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Abbey Church of St Mary and St Aldhelm

A Grade I Listed Building in Malmesbury, Wiltshire

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Latitude: 51.5847 / 51°35'4"N

Longitude: -2.0984 / 2°5'54"W

OS Eastings: 393280

OS Northings: 187320

OS Grid: ST932873

Mapcode National: GBR 2QZ.Q8V

Mapcode Global: VH95S.LF1J

Entry Name: Abbey Church of St Mary and St Aldhelm

Listing Date: 18 January 1949

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1269316

English Heritage Legacy ID: 460896

Location: Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16

County: Wiltshire

Civil Parish: Malmesbury

Built-Up Area: Malmesbury

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Wiltshire

Church of England Parish: Malmesbury and Brokenborough

Church of England Diocese: Bristol

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Listing Text


758-1/4/239 (North side)
18/01/49 Abbey Church of St Mary and St


Benedictine Abbey church, now parish church.
Church founded c637 by Irish hermit Mailduib, monastery
founded during abbacy of Aldhelm (c675-705), though no pre-C12
work survives; church probably begun under Bishop Roger
(c1118-1139), and mostly dates from c1160-80 with a 9-bay
aisled nave, transepts with E chapels, chancel, ambulatory
with 3 radiating chapels, and S porch, rebuilt 1350-1450 above
gallery level with clerestory, vault, crossing spire and W
towers, a lengthened chancel and Lady Chapel; spire fell 1479.
After Dissolution nave altered by William Stumpe of Abbey
House (qv) and damaged W parts walled for the parish church, W
tower fell c1662, W window by Goodridge 1830, restored W end
MATERIALS: limestone ashlar with stone tiles.
STYLE: late Romanesque style C12 work, Decorated Gothic style
C14 extensions.
PLAN: reduced since the Dissolution to 6 E bays of nave, with
short lengths of transept walls and S corner of W end.
EXTERIOR: the E end has a single N chancel bay and matching
chancel arch with paired half shafts set in square piers with
quarter round capitals, beneath the 2-centre arched line of
the vault, and tas-de-charges with sunken mouchettes; the
jambs of next E bay has matching aisle and triforium
semi-circular jambs with chevron mouldings.
Inner wall of N transept has blocked 2-centred aisle arch
containing a C16 doorway and 3-light mullion window, and a
blind round-arched doorway to the right; 6-bay N elevation has
a blind former cloister wall along the aisle divided by
buttresses, with a roll-top coping, and round-arched windows
above a cill band containing C14 tracery, with a steep gable
in the fourth bay containing a 3-light Decorated tracery
window; at the left end is a blocked, round-arched C12 doorway
with an archivolt of relief palmettes, and a cusped cinquefoil
arch set within.
The C14 clerestory has flying buttresses with tall pyramidal
pinnacles between 3-light 2-centre arched windows, 2-light at
the E end, with paterae to each side of the three E windows.
S transept as N, 2 bays after the aisle arch, an incomplete
arcade of interlacing round arches with a chevron moulding

beneath 2 storeys of round-arched windows with splayed
reveals, the lower windows flanked by narrow round-arched
recesses containing inner arches open to a passage through the
The arcade continues along the former external side of the S
transept and to the 9-bay S elevation, otherwise as the N side
with a Decorated cusped openwork parapet to aisle and nave,
and with second and third bays from E containing C14 2-centre
windows with Decorated tracery.
C12 porch rebuilt externally in C14 with angle buttresses, has
a very fine splayed round-arched entrance of 3 orders, without
capitals, richly carved with iconographic Biblical scenes set
in oval panels, and separated by richly carved mouldings, and
a hood with dog head stops.
Inside is a similarly-moulded doorway and C14 door, beneath a
tympanum of Christ in Glory supported by 2 angels, with along
both sides the round-arched arcade above a bench, beneath
finely-carved lunettes each of 6 Apostles with a horizontal
flying angel above.
In the E re-entrant is a square stair turret with a pyramidal
The incomplete W end has a massive clasping buttress stair
turret to the S corner in 4 stages separated by moulded
strings, blank from the ground, a pair of blind round-arched
panels containing lower arched panels to the second stage, an
arcade of narrow interlacing round-arches to the third, and a
taller arcade to the fourth stage with square section
mouldings; the bay to the left as the S aisle, with a pair of
round arches with flanking half arches at the second stage
enriched with chevron moulding, containing pairs of
round-arches; above is an arcade of 5 round-arches, and a
blind wall topped with a C20 parapet.
The S side of the central entrance bay has the jamb of a
round-arched entrance with 2 orders carved as the S porch and
plain capitals, beneath the jamb of a large C14 W window with
the springers of 4 cusped transoms.
INTERIOR: nave arcade has round shafts with scallop capitals
to sharply moulded 2-centre arches, with billet mouldings to
the 2 E arches, and billet hoods with dog head stops; the
triforium has blind round arches with attached shafts to
cushion capitals, a chevron moulding, with an arcade of 4
similar arches within; splayed clerestory windows have rere
arches. An attached shaft extends up from the piers to C14
tas-de-charges, and a lierne vault with carved bosses. A
'Watching Loft' is corbelled out above the fourth pier on the
S side of the nave, with plain openings and billet moulded
The C12 aisles have pointed quadripartite vaults and benches,

