Sherborne Abbey’s official name, which it is seldom called for obvious reasons, is The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin at Sherborne. It is located in Dorset, England, and has a fascinating history. Established by King Ine (of Wessex) in 705 of our Common Era (CE), it was a Saxon Cathedral until 1075. Between the years 998 and 1539, it was a Benedictine Abbey.
Today, Sherborne Abbey is a parish church, as well as a popular tourist attraction for those interested in the ancient architecture and religious history of England.
Sherborne Abbey was founded by St. Aldhelm in AD 705. It has developed from a Saxon cathedral to a monastic community, and finally, to one of the most beautiful parish churches in England.
There have been 27 Bishops of Sherborne, of whom the Saxon Bishop, Aldhelm, was the first. The 20th was St Wulfsin, who was responsible for the establishment of Sherborne Abbey as a Benedictine Abbey in 998, with himself as the very first abbot. Then, in 1075, the bishopric of Sherborne was transferred to Old Sarum. This meant that, although still an abbey, Sherborne was no longer a cathedral.
In 1539, the Dissolution of Monasteries meant that the Benedictine period of Sherborn had drawn to a close. The abbey was handed over to the king (Henry VIII), but was soon bought from him by Sir John Horsey. In turn, Horsey sold it to the locals residents of Sherborne, who made this their parish church, which it has remained to the present day. Some of the church was demolished, while other parts were damaged by fire.
Because of the abbey’s varied history, its architecture and appearance is similarly eclectic. There are some Saxon features as well as Norman and Early English styles.
Various parts of the church were added over time, such as the Lady Chapel and Bishop Robert’s Chapel from the 1200’s and the choir section in the 1400’s. Just before the end of the 15th century, a fire damaged some of the renovations, and the reddening on the walls below the Tower remains as testimony to the raging inferno.
There are two tombs situated in the North Choir Aisle. Although not confirmed, these are believed to be the burial places of brothers King Æthelbald of Wessex and King Ethelbert of Wessex. They are, perhaps, better known as the older brothers of Alfred the Great.
The Wykeham Chapel is the home of the tomb of Sir John Horsey as well as of his son, and the tomb of Sir Thomas Wyatt, a renowned English poet. Other tombs and memorials include those of John Digby, (Third Earl of Bristol), Robert Digby, May Digby, John and Joan Leweston, Abbot Clement, Abbot Lawrence of Bradford, and George Digby.
Sherborne Abbey is also known for its eight bells, creating a loud, melodic ringing throughout the town. These create the largest bell conglomeration in the world. The quire is characterised by medieval misericords (a specific type of shelving under the chairs), the breath-taking painted ceiling and exquisite coloured glass. Visitors are urged to record personal prayers in a dedicated prayer book located in the Sepulchre Chapel, which will then be offered in the daily services.
Music is a very important part of the Sherborne Abbey experience. The all-male choir dates back hundreds of years and their beautiful, trained voices ring out in praise for locals and visitors to enjoy. There are also several musical events hosted by the abbey, some of which invite performers from afar to grace them with their unique talents.
Because Sherborne Abbey is immersed in so much history and religious heritage, it remains a popular attraction to this day. To cater to the many visitors, there are seven Abbey Trails, designed for children to explore, complete with awards for completed tasks.
Sherborne Abbey is only one of England’s multitudes of religious testimonies that tell the intriguing tale of the complex history of this land. Such gems play an integral role in reliving this exciting history and shaping the future.
For more information, please view: http://www.sherborneabbey.com/