– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Its that time again; time to start a new theme for the coming week, and our theme this week is Ruined Churches in Dorset. These are all remote and damaged in some way, some more so than others. But all have a magnificent heritage and have contributed to peoples’ lives down through the years. Its this impact on people’s lives that I like to celebrate even if the buildings are no longer used, because life is about people. Our first church stands on a high hill top like a beacon for all around – this is St Catherine’s Chapel.
St Catherine’s Chapel
St Catherine’s stands on a hilltop above Abbotsbury village. There are no records of its construction but it has been dated by experts to be from the 14th century, and it was built as a place of retreat and pilgrimage for monks from the Benedictine Abbotsbury Abbey that sat in the valley below. The hill on which it stands is some 260 feet high and there are fantastic views across Chesil Beach and Portland. Because of its prominent position, it was used as a navigation aid by seamen and it may be that this is why it still exists today because it was saved whilst the abbey itself was destroyed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.
The chapel is not unique but is one of very few that were built by monks outside of the main abbey grounds. It is constructed of this lovely golden coloured ashlar limestone and although it was renovated in both the 18th and 20th century, it is largely unchanged apart from the missing stained glass and interior furniture. This is a truly magnificent building with heavily buttressed walls that are 4 feet thick. Even the roof is constructed of stone. Both of these things have enabled it to stand up to the elements down through the centuries. It really does have a solid feel to it!
The chapel is dedicated to St Catherine which is a rare dedication. She was, though, a very popular figure in medieval times and she was the patron saint of spinsters, especially those seeking a husband (the Catherine Wheel firework was named after her because of the nature of her execution). Traditionally, young women would come to this chapel to pray to her for a husband and there are niches carved in the east jamb of the south doorway for the knees and hands especially for this purpose. These are known as ‘wishing holes’. One of the specific prayers goes:
“A husband St Catherine, a handsome one St Catherine, a rich one St Catherine, a nice one St Catherine, and soon St Catherine.”
Often the prayer would end with, “Arn-a-one’s better than narn-a-one” which in Dorset dialect meant, ‘any one is better than never a one’.
St Catherine’s has a long heritage but it has still not been completely retired as some informal services are still held there on occasion. It also provides a good home for doves as you can see in the picture above and it is an amazing place to spend a few hours just drinking in the fabulous views.
It was built on its hilltop site to be impressive and some 700 years later, although semi derelict, it is still as impressive as ever!
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Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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