Sherborne Abbey // Sherborne

Whilst now only a parish church Sherborne Abbey has been a Saxon cathedral and a Benedictine abbey. The majority of the building is Norman in origin although Saxon features remain.

The diocese of Sherborne was founded in 705 by King Ine of Wessex, although there may have been an earlier Celtic church on the site called Lanprobi, founded by Cenwalh, King of the West Saxons. King Ine chose Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury, to be the first Bishop of Sherborne. He had twenty six successors before Sherborne surrendered to Henry VIII in 1539.

In 998 the twentieth bishop, Wulfisge III, later known as St Wulfsin, established a Benedictine Abbey on the site and became it's first Abbot. Tensions between the monks and the townspeople, who felt that they had lost their parish church, ran high, culminating in a fifteenth century riot and fire that caused permanent damage to the quire and crossing.

After the Dissolution of the monasteries the townspeople bought the abbey and turned it back into their parish church. Most of the remaining buildings were bought by Sir John Horsey, who gave some of them to the school that had existed since 705.

Although Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury in the twelfth century, knocked down the bulk of the Saxon church in order to replace it with a much larger, Norman-style building, some Saxon features remain, mainly around the western door. The Lady Chapel and Bishop Roberts Chapel were added in the thirteenth century. St Katherine's Chapel, which contains examples of early Renaissance architecture, was built in the fourteenth century. The fan vaulting for which Sherborne Abbey is most famous was added in the fifteenth century.

In 'England's 100 Best Churches' Simon Jenkins writes 'I would pit Sherborne's (fan vaulting) against any contemporary work of the Italian Renaissance'. Medieval misericords are to be found in the back stalls of the choir, while a reredos by Lawrence Whistler graces the Lady Chapel. Two tombs thought to belong to the elder brothers of Alfred the Great, King Aethelbad of Wessex and King Ethelbert of Wessex, are located in the north choir aisle.

A programme of classical music based around the liturgy is performed in Sherborne Abbey each year as part of the Sherborne Abbey Festival.

Attractions near Sherborne Abbey