Fab review David.
4 reviews of Sherborne Abbey in English
It has been a pleasure to visit Sherborne Abbey on sevearl occasions. One memorable one was in Dceember to visit when the Messiah was being rendered in the Abbey. You can picture the setting – winter scenes and Christmas atmosphere blending with the unique music. I was making a series of recordings for a Talking Newspaper. Remarkably the solist singing that evening was blind.
On another occasion, I took time to explore most of the Abbey and was impressed by its freshness and friendliness. The delightful mini-chapel for youngsters, duly decorated with large animal-toys sitting at tables waiting to be enjoyed.
Recently, new lighting has been installed which greatly enriches the incredible craftsmanship in the ceilings.
The Abbey shop is a treasure trove of interest and one can find almost any souvenir for which you might be looking to take home.
Very worth while visiting…..
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A little-known side of Sherborne Abbey is that it is a great place to go with young children. There is plenty of space to move about (as long as they are reasonably well behaved!), both outside on smooth lawns and inside. There are statues to look at, rubbings to do, a skeleton in the crypt to look at, a wonderful mirror on wheels for looking at the beautiful ceilings and, for the youngest, a little chapel equipped with miniature tables and chairs used by the Sunday school.
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Sherborne is a wonderful little town, and well worth a day trip from London (or anywhere else, for that matter). It’s famous for its schools, and having not one, but two castles. But for me, the Abbey is what it is all about.
It’s one of the most impressive non-Cathedral churches in the UK - although it is built on a cathedral-like scale, having been both a Cathedral and an Abbey. ChiantClassico123 has already described its early history as a Saxon Cathedral in depth, so I shan’t add to that!
From just after the Conquest, when the See was moved to Old Sarum (And later to Salisbury) the church became a Benedictine Abbey. As was common in those days, the townsfolk worshipped in the Nave of the Abbey, with the Chancel reserved for the monks.
From the 14th century, a separate church, dedicated to All Hallows, was built as an extension immediately to the west to house the growing population. The scant remains of this church are visible at the west end: when the Abbey was sold to the townspeople to be their parish church after the Dissolution, there was no need for All Hallows and so it was demolished and the materials sold off. But this extension was to lead to trouble.
Late in the 14th century, the monks began rebuilding the Abbey in the new Perpendicular Gothic style. By 1437, new Perpendicular vaults had been erected over the north transept and the choir, new windows inserted, and a new tower completed. But the chancel was only half rebuilt when a serious argument between the monks and the townspeople came to a head.
Its basis was the use of the font in the nave, which the monks had repositioned, at the same time narrowing a door into the nave from All Hallows. The townspeople wanted the changes reversed: when the monks refused, they reacted with perfect pique: they erected their own font in All Hallows, and rang the church bells at times calculated to cause the monks annoyance!
The matter was adjudicated in 1437 by Bishop Neville of Salisbury, who essentially suggested restoring things to how they had been, as well as curtailing the bell-ringing. But this did not pacify the now enraged townspeople, who rioted and burned the church. (The scorch marks can still be seen in the crossing and choir walls).
The townspeople were made to pay for its rebuilding, and pay handsomely: it was rebuilt in the best Perpendicular style, with the nave vault finally completed towards the end of the 15th Century. However, the parishioners had the last laugh: At the Dissolution, the Abbey became their parish church, and over the years was adapted with the addition of galleries and box pews.
But by the mid 19th century, it was in need of major restoration, which was carried out with unusual sensitivity by R C Carpenter and William Slater from 1850-58, with further work on the tower by R H Carpenter in 1884. Further restorations of the roof and glass were carried out in 1878-81.
Essentially, most of what can be seen today dates from the rebuilding of the 15th century, although beneath this, much of the Norman fabric and the original ground plan remain. The crossing is entirely Norman work, as is the porch, with a Lady Chapel surviving from the 13th century. A Saxon doorway survives at the west end in the north aisle, and the Norman doorway - complete with the controversial narrowing - at the west end of the south aisle.
