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Wiltshire and Dorset

September 11, 2012

Wiltshire & Dorset

I am on my way to Hilfield Friary, the Franciscan house, for a retreat. A place of peace and prayer. On the way I call in at four different churches, each one good in it’s own way.

Amesbury Abbey

Amesbury Abbey

A magnificent, cruciform, church is this small Wiltshire town. It was open, as it is each day. Outside there are placed welcome signs to encourage the visitor inside. There were two friendly stewards on duty and I was handed a ‘paddle board’ to guide me around this interesting building. There is plenty to see and a real effort has gone into making a visit both interesting and welcoming. There is a guide book to buy, and some versions in different languages. Also for sale are cards, book marks, key fobs, tea towels and postcards. For children, there is an area left set up with toys and books etc. A Lectionary had been left open along with a card with the relevant gospel acclamation on it. There are two prayer books, which appear to be well used and a votive stand on which to light a candle. The Jesus Chapel is set apart for quiet prayer and this has a stock of prayer books to use. There is a history display and one on the church’s link with the church in South Sudan. This was interesting to look at. There are also pictures of the clergy and others involved with the life of this church. There were a few ‘Prayer Trust’ leaflets on the Christian faith. I rate the Abbey as very good and enjoyed my visit here. 60 people had signed the visitors book in the last month.

Amesbury abbey



St. Michael the Archangel, Mere

St. Michael the Archangel, Mere

This fine church was also open. Another small town this one just off the busy A303. You enter a different, quieter, world after the rush of the trunk road. The signs outside just give the usual details and don’t say that the church is open. It is and is well worth a look. John Betjeman describes this church as ‘One of the great churches of Wiltshire which would be notable anywhere and exhibiting in its structure work of many periods.’ I would’nt disagree with him. Like most churches, it is best to start by having a good look at the exterior. One of the treasures of this church is to be seen on the north porch. It is a weathered statue of St. Michael the Archangel, dated about 1160 and is a rare survivor.

Statue of St. Michael at Mere

Inside, I found some guide booklets, postcards, bookmarks and leaflets about both the hassocks and the glass here.  One slightly unusual thing to be found here is a poster which describes in some detail how bells work. This would be useful in many other churches as I am sure that most visitors have little idea what actually happens when a bell rope is pulled. There are some ‘Mere Papers’ for sale. These are local history studies. There is a prayer board and a sand tray for votive candles. Unusually, these are free but there is a sign which suggests that you might like to leave a donation. The remembrance book is open, as it commonly is, but what is different here is that there is a  simple, laminated, card with a prayer on to use. Another idea worth copying. Again, there are pictures of church people displayed. The St. Matthew’s Chapel is set aside for quiet prayer and contemplation. This has an open bible and some suggestions for prayers. On the table near the door is a folder entitled ‘Some curious things about the church of St. Michael the Archangel, Mere.’ This is the text of a talk and is worth perusing. I rate this church as very good. Recommended.

Prayers at Mere

Milton Abbey, Dorset

Milton Abbey from afar

This is an incredible building in a wonderful setting next to Milton School. They use the Abbey but it is owned by the Diocese of Salisbury. It has no parish and relies on visitors for its income. John Betjeman describes this as ‘The most impressive church in Dorset.’ There is little doubt that it is. It is well signposted although there is no church sign as such. Inside it is breathtaking, with soring arches and high roofs. All very spectacular. There is a good welcome notice set up just inside the door. There are guide books, cards, prayer cards, note-lets etc to buy, as well as some children’s book marks. Also some multi lingual ‘bats’ to carry around. There is much to see here. I am not often impressed by memorials but the Damer Monument by A. Carlini does take some beating!  It was commissioned to mourn his wife, Caroline. The font is unusual as well. It is two white marble angels flanking the rock of eternity. There are various light switches around just for visitors to illuminate various parts of this marvelous building.

Joseph & Caroline Damer tomb

Lady Chapel at Milton Abbey

There is a visitors book but it is not dated so I couldn’t count it. There are lots of names in it. One moving thing to see here is a crucifixion painting hung in the Lady Chapel. It was painted by a pupil at the school who had cancer and died. It is a fitting memorial.

All in all, I rate this Abbey church as good for the visitor. Go and have a look, you will not be disappointed.








St. Mary the Virgin, Cerne Abbas

Cerne Abbas

A quaint little place with lots of old houses and, of course, the famous giant on the hillside. He looks as though he could do with a clean as he is not as obvious as he was the last time I saw him.

St. Mary’s is in the heart of the village and open. Several people came in when  was there. 75 visitors in the book this last month. The sign outside is the usual sort of thing and doesn’t tell the visitor that the church is open. Children have a nice area to use with toys, books and cushions.  There is a good guide book available , as well as a simpler version in English and French. The larger guide is a bit different in that it sets out to explain the meaning of what is here. This is certainly one of the better ones I have seen and has been produced by the PCC with the help of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Countryside Agency. Very commendable. Also, unusual is a ‘reading area’, a couple of tables with some suitable Christian books. I have not seen this anywhere else. There is a votive stand elsewhere and displays on the history of Cerne Abbas and of the giant. Also a prayer book to use and a lectionary left open. There is a roll of honour for the war dead but here each casualty is given a page of biography.

Interior of St. Mary the Virgin, Cerne Abbas

A lot of effort has gone into both welcoming and informing the visitor here. I rate it as very good.

Then on to Hilfield to be bathed in Franciscan worship and welcome. eat simple, home cooked food and mull over this study. I will have more to say on all this another time.


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