the blind arcade of the outside beneath the windows, on the S
side without the middle columns; the E end bays have C15 stone
screens with Perpendicular tracery.
To the left of the entrance is a winder stair to the C14
parvis over the porch, which has C20 panelling.
MEMORIALS: running counter-clockwise from the entrance, a wall
monument to Joseph Cullerne, d1764, a marble panel with raised
bracketed top section; wall monument to Robert Greenway,
d1751, a marble shield; wall monument to Bartholomew Hiren,
d1703, a panel with a broken pediment; at the W end, a wall
monument to Dame Cyscely Marshal, d 162?, with a slate panel
in a carved alabaster frame; to the left a late C17 cartouche
with drapes; in the N aisle, a dresser tomb of King Athelston,
d939, with narrow buttresses to the sides, with a recumbent
figure of the King with his feet on a lion, and a vaulted
canopy behind his head; wall monument to Elizabeth Warneford,
d1631, a slate plaque set in a moulded alabaster frame with
shields along the sides, a cartouche, and a segmental cornice
over; wall tablet to Isaac Watts, d 1789, an oval marble panel
set in slate; wall tablet to Johannes Willis, mid C18, a
marble panel with gadroon beneath and a cornice; wall tablet
to GI Saunders, d1806, with a round-arched top and moulded
frame; wall tablet to Elizabeth George, d1806, a well-carved
cartouche with putti below; wall tablet to Edward Cullerne,
d1765, marble with yellow marble inserts and a pediment; wall
tablet to Mary Thomson, d1723, a stone panel with draped
surround including an hour glass; wall tablet facing the
entrance to Willima Robernce (?), d1799, a stone frame
including a small inscribed pointing hand in the corner.
Set in the chancel floor are a group of 8 brasses from late
C17 to mid C18.
FITTINGS: include a round C15 font from St Mary Westport (qv),
with a turned base and fluted sides; at the W end of the nave,
is the font used since the C17; in the S aisle, a glass case
containing a verge of 1615, carved with features of the Abbey;
at the E end the S aisle is the parish chest dated 1638,
panelled with 3 locks; communion rail of c1700 with twisted
balusters. In the parvis are kept 4 volumes of an illustrated
manuscript Bible of 1407.
GLASS: mostly C14 glass in the N aisle; the Luce window in the
S aisle designed by Burne Jones and made by William Morris.
HISTORICAL NOTE: the use of pointed arches and vaults in the
aisles is structurally advanced and transitional with Early
Gothic, and links Malmesbury with subsequent West Country
churches, but the carving is Anglo Saxon in character, and
probably borrowed from manuscript illustrations.
The conventual buildings stood on the N side of the church;
for the reredorter and sections of the precinct wall, see

Abbey House, Market Cross (qv), and for the guest house, see
Old Bell Hotel, Gloucester Street (qv).
(Victoria History of the Counties of England: Crowley DA:
Wiltshire: 1991-: 157; Archaeologia: Brakspear H: Malmesbury
Abbey: 1912-; Smith MQ: The Sculptures of the S Porch of
Malmesbury Abbey: Malmesbury: 1973-; The Buildings of England:
Pevsner N: Wiltshire: London: 1963-: 321-327; Midmer R:
English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540: London: 1976-: 212).

Listing NGR: ST9328487322

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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