But what grabs the attention is the rebuilt nave and choir, in the finest Perpendicular Gothic: and what really grab the attention are fan vaults. These are truly spectacular, and support the shallowest of arches (so much so that they have needed much subsequent reinforcing: The choir is the earliest surviving large-scale fan vault to have been built, and its design was rather over ambitious). The nave and choir vaults are about 50 years apart in date, but both are decorated with the most elaborate of ribs and bosses - each carved with a different theme.
It is also worth noting the irregularities of the nave: the nave piers of the arcade do not correspond to the clerestory windows above, suggesting that the original Norman arches were faced in the perpendicular style, but the rest of nave rebuilt from the clerestory upwards.
The church has furnishings worthy of a cathedral as well: there is notable stained glass by Pugin and the firm of Clayton & Bell, alongside some mediaeval fragments in St Katherine’s Chapel; several impressive tombs and memorials, most notably to Sir John Horsey (d. 1546) and his son (d. 1564), both in full armour; and the huge, confident classical monument to John Digby (d. 1698) and his two wives in the south transept.
The choir has some exceptional carved misericords, with themes such as a wife beating her husband and a master beating a boy. More modern is the beautiful glass Reredos in the Lady Chapel by Laurence Whistler.
The Abbey has the usual shop, located in the close, and an incredibly active church life, with an impressive choir and a regular programme of evening concerts, in addition to a visiting programme for children and, of course, a regular programme of services.
But the joy of the Abbey also rests in its setting, with its grounds nestling in the heart of this attractive little town.
It is said that Sherborne is arguably the most attractive town in Dorset and I would certainly not disagree.
It is an ancient place with roots in the Saxon period when it was already a village. Surprisingly, the centre is still largely unspoilt by encroaching red brick terraces or mindless housing estates or even inappropriate modernization of the old buildings. It has the venerable feel of a small cathedral city and certainly the calm of a place of learning, which it still is. Timber faced buildings jostle with stone from the Georgian period and others with quaint half-hidden courtyards. Right in the middle of this wonderful cacophony of styles rests the Abbey behind its green, resplendent like some fabulous crown on a velvet cushion.
Not being a practising Christian, I don’t do churches (unless they are empty, in which case I like to mosey around and enjoy the atmosphere, the architecture and the art.)
The first time I ever saw Sherborne Abbey, I was smitten. It is longish, narrowish and has a very high and beautiful ceiling which immediately draws your attention. In fact there is an inverted mirror so that you can enjoy it in detail without getting neckache. I’m afraid that my photograph does not really do it justice.
The view from the south over the green, shows an almost entirely 15c perpendicular style, apart from the south porch, which is a mix of 12c ground-floor rebuild and 19c above. Yet it is the rich golden colour of the Hamstone from which it is constructed coupled with the majestic tower and superb flying buttresses that all combine to produce an unforgettable image.
When the sculptural floodlighting illuminates the Abbey at night, there is a wholly serene quality about it (but take care in winter! - I almost went 'a over t’ on the ice (and had not been drinking).
In 705, King Ine divided the vast see of Winchester into two by establishing a new see at Sherborne, where he appointed his relative Aldhelm, the abbot of Malmesbury, as its first bishop. It was still very large because the new see included, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Leaving aside the size, this became an important place because the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that two Kings of Wessex are buried in the church: Ethelbald (860) and Ethelbert (866), older brothers of Alfred the Great (the fifth son of their father King Ethelwulf). Although Cornwall became a Saxon see in its own right as early as 870, the rest lasted for 200 years before being divided again in 909 by the creation of sees at Wells, Crediton and Ramsbury. Towards the end of the Saxon period, Sherborne was joined to the see of Ramsbury (Wiltshire and Berkshire). However, soon after the Norman Conquest (1066) in 1075 the Bishop’s seat was moved to Old Sarum (Salisbury). The Bishops of Salisbury retained the great Manor of Sherborne and their 12c castle remained theirs for centuries.
Sherborne Abbey is one of only 18 churches awarded 5 stars in Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches. He writes “I would pit Sherborne’s roof against any contemporary work of the Italian Renaissance”.
Having read that, I know why, being a Renaissophile!
I was there recently with an Italian friend who was seriously impressed.
The place is magic. Go there an enjoy.
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