St Nicholas Church, Abbotsbury
St Nicholas Church, Abbotsbury
  • 11th-century tower carving
  • 12th-century abbot's effigy
  • 15th-century font
  • Tudor pulpit with bullet holes
  • 1751 reredos

The medieval church of St Nicholas stands on a rise of ground overlooking the site of Abbotsbury's medieval abbey. The parish church was built in the late 14th or early 15th century.

Very little remains of the abbey itself. Just outside the churchyard is a ruined wall, but the great abbey tithe barn still stands at the bottom of the hill, beside the monastic pond. A plan of the abbey layout can be found at the back of the church.

The body of the church is 14th century, with a large 15th-century west tower. The church was largely rebuilt in the late 15th century, and in the churchyard are a pair of medieval stone coffins from Abbotsbury Abbey.

The tower holds 6 bells, the oldest dating to 1636. Take a moment to examine the west face of the tower and you will see a small carving, thought to be 11th century, from the time of the Abbey's foundation. It shows a seated figure with a smaller figure between its knees, and a dove in the upper right corner. This carving is thought to represent the Holy Trinity.

Pause as you enter the north porch, where you will find a late 12th-century effigy and grave slab to an abbot, made of Purbeck marble. The effigy was discovered on the site of the old abbey church in 1778 and brought here for safekeeping.

Inside, the chancel boasts a barrel-vaulted ceiling dating to 1638. The ceiling is decorated with ornate plasterwork displaying the Strangways coat of arms with cherubs and angels.

One highlight is the beautifully carved Jacobean pulpit and tester. Some historians think the pulpit is older, made during the Tudor period. Look carefully at the back of the pulpit canopy and you can see two musket ball holes made during a Civil War skirmish. A group of Royalist supporters occupied the church in 1644 and were driven out by Parliamentary soldiers.

The Tudor pulpit with Civil War musket ball holes
The Tudor pulpit with Civil War musket ball holes

Other interior highlights include 15th-century glass in the south aisle and a beautiful 18th-century reredos behind the altar. The reredos spans the whole east wall and was donated in 1751 by Susannah Strangways Horner. The reredos is crafted from stucco, in neo-classical style, with the text of the Ten Commandments displayed beneath a decorative canopy.

On the wall is a plaque commemorating the fact that Abbotsbury is a 'Thankful Village', having lost no lives during WWII.

There is an 18th-century royal coat of arms hanging from the west gallery. There are three brass chandeliers, one in the nave and two in the chancel. These are 18th century and were once again given by Susannah Strangways Horner.

The octagonal font is 14th or 15th century, though it stands on a modern base. The organ was made by JW Walker & Sons and installed in 1886.

There is parking in the nearby village parking area off the B3157, and also at the Abbotsbury Swannery at the bottom of the hill.

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About Abbotsbury
Address: Church Street, Abbotsbury, Dorset, England, DT3 4JT
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Just off the B3157. Parking in the village parking lot.
Website: Abbotsbury
Location map
OS: SY577852
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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