St. Mary the Virgin
Cerne Abbas was once one of the most important towns in Dorset. It owes its origins to the presence of the great abbey founded there in 987 by Ethelmar, Earl of Devon and Cornwall, but during the C19 the railways went elsewhere with the inevitable result that it withered commercially.
Nevertheless, the town is a most appealing place set in its own beautiful fold in the chalk hills and blessed with some exquisite half-timbered buildings, which nowadays attract tourists from all over the world. All that remains of the great abbey, which was dissolved in 1539, is a gate house with a most impressive oriel window. Slightly outside the settlement is the famous Cerne Giant cut into the chalk on the side of a hill.
The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©
The church of St. Mary is almost entirely C15 and at first glance, the eye is naturally drawn to the elegant, if slightly dominating, tower. But take a longer look and the overall effect is breath-taking. Soon other features reach out to you, for example, the Madonna and child above the west door that miraculously escaped desecration by Cromwell's men and the generous battlement decoration of the porch.
Inside, the building is flooded with light. Tall slender ham stone pillars reach up on both sides of the nave to support elegant arches that in turn support a clerestory above. Apart from the generous impression of space, perhaps the most interesting artefact is the stone screen that divides the nave from the chancel. Before 1870 a wall literally excluded the congregation from sight of the chancel. After that date the wall was reduced to form a base for the screen and the chancel arch, as seen today. The pulpit of 1640 is an excellent example of Jacobean craftmanship. The C15 font has a richly painted modern cover (1963) designed by Kenneth Wiltshire.