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|Abbey Church of St Peter & St Paul, Dorchester|
Dorchester Abbey viewed from the south
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Founder(s)||Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln|
|Cult(s) present||Saint Birinus|
|Relics held||Shrine of Saint Birinus|
|Past bishop(s)||Saint Birinus|
|Vicar(s)||Rev. Sue Booys|
The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul, more usually referred to as Dorchester Abbey, is a Church of England parish church in Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire, about 8 miles (13 km) southeast of Oxford. It was formerly a Norman abbey church and was built on the site of a Saxon cathedral.
Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln founded Dorchester Abbey in 1140 for the Arrouaisian Order of Augustinian canons (who wore white instead of the black of most Augustinians). Dorchester had been a Roman town and was later adopted by the Mercians. It had been the seat of a bishopric from AD 634 when Pope Honorius I had sent Saint Birinus, its first bishop, to that district, until 1085 when the Mercian See was transferred to Lincoln.
The abbey, founded fifty-five years later, was dedicated in honour of Saints Peter and Paul and Birinus. It was richly endowed out of the lands and tithes of the former bishopric, and had twelve parishes subject to it, being included in the Peculiar of Dorchester, until the suppression of peculiars. The first abbot appears to have been Alured, whose name occurs in records from in 1146 and again in 1163. The last was John Mershe, who was elected in 1533, and in the following year subscribed to the king's supremacy, with five of his canons, and was given a pension of £22 a year (£12,637 today). The revenues of the abbey were valued at the time of its suppression at about £220 (£126,366 today). Henry VIII reserved the greater part of the property of the house for a college, erected by him in honour of the Holy Trinity, for a dean and prebendaries; but this was dissolved in the first year of his successor.
No register or cartulary of Dorchester Abbey is known to exist, and only a single charter, confirming the donation of a church by King John, is given by Dugdale. Edmund Ashefeld was the first impropriator of the abbey site and precincts, which afterwards passed through various hands.
The church of Dorchester Abbey, as it stands today, was built entirely by the Augustinian Canons, although there are traces on the north side of Saxon masonry, probably part of the ancient cathedral. The whole length of the church is 230 feet (70 m), its width 70 feet (21 m) and its height 55 feet (17 m). The north transept and its doorway are Norman.
The north side of the nave and chancel arch are Early English Gothic. The choir, south side of nave, south aisle are Decorated Gothic. The south porch is late Perpendicular Gothic. The very rich sanctuary, with its highly decorated windows (including the famous east window one known as the Jesse Tree window) and ornately carved sedilia and piscina, dates from 1330.
Other fittings include one of the few surviving lead fonts in England, frescoes of 1340 and several monuments, especially the well-known "swaggering knight" effigy formerly believed to be Sir John Holcombe who died in 1270 but it is more likely that it is William de Valence the Younger (died 1282  at the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr), son of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
In 1993 a Union Jack that had been draped over the coffins of prisoners of war at Batu Lintang camp, Sarawak, Borneo was placed in the abbey together with two wooden memorial plaques; they had formerly been housed at All Saints Church, Oxford.
- Saint Birinus
- Sir John Drayton (d.1417) of Nuneham Courtenay. The Abbey contains his funerary brass.
Besides being a parish church, the abbey church is a venue for concerts and cultural events of all kinds. Between 1998 and 2006 the Dorchester Abbey Campaign Committee raised £4,000,000 and this has enabled the Church Council and the Dorchester Abbey Preservation Trust to undertake significant works in the abbey. These include the Cloister Gallery managed by the Dorchester Museum Committee and restoration of medieval and Victorian wall paintings. Dorchester Abbey Museum was longlisted for the Gulbenkian Prize in 2006. The Abbey has an improved heating system and a modern kitchen and servery in the Tower room.
The Abbey is open every day from 8 a.m. until dusk.
Sources and further reading
- Lobel, Mary D, ed. (1962). A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7: Thame and Dorchester Hundreds. Victoria County History. pp. 39–64.
- Page, W.H., ed. (1907). A History of the County of Oxford, Volume 2. Victoria County History. Archibald Constable & Co. pp. 87–90.
- Rodwell, Warwick (2009). Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire: The Archaeology and Architecture of a Cathedral, Monastery and Parish Church. Oxford: Oxbow Books. ISBN 978-1-84217-388-6.
- Sherwood, Jennifer; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1974). Oxfordshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 576–586. ISBN 0-14-071045-0.
- Tiller, Kate, ed. (2005). Dorchester Abbey: Church and People 635–2005. Stonesfield Press. ISBN 0-9527126-4-4.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dorchester Abbey.|
- NFP: Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire
- Virtual tour of Dorchester Abbey via Google Street View
- "Abbey of Dorchester". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.