If you approach Wimborne from almost any direction, one of the first things you see is this great Minster church, which by its very size dominates, but certainly does not intimidate, the centre of the town.
A Minster church was a teaching church, in addition to being to being a monastic order. Before there were theological colleges, those who wanted to train for the priesthood or to learn more about Christianity, went to a Minster church. Hence York Minster, Beverley Minster, etc.
WIMBORNE MINSTER was founded as a nunnery in 705 by Cuthberga, (sister of a Saxon king – King Ina) and so it remained, although an effective missionary centre, until it was dissolved in the early 11th Century, when the enclosed order was replaced by a college of canons which survived until the Dissolution of colleges and chantries in the 16th Century. As a minster it served as a base for the evangelization of the surrounding area. A little of a second Saxon church survives in the North transept but the church was thoroughly rebuilt on the present large scale towards the end of the 12th Century, from which the nave, crossing and first bay of the chancel survive. The crossing is very fine, with its lantern tower, though the battlements are a clumsy 16th Century addition. Then follows the Eastern part of the chancel, 13th Century Early English work, including the very elegant East window of three lancets. The 14th Century contributed the transepts and finally the 15th Century accounts for the raising of the nave clerestory and high timbered roof and the well-proportioned West tower.
The church is one of the most interesting in the County - its many treasures include a chained library, the quirky tomb of Thomas Ettricke (who refused to be buried either in or out of the church, so his tomb chest reposes in the South wall of the chancel - he had the chest made in his lifetime but misjudged the date of his death, as appears from the obvious alteration), an astronomical clock with a quarter-jack on the tower, several fine and interesting tombs and a tablet to Gulliver, a well-known smuggler who was twice churchwarden!
By 713 a Benedictine Nunnery had become well established in which there were, at any one time, some 300 to 400 nuns in training. This nunnery was situated in what is now Deans Court. So, in 740 a group of nuns, led by St. Boniface and Sister Leoba, traveled to Bavaria and founded a Christian community at Ochsenfurt, and this community flourishes today. In fact, it is now twinned with Wimborne Minster.
In 1318 King Edward II bestowed on the Minster, together with some 10 or 11 other churches, the title of “Royal Peculiar”, thus removing such churches from ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as ensuring the revenue went to the crown. This practice was abolished in 1846, but the Minster still retains the title.
In 1562, Queen Elizabeth I vested the Minster with 12 governors to oversee its affairs and this is still the position today.
Over the arch at the entrance to the baptistry, there is a coat of arms. This was originally that of King Charles I, but when Cromwell came to power, the Minster conveniently removed and “lost” it, despite the area being strongly royalist, and sat on the fence. Accordingly, the Minster suffered little damage from Cromwell’s soldiers, apart from a few broken windows and the removal of gold ornaments, etc.
When Cromwell died, and King Charles II acceded to the throne, his coat of arms was displayed and is the one there today.
The Dorset Historic Churches Trust gratefully acknowledges the contribution made to these notes by Mr Patrick Moule and Mr. John Davis, the Head Guide of the Minster.
The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©