Sherborne Abbey
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Sherborne Abbey

Sherborne Abbey
Sherborne abbey.jpg
Sherborne Abbey
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
DedicationSt Mary
RectorThe Revd Canon Eric Woods
Vicar(s)The Revd Jane Craw
The Revd Lesley McCreadie
The Revd Jono Tregale
Curate(s)The Revd Guntars Reboks
Organist/Director of musicJames Henderson
Organist(s)Peter Bray

Sherborne Abbey, otherwise the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, is a Church of England church in Sherborne in the English county of Dorset. It has been a Saxon cathedral (705-1075), a Benedictine abbey church (998-1539), and since 1539, a parish church.


It is believed that there was a Celtic Christian church called Lanprobi here as early as AD658 when it was part of the Celtic Kingdom of Dumnonia,[1] and Kenwalc or Cenwalh, King of the West Saxons is believed to be one of its founders.[2]


When the Saxon Diocese of Sherborne was founded in 705, to relieve pressure from the growing see of Winchester,[1] by King Ine of Wessex, he set Aldhelm as first Bishop of the see of Western Wessex, with his seat at Sherborne. Aldhelm was the first of twenty-seven Bishops of Sherborne.[2][3]


The twentieth bishop was Wulfsige III (or St. Wulfsin). In 998 he established a Benedictine abbey at Sherborne and became its first abbot. In 1075 the bishopric of Sherborne was transferred to Old Sarum, so Sherborne remained an abbey church but was no longer a cathedral. The bishop (in Old Sarum) remained the nominal head of the abbey until 1122, when Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury, made the abbey independent.

Known Abbots include:

  • Wulfsige III, 998; the first abbot and founder
  • Bishop Alfwold, c1050[4]
  • Clemont, c1165
  • Robert Bruyning,[5] 1385-1415
  • John Barnstaple, 1539

Parish church

The Benedictine foundation at Sherborne ended in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, when the abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII. Various properties at Sherborne were bought from the king by Sir John Horsey who then sold the abbey to the people of Sherborne, who bought the building to be their parish church (as people of many other places did), which it still is. The original parish church alongside the abbey was demolished, though the foundations are still visible. In 1550, King Edward VI issued a new charter to the school that had existed at Sherborne since 705, and some of the remaining abbey buildings were turned over to it.


The nave and chancel looking east

The Abbey is a Grade I listed building.[6] It has several distinct architectural styles throughout. Saxon features still remain in some parts of the Abbey, mainly around the Western door. Roger of Caen demolished most of the Saxon church and replaced it with a much larger, Norman style church.

The Lady Chapel and Bishop Robert's Chapel were added in the 13th century in the Early English style, and in the 15th century, the choir section was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, including the fan-vaulting Sherborne is still famous for, the remodelling by William Smyth, under Abbot John Brunyng (1415-1436). The vaulting is believed to have finished in 1490.[2]

During this renovation, a riot in the town caused a fire that damaged much of the renovation,[3] causing delays. Traces of the fire's effects can still be seen in the reddening of the walls under the Tower. The fire and its effects also caused the design of the Nave to be altered. Some of the Nave's pillars are Norman piers cased in Perpendicular panelling.[2]

St Katherine's Chapel, built in the 14th century, but altered in the 15th, contains examples of early Renaissance classicism architecture [7]

The whole building is around 240ft (73m) in length and 98ft (30m) in width.

Other features


The North Nave Aisle, sometimes called the 'Trinitie' or 'Dark' Aisle (as it is overshadowed by the adjoining Cloisters) contains several colours from the 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment and the Dorsetshire Militia. The South Nave Aisle contains colours of the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment.[2]

Memorials and tombs

The North Choir Aisle contains two tombs, believed to be the tombs of King Æthelbald of Wessex and his brother King Ethelbert of Wessex, elder brothers to Alfred the Great.[2][8]

Inside the Wykeham chapel is the tomb of Sir John Horsey and his son. Horsey had bought the church after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and sold it to the townspeople. Also in the Chapel is the plainly marked tomb of the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt.[9]

The South Transept contains an impressive baroque memorial to John Digby, 3rd Earl of Bristol, made of marble and designed by John Nost.[10] Additionally there is a memorial to Robert and Mary Digby.[2][11]

St Katherine's Chapel contains the 16th century tomb of John Leweston and wife Joan.[7] The Chapel was where Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Raleigh attended services.[2]

The North Aisle contains a memorial to Abbot Clement (1163) and an effigy to an unknown Prior, while the South Aisle contains an effigy of Abbot Lawrence of Bradford (1246).[2]

The Digby Memorial, situated outside the Abbey, is a memorial to George Digby who provided a lot of funding for renovation work during the 19th century. It was built in 1884 and features statues of St Aldhelm, Bishop Roger of Salisbury (Roger de Caen), Abbot Bradford and Sir Walter Raleigh.[12]


