Sherborne Abbey

Sherborne Abbey

Sherborne Abbey
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Broad Church
Dedication St Mary
Parish Sherborne
Diocese Salisbury
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) The Revd Canon Eric Woods
The Revd Jonathan Triffitt
Curate(s) The Revd Graeme Hartley
The Revd Brenda Phillips
Organist/Director of music Paul Ellis
Organist(s) Peter Bray

The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin at Sherborne in the English county of Dorset, is usually called Sherborne Abbey. It has been a Saxon cathedral (705–1075), a Benedictine abbey (998–1539), and now, a parish church.



There may have been a Celtic Christian church called 'Lanprobi' at the site, and Kenwalc or Cenwalh, King of the West Saxons is believed to be one of its founders.[1]

When the Saxon Diocese of Sherborne was founded in 705 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.[1][2]


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:

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.[5] 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.[1]

During this renovation, a riot in the town caused a fire that damaged much of the renovation,[2] 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.[1]

St Katherine's Chapel, built in the 14th century, but altered in the 15th, contains examples of early Renaissance classicism architecture [6]

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.[1]

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.[1][7]

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.[8]

The South Transept contains an impressive baroque memorial to John Digby, 3rd Earl of Bristol, made of marble and designed by John Nost.[9] Additionally there is a memorial to Robert and May Digby.[1]

St Katherine's Chapel contains the 16th century tomb of John Leweston and wife Joan.[6] The Chapel was where Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Raleigh attended services.[1]

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).[1]

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.[10]


The organ in the north transept

The Abbey's organ, located in the North Transept was installed in 1856[11] by Gray & Davison, and completely rebuilt in 1955 by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd, though that restoration's action failed by 1987 and had to be replaced. The proposed scheme by Bishops supported by John Norman, Cecil Clutton and Patrick Moule favoured returning the organ to its Gray & Davison past but including a 'Chair' section instead of the Choir in order to try to overcome the difficulties of the position of the organ was bold but hardly in keeping historically and proved a to be musically and mechanically a disaster and increasingly unreliable so that after no more than twenty years it was necessary for the Organ to be rebuilt again in 2003/04 by Kenneth Tickell, so thoroughly as to make it effectively a new instrument in the old case. An additional nave organ was added, located under the West Window.[1][12]

List of organists

Memorial to George Edwin Lyle
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.


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.[25] The second, more substantial reredos was installed in 1884 and designed by RH Carpenter.[26]


The Abbey contains a number of stained glass windows, including the South Transept's Te Deum window designed by Pugin.[1][27]

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.[28] The glass in the Southern Aisle commemorates Sherborne School For Girls' 1949 Jubilee.[1][29]

The Lady Chapel glass comes from the 1930s, and depicts St Aldhelm presenting a model of his church to the Patron.[30]

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.[31]


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 Abbey Tower contains the heaviest ring of 8 church bells in the world with a tenor of 46cwt and 5 lbs (just over 2 and 1/4 tons).

Details of the bells
Bell Weight Note Diameter Cast Founder
1 9-2-25 B♭ 3' 0" 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
2 10-1-3 A 3' 2" 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
3 11-3-4 G 3' 4" 1903 John Warner & Sons
4 12-1-6 F 3' 6" 1803 Thomas & James Bilbie
5 16-3-3 E♭ 3' 10 1/2" 1787 William Bilbie
6 22-1-4 D 4' 2 1/2" 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry
7 28-0-18 C 4' 7 3/4" 1903 John Warner & Sons
8 46-0-5 B♭ 5' 4" 1934 Whitechapel Bell Foundry

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 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.
  2. 1 2 G. Cyprian Alston (1913). "Sherborne Abbey". Catholic Encyclopaedia. Retrieved 2008-07-12.
  3. Sherborne Abbey, Dorset.
  4. The Sherborne Missal: Easter Sunday British Library Add. MS 74236, p. 216
  5. Historic England. "Abbey Church of St Mary (1110824)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  6. 1 2 "Sherborne Abbey: St Katherine's Chapel". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  7. "Destinations UK: Sherborne Abbey". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  8. "Sherborne Abbey: The Horsey Tomb". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  9. "Sherborne Abbey: The South Transept and Digby Memorial". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  10. "Sherborne Abbey: The George Digby Wingfield Digby Memorial". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  11. "The New Organ". Sherborne Mercury. Sherborne. 11 March 1856. Retrieved 26 September 2015 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
  12. "Sherborne Abbey: The Organ". Retrieved 2008-07-12.
  13. Sherborne Mercury - Saturday 8 February 1845
  14. "To the Musical Profession". Sherborne Mercury. Sherborne. 3 March 1849. Retrieved 26 September 2015 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
  15. "The New Organ". Sherborne Mercury. Sherborne. 11 March 1856. Retrieved 26 September 2015 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
  16. Morning Post - Friday 20 August 1858
  17. "Sherborne". Dorset County Chronicle. Dorset. 21 July 1859. Retrieved 26 September 2015 via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)).
  18. Post Office Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire & Dorset, 1875, p.849
  19. Kelly's Directory of Dorsetshire, 1889, p.1286
  20. Kelly's Directory of Dorsetshire, 1895, p.151
  21. Kelly's Directory of Dorset, 1911, p.182
  22. Dictionary of Organs and Organists. First Edition. London. 1912
  23. Kelly's Directory of Dorset, 1915, p.180
  24. 1931 Kelly's Directory of Dorsetshire
  25. "Sherborne Abbey: The Lady Chapel". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  26. "Sherborne Abbey: The High Altar and Reredos". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  27. "Sherborne Abbey: South Transept Te Deum Window". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  28. "Sherborne Abbey: The Great East Window". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  29. "Sherborne Abbey: South Aisle Choir and Nave Aisles". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  30. "Sherborne Abbey: Lady Chapel Window". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  31. "Sherborne Abbey: The Great West Window". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
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Coordinates: 50°56′48″N 2°31′0″W / 50.94667°N 2.51667°W / 50.94667; -2.51667

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