Cerne Abbas Church

St. Mary's Church is the parish church of Cerne Abbas, built for the villagers by the monks of Cerne Abbey around 1300.


History of Cerne Abbas Church

The village of Cerne Abbas grew around Cerne Abbey, which was founded in 987 AD. The villagers probably worshipped in the Abbey Church until about 1300, when the monks built this parish church for them. Dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, the church received its first vicar in 1317.

The original chancel was expanded to include a screen, nave and aisles around 1450. In 1870, an arch was inserted into the screen so the east window could be seen from the nave.

What to See at Cerne Abbas Church

The exterior of the church has a variety of interesting gargoyles and carvings, including a friendly open-mouthed gargoyle near the entrance. This is the chimney outlet for a fireplace in the priest's room.

Above the west door is a stone carving of the Madonna and Child, one of few such statues to escape destruction by Oliver Cromwell. The tower and its gargoyles were added in the late 15th century.

The oldest part of the church is the chancel, which dates from the early 14th century. The lancet windows on either side of the altar, only recently exposed during restorations, are original. Remains of a 14th-century piscina (for washing the Eucharist vessels) can be seen built into the wall to the right of the altar.

The walls on either side of the altar bear original 14th-century murals, now badly faded. The one on the left depicts four scenes from the life of John the Baptist; the one on the right shows the Annunciation. All the walls of the original church were once painted in bright colors. Remains of murals on either side of the nave date from the 15th century but are in even worse shape.

Both sides of the nave are decorated with unique painted shields of biblical texts. These post-Reformation additions were painted in 1679 and are from the Geneva Bible. An additional text was added during restorations in 1961, and is marked with the monogram of Queen Elizabeth II.

The east window dates from the 15th century, and may have been moved here from the Abbey Church upon its dissolution in 1539. It contains 16 stained glass shields from the Brownyng family. The richly carved oak pulpit dates from 1640 and the font is 15th century. A list of vicars from 1317 to the present is carved on a panel in the vestry wall.

In the floor of the nave are two memorials referring to the Notley family. Some members of this family were early settlers in America and owned Cerne Abbey Manor in Washington, D.C. - the site on which Capitol Hill stands today.

Quick Facts on Cerne Abbas Church

Site Information
Names:Cerne Abbas Church
Dates:c. 1300
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:50.809521° N, 2.475497° W
Address:Cerne Abbas, England
Lodging:View hotels near Cerne Abbas Church
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. St Mary's Church, Cerne Abbas: A guide to the church and its history (Cerne PCC, 1997).
  2. Author visit (2006).

More Information

© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes

Map of Cerne Abbas Church

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