Christchurch Priory is a colossal church in Christchurch, a town five miles east of Bournemouth in Dorset. At 311 feet, it is the longest parish church in England.
The church is notable for more than just its size. In Simon Jenkins' book England's Thousand Best Churches, Christchurch Priory is one of only 18 churches awarded five stars. Jenkins writes, "The church is sensational. The view of the reredos as climax to the Norman nave and crossing arch is a coup de théâtre of church architecture."
History of Christchurch Priory
Christchurch Priory stands on the site of a Saxon minster dating from 650 AD, but the church dates primarily from the Norman and Perpendicular periods. According to legend, the building materials for the church were miraculously moved overnight to the present location and a mysterious carpenter assisted in the work — hence the priory's name.
The church was transferred from a priory (monastic) church to a parish church at the Reformation. The monastic buildings were destroyed, but the church survived relatively unharmed.
What to See at Christchurch Priory
The choir is beautifully lit by huge windows and contains the oldest misericords in England, dating from 1210. These delightful wood-carved seats feature such scenes as a fox preaching to a flock of geese.
The choir is separated from the nave by a finely carved 14th-century Jesse Screen (reredos) depicting the family tree of Jesus surmounted by an Epiphany scene. This was probably re-erected when the new Perpendicular chancel was built almost two centuries later.
The stair turret features graceful arcading on the ground floor, colonettes on the second, a trellis pattern on the third floor, and more blind arcading at the top. The Lady Chapel has an unusual upper story, which was used as a grammar school and is now a museum. Underneath the church are three Saxon crypts. For a charge, you can climb the 120-foot tower for some fine views of the area.
Quick Facts on Christchurch Priory
|Categories:||churches; England's Thousand Best Churches: Five Stars|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.732157° N, 1.774067° W|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 9:30-5:30; Sun 2-5:30pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Christchurch Priory|
- The Rough Guide to England, 7th ed. (May 2006), 282.
- Official Website of Christchurch Priory
- Simon Jenkins, England's Thousand Best Churches (2001), 153-55.
- Photos of Christchurch Priory - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Christchurch Priory
Below is a location map and aerial view of Christchurch Priory. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.