Sherborne Abbey

Founded by St. Aldhelm in AD 705, Sherborne Abbey evolved from Saxon cathedral to one of England’s most beautiful parish churches. The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin is usually called Sherborne Abbey. It has been a Saxon cathedral (705–1075), a Benedictine abbey (998–1539), and is now a parish church.

Sherborne Abbey ©Josie Elias

Sherborne Abbey
©Josie Elias

In AD 705, when the Diocese of Winchester was divided in two, Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury, was appointed as the first Bishop of the West Saxons and he chose Sherborne as the site for his seat. Aldhelm was the first of twenty-seven Bishops of Sherborne.

The twentieth bishop was Wulfsige III who established a Benedictine abbey at Sherborne and became its first abbot. In 1075 the bishopric of Sherborne was transferred to Old Sarum, so Sherborne remained an abbey church but was no longer a cathedral. The bishop (in Old Sarum) remained the nominal head of the abbey until 1122, when the Bishop of Salisbury made the abbey independent.

The Nave, Sherborne Abbey ©Josie Elias

The Nave, Sherborne Abbey
©Josie Elias

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the Benedictine foundation at Sherborne ended and the abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII.  Sir John Horsey bought some of the properties from the King. One such property was the abbey which he then sold to the people of Sherborne, who bought the building to be their parish church. The original parish church which stood next to the abbey was demolished, though some foundations are still visible.

The Abbey is a Grade I listed building.

Simon Jenkins says in his book England’s Thousand Best Churches,

“I would pit Sherborne’s roof against any contemporary work of the Italian Renaissance.”

Vaulted ceiling Sherborne Abbey ©Josie Elias

Vaulted ceiling
Sherborne Abbey
©Josie Elias

The Abbey Tower contains the heaviest ring of 8 church bells in the world with a tenor of 46cwt and 5 lbs (just over 2 and 1/4 tons).

The Digby Memorial, outside the Abbey, is a memorial to George Digby who provided a lot funding for the renovation work carried out during the 19th century. Built in 1884 it features statues of St Aldhelm, Bishop Roger of Salisbury (Roger de Caen), Abbot Bradford and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Digby Memorial ©Josie Elias

Digby Memorial
©Josie Elias

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