
 Henry Rogers
 The Perkins Mausoleum
 Other pages on this web-site
 The Priory's own site
 Other web-sites

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Early History

A Saxon church has been on this site since about 700 and William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of 1086 the priory here was refered to as � The Monastery of the Holy Trinity of Thuinam� administered by a Dean and tenty-four secular canons.

after the day�s work was finished, materials disappeared during the night to be found later on the ground where the Priory now stands. Eventually the Saxon church was destroyed and in 1094 the present magnificent building was begun.

When Ranulf Flambard, William (Rufus) II's Bishop of Durham, chose to build a church at Christchurch, he seems to have preferred a site atop nearby St Catherine's Hill. According to legend, the materials which had been daily hauled to its summit and put into place were mysteriously found back at the bottom of the hill each morning until the attempt to build on the summit of the hill was abandoned in favour of the site of the Saxon Church. Thus the legend recounts how Flmabrd's church was founded in 1094.


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Hauntings at the Priory

The Priory became famous for its relics and attracted many pilgrims who contributed to making mediaeval Christchurch prosperous and it became known by the new name of Christchurche de Twenham.

As with any such institution, the mediaeval Priory and its possessions such as Place Mill were held of the monarch under the feudal system and the town had two manors. Priory Manor of Christchurch Twyneham had its own court house which stood just outside the Priory gates in Church Street.

See also The Remains of Mediaval Christchurch

Flambard's Norman church consisted of a choir of three bays with an apse and side aisles, transepts with apsidal chapels, and a nave of eight bays. There are three crypts under the choir and the chapels of the transepts. The eastern end of the church has been rebuilt but the transepts and nave of Flambard's original church remain largely intact.

The original Norman church was cruciform in plan and appears to have been built with the tower rising above the crossing-point. This tower seems to have collapsed in 1415 destorying the quire in the process. The new quire, built in the Perpendicular style was completed in 1510. Not long before this, the Lady Chapel had been added to the church and the present western tower built within and over the nave.

The thirteenth century saw the addition of the north nave aisle, the north porch and the clerestory of the nave in the Early English style. The rood screen, the splendid reredos and the Lady Chapel are all late fourteenth century additions. The tower which now dominates the town was built in the fifteenth century.

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Dissolution of the Monasteries

Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century brought the steady stream of pilgrims to an end and this led to a decrease in the town's prosperity. Although the rest of the Priory was lost at the dissolution (only the porter's lodge and a part of the walls remain), the town was allowed to keep the fine church but heceforth it was to be served by vicars not the wealthy Priors.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a petition (extant) by the last Prior here, John Draper II, Bishop of Neapolis, was addressed to Henry VIII imploring him to spare the priory because of the poverty of the surrounding area and the work of the clerics in providing relief for the needy.

The report on the place to King Henry of December 2, 1539 spoke well of the Prior but bode ill for the Priory itself;-

We found the Prior a very honest conformable person, and the house well furnysschide with juellys and plate, whereof some be mete for the King's majestie is use.

Not only did King Henry take the plate mentioned in the above report, but it as also believed the he removed a number of valuable statues.

As was true of many places, the suppression of the Priory deprived the town of its only scholl which had been run by the priors.

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Top of this page

If the huge church - with a length of 311ft 4in it claims to be the longest parish church in England - and paticularly its tower dominates the town today, how much truer this must have been in times gone by when Christchurch was a smaller place. The best views of the church are to be had from Town Bridge over the Avon, with the Constable's House and the Norman castle to its right, and from the churchyard in the north=west corner adjacent to the vicarage.

The building's most striking exterior feature apart from the tower must be the richly ornamented Norman stair turret at the eastern end of the north transept. The North Porch, main entrance to the church, is also one of the largest of its kind in England.

Within, the great dark nave with its arcade of massive Norman pillars completed about 1150 is divided from the Great Choir by a screen dating from 1320 and richly carved with a variety of animals and fruit.

