Parish and Priory Church of St George, Dunster

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April, 2019

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This is a wonderful church and very special as it is one of the few churches still to have a monastic choir. It is a “huge building”: and it almost impossible to photograph.

Christianity was brought to the area in the C6th by Welsh Missionaries, who preached from wooden crosses.  There is evidence of a stump of an early preaching cross in the churchyard. 

A small church was built here in C11th when William I gave the land to the de Mohun family. Only the west door and part of the north wall of this church survive. The door is still used for special occasions.

At the end of the C11th, William de Mohun granted land to the monks of Bath to build a daughter house here. The church was rebuilt in the C13th The majority of the present building dates from the C13th, although the top of the tower was rebuilt and heightened in the C15 when side aisles were added. Chantry chapels were endowed by wealthy parishioners. There was a major restoration of the church in the late C19th.

With the growth of the wool trade and rapid population growth, there was pressure for the townsfolk to have their own church, resulting in the Priory Church being shared by the monks and the parishioners. The Priory were responsible for maintaining the Lady Chapel and north transept. The parish were responsible for the St Lawrence Chapel and the south transept. The tower was the responsibility of the Prior with contributions from the parish. By 1357, difficulties of sharing were beginning to emerge with disputes over the time of services, payment of fees and use of the bells. The Prior drew up an agreement setting out how the church was to be used by each group. The arches supporting the tower were enlarged to give the parishioners a better view of services.

This agreement worked for over 100 years but in 1498 trouble blew up again between priory and parish. The townsfolk even went as far as imprisoning the monks in the east end of the church. After arbitration in Glastonbury, another agreement was reached, largely in favour of the town. This gave the priory the choir and chancel and the parish the nave and side aisles. A carved rood screen was constructed to separated the two, with the parish using the area to the west and the monks the original chancel.

The Priory was dissolved in 1539 and its buildings and land passed into the hands of the Crown. They were then leased to John Luttrell of Priory Farm. He was the uncle of John Luttrell who had recently inherited the castle. The chancel previously used by the monks became a private chapel of the Luttrell family and their family mausoleum.

By the early C19th the priory end of the church was neglected and dirty with rain coming through the roof and windows. The nave used by the village was in slightly better condition. There was also concern about ‘unhealthy’ burials under the nave. There was a major restoration of the church at the end of the C19th. Carried out by GE Street, plaster was stripped from the walls, monuments moved and windows altered. The church was reroofed with new ceilings. A new chancel was made under the tower.

The eastern part of the church is still the property of the Luttrells and is no longer used.

The cloister garden to the north of the church was given by the Luttrells as a war memorial. This is reached either through a doorway from the north transept or by a side road by the priory dovecote.

Entry to the church is either through the north transept from the cloister garden of through the south porch. The church is open daily and is well worth visiting, not only for its size and architecture but also its history. Surprisingly there is little information about it on the web. There are more pictures “here.”:

There is little parking in the village and streets are narrow. There is a large visitor car park at the edge of the village and it is a five minute walk to the church. The nearest post code is TA24 6SH and the grid reference is SS 990437


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