A lovely, atmospheric church with some interesting historic artifacts
Priory Church of Lady St Mary
Wareham’s largest church was once the priory church of the Benedictine community which was located to the south of the church. It was also the burial place of the west Saxon king Brihtric (802). And then, in 978 Edward, king and martyr, was laid to rest here for two years before being re-interred with greater ceremony in Shaftesbury Abbey. The semi-sunken chapel (c.1100) on the south side of the chancel is dedicated to him.
Over a thousand years of history in Wareham
There has been a church on this site for over a thousand years, the original building was founded by St Aldhelm (c.639-709). It is quite remarkable that the nave and aisles of the original 8th century building remained largely intact until 1841, and had they survived to this day, Lady St Mary Church would be the largest surviving Saxon building in Britain.
Demolished and replaced in the 19th century
However, it was not to be, in 1841 the roof had fallen into dangerous disrepair and much of the church was affected by damp and so the decision was taken to demolish the main body of the church and replace it with a more substantial, lighter and capacious nave and side aisles. By and large, this is what we have today, although to start with there were galleries in the side aisles and under the tower but these were removed in 1903.
Popular with tourists
The church of Lady St Mary remains an active place of worship, however, many tourists also include it in their itinerary when visiting the Isle of Purbeck and Jurassic Coast. The main entrance is situated under the 16th century tower, which houses a peel of ten bells that are rung regularly to call people to worship and celebrate landmark events.
Just inside the nave is the 12th century hexagonal font, thought to be the only one of its kind existence. It is made from lead and is tough to have been cast in one piece at a foundry somewhere in Dorset. Each of its six sides has a pair of semi-circular arches, each containing a standing figure. These represent the twelve apostles.
Situated within the outer walls of the church are a wonderful assortment of stained glass windows, mainly 20th century, showing a variety of styles and techniques. There are also a number of interesting and ancient archaeological artifacts located in the church.
The church is also an important community hub for local event including live music concerts. See upcoming events below…