– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
So, today we continue our theme of Dorset’s ruined churches, or at least, a selection of them. These are places that have impacted peoples’ lives for centuries but now for one reason or another are not able to extend that legacy. And today we are considering a strange, mysterious, and somewhat melancholy church, a church that some say is just the last of many that were built on the same site but disappeared overnight! Today we are looking at Knowlton Church.
The reason for my description above is not so much down to the church itself but rather its position, for this church was built in the centre of a Neolithic ritual henge earthwork. This has become known as Church Henge, a one time pagan worship centre complete with its circle of standing stones.
The church is of unknown dedication and so is a ‘church with no name’. It was built in the 12th century and is of flint and stone construction, with some of the stone said to come from the broken up standing stones. These days, it is very isolated but in its earlier days, it was the centre of a thriving community known as Knowlton Village. The village itself was decimated by the Black Death in the 15th century when all the villagers either died or left for pastures new. Even so, the church continued to be used for several hundred years until the roof collapsed in the 18th century.
The area surrounding Knowlton Church is part of Cranborne Chase and is rife with ancient remains. Church Henge itself is just one of four earthworks in this immediate vicinity and surrounding these is one of the greatest clusters of round barrows in Dorset. This includes Great Barrow, which is the single largest round barrow in the county. In addition, the mysterious and largely unexplained Dorset Cursus, a 6 mile long ceremonial ‘road’, runs nearby. Plus of course there is the old village itself. Sadly, much of this history has been destroyed over the centuries to all but the expert eye by people looking for grave artefacts and by farming. However, if you take to the skies during a dry spell in summer when some of the grass is yellowing, many of these features reveal themselves again.
Of course, as with most places like this, it is said to be haunted! In fact, it is said to be the most haunted place in Dorset with people describing a horse and rider galloping right through the church, a nun kneeling and weeping, and faces appearing in the windows of the tower.
However you look at Knowlton Church, it has an air of mystery and intrigue as well as a presence about it that nudges your curiosity to know more. It served the local community for centuries and certainly witnesses to the transition in this country from Paganism to Christianity. And it continues to do that. For me, this is a beautiful place, being isolated and surrounded by open countryside with birds and wild flowers in season.
One small part of the church continues to serve in any event as the font stands inside a nearby Victorian chapel. In addition, a ‘Wishing Tree’ has somehow been created on the edge of the earthwork simply by word of mouth. This has all manner of objects such as ribbons, notes, scarves, prayers and so on hanging on it. This site still proves to be a draw to local people as well as those farther afield!
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Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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