St Mary’s Church

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This is a small 12thC church built in the corner of the Roman fort of Portchester and is all that is left of a small priory which was used for 20 years before the monks left. The cemetery around the church is more recent and has destroyed any evidence of the priory.

The church is surrounded by a low wall with a lychgate. There is a low square tower above the transept. The north transept has a very high roof, taller than that of the nave and chancel. Off it to the east is a small sacristy. There is no south transept. A modern annex is built off the south side.

Entry is through the west door which has narrow round pillars with carved capitols supporting beautifully carved round arches with dog tooth and circular patterns. Above is a round topped window surrounded by blank round topped windows.

Inside the doorway is the 12thC font, a massive stone structure of carved Caen limestone with an interlaced pattern with mythical birds and beasts above interlooped pillars with round arches.

The nave is very simple with a beautifully carved round arches around the transept. On the north wall is the remains of the doorway believed to have been used by members of the castle. The plaque above records the grant of £400 by Queen Anne in 1710 to repair the church after it was damaged by Dutch prisoners in the 17thC. There is a brass memorial to the dead of the First World War and stone memorials to the great and godly. A carved rail separates the chancel from the nave. The east window with a representation of the crucifixion is modern. On the wall to the right is a effigy of Sir Thomas Cornwallis who was the last royal Constable of the castle. He persuaded Elizabeth I to fund the removal of the derelict south transept.

The north transept has a corner staircase giving access to the bells in the tower. The recessed wall seats were used by the canons.

There is a tearoom in the annex run by members of the congregation serving drinks and excellent homemade cakes. This is a friendly and very welcoming place. A pot of tea for two and two large slices of genuinely home made cake cost us the grand sum of £3.60. There is also a small children’s corner with a selection of books and games.

I have written a separate review review for Portchester Roman Fort and castle.

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