Friends of St Mary's Church
Cerne Abbas
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Building History

In 987 a nobleman called Aelthemaer gave land for a monastic community in Cerne. Initially the local folk probably worshipped in the nave of the abbey but in about 1300 the abbey gave the village a small thatched church of its own. Remnants of this first church, walls, lancet windows and a blocked up doorway still exist at the East end of the present church. A circle containing a six pointed star is said to be one of the consecration crosses of the original church. In April 1317 the first vicar of Cerne was inducted. The church was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist and a wall painting to the North of the altar depicts scenes from his life. This and another very faded painting on the South wall showing the Annunciation, date from between 1360 and 1380. Plan of church

The original church was the width of the chancel and extended West as far as the present porch. In the late 1400s the church was enlarged by the addition of the North and South aisles. A rood screen was also installed midway along the length of the church. Originally the space above the rood screen was a solid wall but this was removed in 1870. The font bowl also dates from this period.

The church was again enlarged to the West by building a tower and extending the North and South aisles. The tower has a fine window in its West Wall. The tower is crowned with battlements and decorated pinnacles and lower down there are carvings of grotesque beasts and a man with bagpipes and a monkey on his shoulder playing an instrument. The tower has a peal of 6 bells the oldest of which dates from 1631. The bells were restored in 1975. About the time the tower was built the church changed its dedication to St Mary as a statue of her adorns the outside West wall of the tower above the window. To the West of the porch there is another interesting gargoyle which was once a chimney.

The clerestory was added by the Abbot of Cerne, Thomas Corton, in the early 16th century, just before Henry VIII dissolved the monastery.

The East window is thought to date from 1480 and to have been salvaged from a chantry chapel in the Abbey. The chapel was dedicated to St John the Baptist. It is thought to have been installed in the church in 1639.

The mid 17th century is represented in the church by some pieces of post reformation wooden furniture: the pulpit, the altar table in the Southern aisle chapel, the communion rails and a chest with three locks.

Most of the cartouches painted on the nave walls date from about 1680. The wording of the texts comes from a number of different books of the bible. The latest cartouche celebrates the last major restoration of the church.This link will take you to descriptions of some of the memorials in the church.

A restoration of the church began in March 1960 and was completed by May 1961. This provided a new roof, a new heating system, the repositioning of the organ and the font, the rebuilding of the porch, the replacement of box pews by modern chairs standing on a blockwood floor and a restoration of the wall paintings. This was an enormous undertaking that relied on gifts from the whole village and the leadership of the then vicar Cyril Taylor.

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