Christchurch Priory

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October, 2017

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While staying at the Harbour Hotel, Christchurch, we visited the nearby, 11th century Grade I listed Christchurch Priory.

A good deal of what is known about Christchurch between the Norman Conquest and the mid-14th century comes from the Christchurch Priory, Cartulary (medieval manuscript volume or roll,containing transcriptions of original documents). It contains 1,300 copies of the monastery’s most important documents, written mostly by two clerks.

In 1094 a chief minister of William II, Ranulf Flambard, then Dean of Twynham, began the building of a Priory on the site of the original mission church and the town became known as Christchurch. In 1539, John Draper the last Prior of Christchurch, surrendered the Priory, and it was dissolved and the monastic buildings were pulled down soon after. The King had intended to pull down the church as well as the monastic buildings, but in response to a plea from the townspeople, supported by Prior Draper, he granted the church together with the churchyard to the churchwardens and inhabitants of Christchurch to be used as the parish church in perpetuity, a grant that was confirmed in 1612 by James I.

There is so much to see in the Priory and as soon as you enter, guides and stewards are there to help you and answer any questions you may have.

A beautiful stained glass window in the ‘perpendicular’ style Lady Chapel, St Michael’s Loft Museum and The Tower. The nave and transepts are mostly of Norman style of heavy columns and rounded arches.

The recently installed 900th Anniversary window is in the west wall of the North Transept. The South Transept and Triforium houses the Pipe Organ which was rebuilt in 1998/99 with the aid of a grant from the Capital Lottery Fund.

The Font is in Purbeck marble and there is a war memorial chapel.

Although the Countess of Salisbury is buried in the Chapel of St Peter and Vincula, near the Tower of London, her main monument is housed in the Priory. Early on the morning of 27th May, she was told she was to die, even though she had not been accused of any crime. From her cell in East Smithfield Green she was taken to an execution block where a clumsy executioner had to make 11 blows before her head was decapitated. On the walls of her cell was discovered the inscription:
For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!

There is an amazing story relating to the building of the Priory about a ‘Miraculous Beam.’

The foundation stones for the priory were to be laid two miles to the north of the present church. However, there was disagreement between local people who wanted the stones laid on the existing Saxon site.

Overruled, the stones were taken to St Catherine’s Hill, the new site.

The next morning when the workmen returned, they discovered that the stones had been removed and placed on the site of the original Saxon church. The stones were moved back to St Catherine’s Hill, but again, the same thing happened the following day. This went on for some time until eventually, the Project Manager, decided enough was enough and that God had given them a clear message. The building work should be done on the Saxon site.

One day a mysterious stranger appeared who was a carpenter by trade, He never ate with the other men or was present when they were paid.

A beam was necessary for the roof and the lumber was measured, carefully cut and hoisted up to the roof, only to find it was too short. Lowered back to the ground, work ceased for the rest of the day.

The next morning when the workmen returned, the beam was missing. They eventually discovered it, stretched out in it’s proper position in the roof and measuring the correct length.

The mysterious carpenter was never seen again. This carpenter had been Jesus of Nazareth, and it was He who had helped them to build HIS church!

From that day it became known as ‘Christ’s Church’ of Twynham. Later, the ‘Twynham’ was dropped and the name simply became “CHRISTCHURCH.”

The Priory has a good book stall and gift shop, with a cafe leading off this area.

So much to take in, it’s a place well worth re-visiting, especially when one of the guides gave us such a wonderful insight into the history and things which are still being discovered.

Caroline Hutchings

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