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St Aldhelm’s Chapel…


One night early September 2015, I headed to Worth Matravers in the search for a little construction, it was my first time there, it took me several attempts to find the way with the lights of the stars only….

St Aldhelm’s Chapel

St Adhlelm’s Chapel is a Norman construction within a low circular earthwork, which may be the remains of a pre-Conquest Christian enclosure.  The building has severalarchitectural features which are unusual for a chapel; the square shape, the orientation of the corners of the building towards the cardinal points, and the division and restriction of the interior space by a large central column.  The lack of evidence for an altar or a piscina suggests that the building may not have been built as a chapel.  It may have originally been built as a watchtower for Corfe Castle, covering the sea approaches to the south.

Its identification as a purpose-built chapel rests on records of payments to a chaplain in the reign of King Henry III (1261–1272). The chapel appears to have gone out of use some time before 1625, and was in a ruinous condition by the end of the 18th century. Repairs were carried out by local landowners during the 19th century, and the chapel was reopened for church services in 1874.

The interior of the chapel is approximately 25 feet (7.7. metres) square. In the centre is a square pier supporting four square rib vaults, with the heavy ribs leading to transverse arches, all stop-chamfered.In the north-west side is a Norman round-arched doorway. A small window is contemporary with the doorway.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries regular weekly services were held, attended by coastguards and their families who lived in nearby cottages. The neighbouring Renscombe Farm was used for radar research during the Second World War, and the chapel was used infrequently. Repaired again in the 1960s, the site of the chapel was declared a Scheduled Monument in 2000. At present (2009) services are held on Sundays in July and August.©Kevin_Ferrioli_N00001150911

St Aldhelm’s Chapel is located close to the cliffs of St Adhelm’s Head, 108 metres above sea level.  The chapel is square, with walls 7.77 metres in length built of stone.  The corners of the chapel are orientated towards thecardinal points. The interior of the chapel contains a 12th-century groin vault, supported by a central column. Evidence uncovered during 20th century repairs to the chapel roof suggest that it may have been topped with a beaconat some time.  The roof now bears a stone cross erected in 1873.

The chapel is at the centre of a circular earthwork. In 1957 a monumental slab of Purbeck stone was uncovered by ploughing in a field 402 metres NNE of the chapel.  The slab, about 2 metres long and 0.75 metre wide at the head, was carved with a Celtic-style cross in relief.  Below the slab was a grave containing the skeleton of a woman with arms crossed, placed within a row of upright stones.  Eight pieces of iron, with traces of wood, were also found in the grave.  The woman’s age was estimated at 30 to 40 years, and the grave dated to the late 13th century.  Nearby were the foundations of a building 2 metres square.  The slab is now in the porch of St Nicholas’ Church, Worth Matravers.