Great Malvern Priory

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The town nestles under the massive flank of the Malvern Hills. The massive square tower of the Priory dominated the surrounding buildings. I had read that it contains some of the best medieval stained glass in the country, the largest collection of medieval floor tiles and some splendid misericords.

It’s prosperity began when a Benedictine Monastery for 30 monks was built here in 1085. The core of the church is still Norman, but was expanded to its present size between 1450-1500. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Lady Chapel and south transept were stripped of their lead and pulled down. The people of Great Malvern paid £20 for the Priory church as their own church was in very poor condition. Unfortunately having bought the church, there was no money left for repairs. Little repair or maintenance was carried out until a major restoration in the 1860s. The nave roof is a George Gilbert Scott recreation of the C15th original. During the Second World War, the medieval glass was removed and stored in zinc lined boxes to keep it safe.

The central tower has an open carved balustrade with turrets. Walls are covered with blind arcading and crocketed pinnacles. Nave and chancel are buttressed, battlemented and pinnacled. The building stone varies in colour from red to pale beige, giving the walls a patchwork effect.

Entry is through the north porch which was rebuilt in 1894. It has blind arcading with trefoil arches, and a statue of the Virgin and Child above the doorway. Steps lead down into the nave.

It is a big nave with short round Norman pillars and round arches. Above is the clerestory with very large perpendicular windows. The proportions feel all wrong. Unlike Tewkesbury Abbey this building does not encourage the spirit to soar towards the ceiling. Instead it feels top heavy and sluggish.

At the back of the church is a Norman tub font. On the south wall opposite the door is a memorial to the dead of the 1914-18 war. The Royal Coat of Arms is above this.

The crossing has a lierne stone vault with carved bosses. The nave and ceiling have a panelled wooden ceiling with gold bosses.

A Norman arch covered with chevron carving leads into the north transept which is now the vestry and marked private. Opposite, where the south transept would have been, is the organ

The medieval choir stalls have beautifully carved misericords. These include the Labours of the Months as well as carvings from mythology and daily life.

Above the altar is an attractive glass mosaic reredos dating from 1884 with a Nativity scene with the shepherds and Kings. On either side are modern tiles. The east window is one of the largest in any church and is mainly shades of grey glass.

On the south side of the sanctuary is the Knotsford memorial with the effigies of John d1551 and his wife Jane d1582. A full size statue of their daughter Anne is kneeling by their feet. Around the base of the tomb are weepers and shields. John purchased much of the land after the Dissolution and was responsible for the demolishion of the monastic buildings. Round the back of this tomb, opposite St Anne’s chapel are two wall tombs under ogee arches, set below floor level. The two tomb slabs are thought to be William de Wykeman, a C13th prior and Walcher who was the second prior of Malmesbury.

The south windows in St Anne’s chapel contain medieval glass with Old Testament scenes including the creation, the banishment of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and Noah releasing a dove after the flood.

The medieval tiles are displayed on the wall at the back of the sanctuary. These date from 1450-1500 and there are over 100 different designs. The tiles on the floor are C19th replicas made by Minton.

At the end of the south aisle are two Tom Denny windows installed in 2004 to celebrate the millennium. These are abstract designs in predominately shades of grey and mauve with flashes of red and yellows. They are based on Psalm 36, verses 5-10 which talks about the steadfastness of God’s love. Although the overall impression is colour, there is surprising detail like the antlered stag and a couple walking together.

Next to the Denny windows is a window containing fragments of medieval glass, which includes a lot of small heads. The detail repays close study as each one is different. There is part of a Virgin and child, bishop, monk, ladies, the kneeling legs of a knight…

We made the mistake of visiting Great Malvern Priory after Tewkesbury Abbey. It just isn’t in the same league and we found the architecture pedestrian after Tewkesbury. The stained glass is nice, but again not in the same league as Fairford Church in Gloucestershire. The misericords are good. The display of medieval tiles interesting, although the way they are displayed does make them look a bit like a museum exhibit. Overall, we were disappointed by Great Malvern Priory.

The church is open 9-5 every day. Parking outside the priory is for permit holders only. There are a few disabled spaces in the surrounding roads. There are steps down into the priory although disabled access is signed through the door in the north transept. There are plenty of car parks in Great Malvern. We used the car park by the leisure centre and walked up through the Winter Gardens with their bridge over a small lake with ducks and bandstand to reach the abbey. The main street was disappointing too. There were few shops and the bakers was very ordinary…

There are more pictures “here.”:

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