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The Exterior


Among the many interesting features of this side of the church is the circular staircase attached to the corner of the transept with its rich daiper-work . Also noteworthy is the Norman arcading to the base of the transept . The windows of the choir clerestory are unusaully large and set very close together.


The porch which is the main entrance, is of proportions which befit Flambard's church, projecting as it does some 12 metres (40 feet) from the aisle and nearly as high as the clerestory, it is one of the largest church porches in the country. The 13th century arch which forms the opening to the outside is supported on pillars of local Purbeck marble while the double arch forming the doorway into the church is a fine example of Early English work. The chamber above the stone-vaulted ceiling of the porch is supposed to have been used as a muniment room.

Before King Henry VIII had the Priory demolished, it is here in the porch that the Priors transacted their business with the townsfolk. In more recent times, the town's fire appliance was stabled in the church porch (another was kept at the offics of the insurance agents in Castle Street).


The Western Tower of the church is a 15th-century alteration for it was built into the church and not added to it. The west end of the nave was demolished and the lower walls of the tower were built within so as to leave a space at the west end of the two aisles, one of these spaces being used as a vestry. The west part of the nave is, therefore, part of the 15th-century tower which is flanked by the older aisles. The best view of the tower is to be had from the north-western corner of the churchyard, adjacent to the vicarage.


The belfry of the tower boasts a peal of 12 bells plus a flat 6th. Two of these bells date from 1370.


The North Aisle is seperated into six compartments by Early English buttresses between the North Porch and the transept. Looking above to the clerestory, the Norman round-headed windows can be seen but much of the Norman work, particularly the arcading, has been covered by the latter Early English.


The highly ornamented turret which encloses the spiral staircase at the north-east corner of the north transept is by far the most interesting feature of the exterior of Bishop Flambard's Norman church. The base of the turret consists of the arcade of intersecting arches which extend around the whole of the transept and, above this, is another arcade although the semi-circular arches are carried on shafts and do not intersect. The next stage of the turret is decorated with diaper-work surmounted by another arcade with semi-circular arches before the whole is capped by the stone roof. The effect of the whole is to create a rich diversity of design - even the shafts on each stage of arcading are different so as to be distinct from the others.


The choir, presbytry and Lady Chapel to the east of the north transept are built in the Perpendicular style. In the exterior fo the north wall of the Lady Chapel is an octagonal turret which rises above the parapet and carries within it the stairway giving access to St Michael's Loft which now serves as the Priory Museum.


On the Eastern side of the transept is a Norman apsidal chapel with a semi-conical roof. It has two windows, one of these is Norman and the other Early English. In the south-east corner is a stair turret.

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The Interior

ST Michael'S LOFT

St Michael's Loft stands over the Lady Chapel. The large but plain, low room can be reached from the exterior by means of the octagonal staircase on the north wall of the choir as well as by climbing the seventy-five steps from the inside. Originally it was used by the canons of the Priory for the instruction of novices, but the piscina at the east end would imply that it was once used as a chapel. From 1662, when permission was obtained from the Bishop of Winchester until 1828 it was used as the town's first grammar school. It then became a private academy which was run by the vicar until 1869. Now it serves as the Priory Museum.


The chapel was built in the early fifteenth century and contains a reredos from 1450 but this has been much restored. Here also are the tombs of Sir Thomas West, a Constable of the Castle, and his mother Lady Alice. Above the Lady Chapel is St Michael's Loft which serves as the Priory Museum.

Lord West died as the 15th cntury was beggining and his will directs that his mortal remains should be buried in the 'new' Lady Chapel - thus dating the chapel to the late 14th century.

The alter, a slab of local Purbeck marble, and the beautiful of mutilated reredos stand under the fine Perpendicular east window. The tombs of Lord West and his mother stand to the north and south of the altar.


