Wimborne Minster’s Grandeur

Known locally as the Minster, Wimborne Minster is the parish church of  Wimborne, Dorset, England. The Minster has existed for over 1300 years and is recognised for its unusual chained library (one of only four surviving chained libraries in the world). The Minster, a former monastery and Benedictine nunnery, is the resting place of King Ethelred of Wessex. 

Dedicated to Sain Cuthburga, who founded a Benedictine abbey of nuns at the present day minster in circa A.D. 705. A monastery for men was built around this time, adjacent to the abbey. In 871, Alfred the Great buried his brother King Ethelred in the Minster.

The women’s monastery was destroyed by the Danes  in 1013 during one of their incursions into Wessex  and never rebuilt, though the main abbey building survived. In 1043, Edward the Confessor founded a college of secular (non-monastic) canons, consisting of a dean, four prebends, four vicars, four deacons, and five singers at the minster. The minster was remodelled and rebuilt by the Normans between 1120 and 1180, to support that institution.

In 1318, Edward II issued a document that made the minster a Royal Peculiar, which exempted it from all diocesan jurisdiction. The choir used to wear scarlet robes, a legacy of this ‘Peculiar’. Similar robes of this type are worn in Westminster Abbey and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. In 1496, Lady Margaret Beaufort, granddaughter of John of Gaunt and mother of Henry VII, founded a small chapel in the minster. With the reign of Henry VIII, the remaining parts of the monastery were adopted into part of the minster to avoid being destroyed. However much of the wealth of the minster was confiscated by King Henry VIII.

The West Tower

The pulpit

Sixty six years later in 1562 a grant was obtained from Queen Elizabeth I  by which part of the property formerly belonging to the college, together with all ecclesiastical rights and prerogatives was returned to Wimborne and vested in twelve governors. The charter was surrendered to James I  and a new charter was obtained from Charles I at a cost of £1000 with the addition of an organist and singing men. During the English Civil War,  when Charles I was beheaded his coat of arms was painted out from the wall of the minster, but on the restoration of Charles II the arms were speedily replaced and have now been restored.

In 1846 the Royal Peculiar was abolished, and now all that remains of the old order is the control by 12 governors of some of the minster affairs. The church was renovated towards the end of the 19th century and its last addition, a vestry was added at the same time. Today the church is a place of visit and worship for the local community and visitors.

The old Treasury which housed the wealth of the minster has an important chained library. The library was founded in 1686 and is the second largest chained library  in the country and also one of the first public libraries. Some of the collections of the library include a manuscript written on lambskin in 1343, a book bound for the Court of  Henry VIII, an incunabulum printed in 1495 on the works of Saint Anselm,  and a Paraphrase of Erasmus printed in 1522 with a title page designed by Holbein.

Wimborne Minster is the home of an astronomical clock, one of a group of famous 14th to 16th century astronomical clocks to be found in the west of England.  It is currently maintained by notable Wimborne resident Bruce Jensen.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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