Monastic churches in Dorset and Hampshire - 2

Christchurch Priory

There may have been a church on this site as early as 634, but there are no written records until c 800. In Norman times, there was a priory here with 24 secular canons; that is, canons who did not follow the rule of St Augustine.
  It seems that by 1150 those secular canons were letting the side down with drunkenness and licentious living, and the priory was closed, then re-opened with canons regular, who followed the Augustinian rule.
  Building in stone began around 1094, and took around 60 years.

  Two legends.
   The original name of the town of Christchurch was Twynham. The first legend says that Ranulf Flambard, the Dean of Twynham, had wanted the church to be built at the top of a nearby hill, but overnight all the building materials were mysteriously moved to the site where the church now stands.
   The second legend is known as the legend of the miraculous beam, which dates from the 12th century. It is said that when one of the beams was lifted into place, it was found to have been cut too short. When the carpenters returned the next day, they found the beam was now the correct length and was in place. This miracle was attributed to a solitary carpenter who had worked alone – he was never seen again.  This was, it is said, the reason for the change of name to Christchurch – you have already worked out who the mysterious carpenter was supposed to be. The beam can still be seen.



      Work continued. The nave vaulting was completed to clerestory level by 1290, with a timber roof, replaced with vauting in the 19th century.  The quire screen was carved c 1320.The wonderful Jesse screen (the reredos) was carved in 1360. The lady chapel was started around 1390. Around 1420 the Norman tower collapsed; the present tower at the west end was built around 1480.

The quire screen

The Jesse screen

Work continued into the sixteenth century: a particularly fine feature is the chantry chapel of the Countess of Salisbury with its fan vaulted ceiling.

  The dissolution brought the end of the Priory in 1539, and the monastic buildings were destroyed. Ten years later the church was granted to the town as its parish church ‘in perpetuity.’
   Here are some more views of the interior, then on to perhaps its most engaging feature.



And what is that engaging feature? Misericords!  The oldest of these dates back to 1210. They are full of medieval humour. Here are just six of them: there are many more.

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