The organ in the north transept

The Abbey's organ, located in the North Transept, was installed in 1856[13] by [[Gray & Davison] to some considerable acclaim. It was completely rebuilt in 1955 by [[J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd] with a remote console in the Crossing and a large specification which included a Tuba. In 1972 John Coulson of Bristol again altered the organ by adding a neo-classically styled 'Positiv' in place of the Choir manual, some big mixtures on the Great--including the fancifully named Stieglitz--and increased wind pressures throughout. By 1987 an increasing lack of reliability led to a proposed scheme by Bishops, supported by John Norman, Cecil Clutton and Patrick Moule, favouring a return to the Gray & Davison past by almost halving the number of stops, returning the console 'upstairs' to the front of the case, and including a 'Chair' section instead of the Positiv in order to try to overcome the difficulties of the position of the organ. This was a bold move, but was hardly in keeping historically and proved to be musically and mechanically a disappointment. After just over twenty years it was necessary for the organ to be rebuilt again, and in 2004/05 Kenneth Tickell changed the tonal quality of the instrument, installed new ranks in the Choir and Swell divisions, and provided a new solution to the location issue by installing a new Nave division, located under the West Window. [2][14]

The organ specification can be found here.

List of organists

Memorial to George Edwin Lyle
  • John Windsor 1717
  • John Merefield 23 July 1729
  • John Broderip 30 June 1737
  • Arnold Power 29 September 1739
  • William Thompson 20 December 1741
  • Thomas Hyde 1776 - Died January 1845[15]
  • Richard Linter (Assistant) September 1838 - 1845
  • Richard Linter 1845 - 1848[16] (assistant from 1838)
  • James Vincent 1848 (pro tem)
  • Organ unusable 1849 - 1856. Barrel Organ used
  • R Henry Morgan 26 March 1856[17]
  • Edward Herbert 1871 (precise year of appointment uncertain)[18] - 1872
  • R.P.C. Corfe 1873 - 1876[19]
  • H J Vaughan 1876
  • George Edwin Lyle 18 June 1878- 1889 [20] - 1895[21] - 1900
  • J W Burt 1900 (temporary during illness of Mr Lyle)
  • Herbert William Chuter FRCO ARCM 1901
  • Arnold Mote Temporary during illness of Mr Chuter appointed 5 July 1907 - 1914[22] - 1912[23]
  • William Edward Wearden 1914 - 1954[24] - 1931[25]
  • Mr Picton (temporary) 1954
  • J L Dussek MA ARCO September 1954
  • F C Fea 1959 (formerly organist of St John's Church, Torquay)
  • Peter Burness (temporary) 1964
  • Julian Dams MA ARCO March 1965 - 1999
  • James Henderson (assistant) 1983 - 1984
  • John Padley Mus B 1999 - 2002
  • Peter Bray BMus DSCM ARCO LTCL (assistant) 2001 - present
  • Joseph Sentence MA Mus B FRCO FTCL November 2002 - 2006 (formerly organist of St George's Minster Doncaster)
  • Paul C Ellis Mus B GRNCM ARCO September 2006 - August 2019
  • James Henderson MA September 2019 (assistant from 1983-1984)


The Abbey has two reredos. The more recent is in the Lady Chapel, and was designed by Laurence Whistler in 1969, and fashioned in glass.[26] The second, more substantial reredos was installed in 1884 and designed by RH Carpenter.[27]


The Abbey contains a number of stained glass windows. The diarist Richard Symonds, post 1664-1665, described the location, blazon and surname for coats of arms of some leading families of Dorset displayed on stained glass in the Sherborne church as he observed them during the Marches of the Royal Army during the English Civil War.[28]

The South Transept's Te Deum window was designed by Pugin in the early 19th century.[2][29]

The Great East Window was designed by Clayton and Bell and installed in 1856-58. It features the Apostles Mark, Luke, Matthew and John, and Saints Sidwell and Juthware (Juthwara), who is featured in the Sherborne Missal.[30] The glass in the Southern Aisle commemorates Sherborne School For Girls' 1949 Jubilee.[2][31]

The Lady Chapel glass comes from the 1930s, and depicts St Aldhelm presenting a model of his church to the Patron.[32]

The Great West Window is the newest of the major windows designed and made by John Hayward (1929-2007), being installed in 1997 to replace a poor quality, faded, Pugin conceived glass. The new glass depicts the Patron and the baby Jesus, the Biblical Magi and the Shepherds, the Genesis story, the fall of man and the Easter story.[33]


The Abbey contains ten 15th century misericords, situated 5 on each side of the choir. These depict such things as the last judgement of Christ, and gurning.


