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Dorset Map

The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin in Sherborne has had a chequered history:

Although it was originally founded by St Aldhelm in 705CE, the current building dates from around 1050.

However, it was substantially rebuilt in the twelfth, fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, and little remains from that period.

In 1437 the town people tried to burn down the abbey.

After the reformation the Lady Chapel was sold off, and was turned into a house for the Headmaster of nearby Sherborne School. It was returned to the church in 1930, and restored as a memorial to those who died in the Great War.

And to top it all in 1709, following a three hour hailstorm, it was flooded to a depth of two feet.

It is, therefore, surprising that despite all these vicissitudes the church today feels very much all of a piece, and that all the parts come together to form a harmonious whole.

This is largely down to the fabulous fan vaults which tie the building together.

The oldest one is in the Quire which was begun around 1425; the earliest surviving fan vaults are at Gloucester Cathedral which date back to 1351. Looking at the East Window it is interesting to note that the vault is based on a semi-circular round arch rather than the pointed Gothic one normally used in this period.

The Nave and North Transept vaults are later, having been finished around 1490, by which time the builders had figured out how to fan vault using a Gothic arch.

For further information, please see the official site detailed below.

Look out for the glass altar piece in the Lady Chapel. It is by Laurence Whistler, best known for the windows he engraved for Moreton Church.

Also for the the most recent addition, the stained glass in the Victorian West Window which is by John Hayward and was installed in 1998.