Sherborne Abbey

Sherborne Abbey Church (officially the Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin), in the pretty town of Sherborne in Dorset, is a grand parish church that is considered one of the best examples of Perpendicular architecture in Britain.

Sherborne Abbey is one of only 18 churches to receive five stars in Simon Jenkins' book England's Thousand Best Churches. Jenkins writes:

Sherborne was once the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex, and its church was a cathedral until Old Sarum (now Salisbury) took over in 1075. The abbey church was founded in 705 AD by St. Aldhelm and later became a Benedictine abbey. Most of what remains today dates from a rebuild in the 15th century.

Sherborne Abbey is famed for its Perpendicular architecture, especially its beautiful fan vaulting that covers virtually the entire interior. The fan vaults are expertly executed and each fan is a complete semicircle.

The vault intersections are decorated with bosses that are masterpieces of medieval carving. They reflect current events and society in 15th-century Sherborne, and include the red and white roses of the civil war, the coat of arms of Henry VII, and simple scenes of domestic life and legends. There are several Green Men with foliage emerging from their mouths. Look for a mermaid holding a mirror and comb high up in the eastern bay of the nave.

More charming medieval carvings are in the choir, where 10 misericords survive intact. Scenes depicted here include a woman beating her husband, a master beating a boy (the welts on his bottom can be seen) and an old man selling cherries.

The church bells ring out clear and strong, led by "Great Tom," a tenor bell given to the abbey by Cardinal Wolsey. The abbey church contains many notable tombs, including those of Alfred the Great's two brothers, Ethelred and Ethelbert, and the Elizabethan poet Thomas Wyatt. All are located in the northeast corner.

Across Abbey Close from the church is an almshouse built in 1437, a rare surviving example of a medieval hospital. One wing provides accomodation for Sherborne's public school. Other sights of interest in Sherborne include two small castles (both associated with Sir Walter Raleigh), and a museum.


Quick Facts on Sherborne Abbey

Site Information
Names:Sherborne Abbey
Categories:churches; England's Thousand Best Churches: Five Stars
Styles:Perpendicular Gothic style
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:50.948262° N, 2.517586° W
Address:Sherborne, England
Lodging:View hotels near Sherborne Abbey
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. The Rough Guide to England, 7th ed. (May 2006), 301.
  2. Simon Jenkins, England's Thousand Best Churches (2001), 160-61.
  3. Official Website of Sherborne Abbey

More Information

© Jan Lane
© Holly Hayes
© Jan Lane
© Jan Lane

Map of Sherborne Abbey

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