St. Catherine's Oratory
The "Pepperpot" on St. Catherine's Hill.
St. Catherine's Down|
Isle of Wight
|Year first lit||1328|
|Tower shape||octagonal tower with pyramidal roof|
|Height||10.8 metres (35 ft)|
|Heritage||Grade II listed building|
St. Catherine's Oratory is a medieval lighthouse on St. Catherine's Down, above the southern coast of the Isle of Wight. It was built by Lord of Chale Walter de Godeton (sometimes spelled "Goditon") as an act of penance for plundering wine from the wreck of St. Marie of Bayonne in Chale Bay on 20 April 1313. The tower is known locally as the "Pepperpot" because of its likeness.
It is Britain's only surviving medieval lighthouse, and the second oldest (only the Roman lighthouse at Dover being older). It is a stone structure four stories high, octagonal on the outside and four-sided on the inside, originally attached to the west side of a building; remnants of three other walls are visible.
de Godeton was tried for theft in Southampton, before a jury from the island, and fined 287 and half marks on 27 February 1314. However, he was also later tried by the Church courts, since the wine had been destined for the monastery of Livers in Picardy. The Church threatened to excommunicate him unless he built a lighthouse near Chale Bay.
There was already an oratory on the top of the hill, dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. This was augmented by the construction of the lighthouse, with a chantry to accommodate the priest who tended the light, and also gave Mass for those at peril on the sea.
Although de Godeton died in 1327, the lighthouse was nevertheless completed in 1328. It remained in active use until the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1538-1541. The ghost of de Godeton has been sighted on many occasions, standing at the foot of the lighthouse, by numerous impeccable witnesses. The birds are reported to stop singing during his appearances.
Nearby there are the footings of a replacement lighthouse begun in 1785, but never completed, because the hill is prone to dense fog. Its remnants are known locally as the "salt cellar". A nearby Bronze Age barrow was excavated in 1925.
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