It is above the ambulatory on the south side of the church that the Miraculous Beam which gave both church and town a new name is housed. Although not in its original position, it is kept here safe-keeping.


Originally, the Great Choir was built in the same Norman style as the nave incorporating the fine 14th century reredos which is known as the 'Jesse Screen' which was moved to its present position during the rebuilding of c. 1510 occassioned by the destruction of Flambard's central tower.

The screen depicts Jesse and the family tree descending through King David and Solomon to the infant Christ. Christ is depicted in the central panel, known as the 'Epiphany panel' with Mary, Joseph, the Magi and the shepherds.

The monks stalls have misericords and some of these predate the 13th century. The prior, the sub-prior and the precentor sat in richly-carved and canopied stalls.

The mural above the Jesse Screen depicting the Ascension was painted by Hans Feibusch in 1967.


Here stands the beautiful Tudor Salisbury Chantry with its Rennaisance detail built by Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. Also the tomb of Sir John and Lady Chydioke and a tablet by Chantrey to the memory of John Barnes.

The colours of the CHristchurch Volunteers of 1793 to the east are of interest in that they show the Jack before the Union in the reign of Geroge IV.


The Salisbury Chantry in the north choir aisle was built by Margaret, Countess of Salisbury to be her last resting place. Last survivor of the Plantagenets who provided England with several kings, she was connected with the town because the manor passed tothe Earls of Warwick.

The richly decorated chantry was designed by the Florentine architect Torregiano, a contemporary or student of Michelangelo, and is built of white Cean stone from Normandy.

The Countess was the neice of Richard III and thus posed a threat to Henry VIII as a potential claimant to the throne. He had her incarcerated in the Tower of London and executed in 1541. Then in her seveties, she refused to place her head on the block and it was hacked from her body as she stood. The king refused permission for her to be buried in the chantry she had prepared here and she lies interred in the Tower of London.

MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS Top of this page

The War Memorial Chapel is at the west end of the church and near it are the Books of Remembrance. The church also has many other memorials and tombs of interest.


The tombstone commemorating Henry Rogers which stands near the path to the North Porch bears a strange and mysterious epitaph;

We are not slayne but raysed, raysed not to life but to be byried twice by men of stryfe. What rest could the living have when dead had none? Agree amongst you, heere we ten are one. Hen. Rogers died April 17, 1641.

One suggestion which has been mooted is that the memorial may refer to ten men who fought on the wrong side of the Civil War and and their bodies may have been exhumed and hung as a warning to others before being re-interred. Another is that the bodies are those of ten shipwrecked sailors who had been buried in unconsecrated ground to the ire of the Lord of the Manor and that Henry Rogers, then Mayor of Christchurch, directed that all ten should be buried in one grave to save expense.


Mrs Perkins, perhaps because she lived at
Church Hatch overlooking the churchyard, had a morbid fear of being buried alive and went to extraodinary lengths in case such an event should befall her.

Elliot's Charity

Edward Elliot died in 1677 leaving provision for twenty loaves to be distributed to the poor of the town from the Priory on the second Sunday of every month.

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Possessions of the Priory

In about 1150, Richard, son of Hilias de Orescuilz, gave land and the advowson in Stures (modern Stourpaine) to the Priory Church of Christchurch in Twyneham, Hampshire (the advowson was later transferred to Salisbury at an unknown date).

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Links to Other Pages on this Site

Repairs to the fabric of the Priory
Hauntings at the Priory
Priors of Christchurch
Mediaeval Building
  Mediaeval Christchurch
  Changes in England under the Normans
  Mediaeval Building
  Towns & Villages of Dorset

See also    Other Buildings of Note in Christchurch

Links to Other Sites

. . . . . the inclusion of these links to other sites is for the interest and convenience of visitors to this site only and does not imply any endorsement of the products or services offered by the individuals or organisations involved nor the accuracy of the information contained therein . . . . .

The Priory has an excellent website
(click here to view it)

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