Cerne Abbas, Dorset
Church and town

Click on photos to enlarge.
Notes in italics from Dorset by John Newman and Nikolaus Pevsner (2002)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

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St Mary. For the Middle Ages Cerne Abbas was no doubt primarily the abbey of Cerne; for us it is the parish church with its prominent Perp W tower. It is embraced by the aisles, has a four-light W window, a statue of the Virgin above it ... a band of quatrefoils a little higher up, three-light bell-openings with a transom and Somerset tracery, and a higher stair-turret. As for the rest, it is flint and stone. Embattled S porch and S chapel also Perp, N chapel Perp (not shown), N aisle Late Perp (last picture), clerestory Late Perp (the typical Henry VIII windows - seen most clearly in the interior view of the arcade below). ... 

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The interior is as rewarding as the outside, or more so. The most interesting feature is the stone screen. It has solid wall instead of a dado, and above, until 1870, there was no chancel arch but again solid wall ... So one looked into the chancel through the openings in the screen only. They are two lights, four lights, the doorway, four lights, two lights. No tracery at all.  ... Pulpit. 1640. With two tiers of the common blank arches, a back plate, and a tester. ... In the chancel late C14 wall paintings ... stories of St John Baptist in the NE corner. ...

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Other features to note are the very high, panelled tower arch and the lower, also panelled arches from the tower into the aisles. Arcades of four bays plus one to the chancel chapels of standard elements.

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Cerne Abbey. A monastery existed here in the late C9. It was refounded about 987 as part of the Benedictine impetus of the C10. Very little is known of the premises. What survives is in the garden of Abbey Farm.
Abbey Farm. The central gabled projection, on which Abbey Street is aligned, must have been built as the main gateway to the abbey - cf. the angle buttresses, and in particular the springing of the entrance arch (double-chamfered) now embedded in the wall. For the rest, it appears, old walling and windows were employed to reconstruct the building after a mid-C18 fire. The central window of the gateway projection amusingly proclaims the date, a four-lighter given a pointed central head to make it 'Gothic Venetian'.
(Setting for the film Tom Jones, 1963 - Squire Weston's house. The house is not open to visitors).  

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Across the path to the E, the detached graveyard of the church, entered through a small Jacobean gateway crowned with three obelisks. The abbey church lay where the graveyard now is. ...
Porch to the Abbot's Hall. A sumptuous piece ... Four-centred arch, a fan-vault with bosses inside, a two-storeyed oriel to the outside, two by three lights, rows of shield below the windows, and much minor decoration. ... 

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The so-called Guest House is much simpler. It is of two storeys with simple C15 windows. It has an oriel too, but again simpler.
Built between 1458 and 1470 by Abbot John Vanne. In 1471 during the Wars of the Roses Margaret of Anjou held a council here prior to the Battle of Tewkesbury.

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Houses in Abbey Street. Several are of two storeys with an overhang. Nos. 4 and 5 have been stripped down to the timbers, and the latter has a pretty decorative timber door lintel, quatrefoils forming an ogee doorhead. ...

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New Inn in Long Street. Is this of c.1700? The windows, of seven bays regularly spaced, are upright not horizontal any longer, but each had one mullion and no transom, the lower tier with hoodmoulds. C18 carriage arch in bay five. Stone and flint banding of the walls patched with C18 red brick. 

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Cerne Giant, 1/2m. N. He is a turf-cut figure, 180 ft long and 167 ft wide, holding a knobbed club 120 ft long in his r. hand. His l. hand is empty but outstretched. He resembles representations of Hercules in Roman bronze statuettes, coins, and Castor ware, and may be of the time of Commodus (A.D. 180-93), who, after beating the Scots c.187, declared himself Hercules incarnate and added Hercules Romanus to his titles.

More about the Giant

Cerne Abbas village website



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