The C15th central tower contains the heaviest ring of eight bells in the world, with the tenor bell weighing of 46cwt and 5 lbs (5,157lb or 2,340kg).

Details of the bells
Bell Voice Diameter Weight Note Cast Founder
1 Treble 3' 0" 9-2-25 B? 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
2 Second 3' 2" 10-1-3 A 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
3 Third 3' 4" 11-3-4 G 1903 John Warner & Sons
4 Fourth 3' 6" 12-1-6 F 1803 Thomas & James Bilbie
5 Fifth 3' 10 1/2" 16-3-3 E? 1787 William Bilbie
6 Sixth 4' 2 1/2" 22-1-4 D 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
7 Seventh 4' 7 3/4" 28-0-18 C 1903 John Warner & Sons
8 Tenor 5' 4" 46-0-5 B? 1934 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
Sanctus c.1-2-0 c.1350
Fire Bell 1653

The Sanctus bell is chimed at the blessing of the sanctum.

The Fire Bell is unusual in that it has an in-turned lip, and so has a completely different sound to a conventional bell.

Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel is on the site of two earlier chapels: the c1250 then Lady Chapel and the C15 Chapel of St Mary le Bow. These were taken over by the governors of the newly founded 'Edward VI Grammar School' (now known as Sherborne School) in 1550 and were partially demolished and converted in 1560-61 as a house for the headmaster. It remained in use by the school until 1921 when plans were drawn for the grafting of a new Gothic-style Lady Chapel onto the remaining section of the Medieval chapel and was completed in 1934. The remaining section of St Mary le Bow's Chapel contains a fireplace mantel from when it was a domestic dwelling.

The Lady Chapel contains the oldest chandelier in England dating prior to 1714.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Sherborne Abbey". Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Friends of Sherborne Abbey (May 1959). The Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Sherborne (Paperback) (12 ed.). Sherborne United Kingdom: Sawtells of Sherborne Ltd.
  3. ^ a b G. Cyprian Alston (1913). "Sherborne Abbey". Catholic Encyclopaedia. Retrieved 2008.
  4. ^ Sherborne Abbey, Dorset.
  5. ^ The Sherborne Missal: Easter Sunday British Library Add. MS 74236, p. 216
  6. ^ Historic England. "Abbey Church of St Mary (1110824)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Sherborne Abbey: St Katherine's Chapel". Retrieved 2008.
  8. ^ "Destinations UK: Sherborne Abbey". Retrieved 2008.
  9. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The Horsey Tomb". Archived from the original on 8 November 2007. Retrieved 2008.
  10. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The South Transept and Digby Memorial". Retrieved 2008.
  11. ^ Hutchins, John (1861). The History and Antiquities Of the County Of Dorset. London: John Bowyer Nichols and Sons.
  12. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The George Digby Wingfield Digby Memorial". Retrieved 2008.
  13. ^ "The New Organ". Sherborne Mercury. Sherborne. 11 March 1856. Retrieved 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  14. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The Organ". Retrieved 2008.
  15. ^ Sherborne Mercury - Saturday 8 February 1845
  16. ^ "To the Musical Profession". Sherborne Mercury. Sherborne. 3 March 1849. Retrieved 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  17. ^ "The New Organ". Sherborne Mercury. Sherborne. 11 March 1856. Retrieved 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  18. ^ "Sherborne". Dorset County Chronicle. Dorset. 21 July 1859. Retrieved 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  19. ^ Post Office Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire & Dorset, 1875, p.849
  20. ^ Kelly's Directory of Dorsetshire, 1889, p.1286
  21. ^ Kelly's Directory of Dorsetshire, 1895, p.151
  22. ^ Kelly's Directory of Dorset, 1911, p.182
  23. ^ Dictionary of Organs and Organists. First Edition. London. 1912
  24. ^ Kelly's Directory of Dorset, 1915, p.180
  25. ^ 1931 Kelly's Directory of Dorsetshire
  26. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The Lady Chapel". Retrieved 2008.
  27. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The High Altar and Reredos". Retrieved 2008.
  28. ^ Richard Symonds's Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army. By Richard Symonds, Royal Historical Society (Great Britain) Cambridge University Press, 1997 - History - 296 pages. Sherborne Church. pp. 116-122. Sherborne Lodge. p. 122.; accessed February 2019.
  29. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: South Transept Te Deum Window". Retrieved 2008.
  30. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The Great East Window". Retrieved 2008.
  31. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: South Aisle Choir and Nave Aisles". Retrieved 2008.
  32. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: Lady Chapel Window". Retrieved 2008.
  33. ^ "Sherborne Abbey: The Great West Window". Retrieved 2008.

External links

Coordinates: 50°56?48?N 2°31?0?W / 50.94667°N 2.51667°W / 50.94667; -2.51667

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