The Saxon town of Christchurch is steeped in history. At its heart is the 11th Century Christchurch Priory. This church, dating from Norman times holds the title of largest parish church in England. Building work began in 1094.
You can visit the Priory between 10 and 4 (as long as there is no service taking place) to admire its grandeur and its spectacular stained glass windows. Friendly ‘Welcomers’ are on hand to provide information about the priory and answer any questions. Guided tours can be arranged in advance on the website (£6).
The Norman arches of the nave tower above you. It is believed to have been raised to its current height in 1350.
The 15th Century Lady Chapel has a 19th Century stained glass window depicting the life of Mary, mother of Jesus.
The Miraculous Beam
At the rear of the church you will find The Miraculous Beam. According to legend, when the church was built in the town of Twynham, a mysterious carpenter appeared and helped to cut timber beams for the room. One day, someone cut a beam too short. The next day, the beam had miraculously lengthened. The mysterious carpenter was never seen again… It was believed that this carpenter was in fact Jesus, so the town changed its name to Christchurch.
To the rear of the church are the monastic lawns known as Priory Gardens, which offer views of the Priory as you walk along the river along Convent Walk.
This walk follows the edge of Mill Stream, past the rear of the Priory, ending at the foot of the ruins of Christchurch Castle.
If you look up at the church, you will notice some recently renovated gargoyles. These were completed in 2021 and have been brought up to day with modern day images. The first time I looked up and spotted a gargoyle wearing a surgical face mask I thought I was hallucinating! The sculpture was inspired by architect Columba Cook’s niece, an intensive care doctor. It’s quite high up, so here’s a close-up picture I borrowed.
Also in Convent Walk, is this beautiful Remembrance Bench.