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Wimborne Minster, known locally as the 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.
The Minster is dedicated to Saint Cuthburga, sister to Ina, King of the West Saxons, who founded a Benedictine abbey of nuns at the present day minster in circa A.D. 705. Saint Walpurga was educated in the monastery, where she spent twenty-six years before travelling to Germany, following the missionary call of her mother's brother Saint Boniface. Leoba was also educated in this place. A monastery for men was also built around this time, adjacent to the abbey. Over the next hundred years the abbey and monastery grew in size and importance. In 871 Alfred the Great buried his brother King Ethelred (not the Unready) in the minster. Note that both Alfred and Ethelred were Kings of Wessex.
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
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 central tower and nave were founded in Saxon times, but the surviving building is predominantly Norman in design and construction, with Gothic components from various periods. One of its more famous architectural features include a working astronomical clock, which rings every hour and is represented in the form of a colourful quarterjack. The minster is built in a combination of Dorset limestone and New Forest stone.
The central length of the minster is 198 feet. The width, except the transepts, varies from 23 feet in the nave to 21 in the choir. The western tower of the minster is 95 feet high. The smaller tower of the minster, above the transepts, is 84 feet. The thirteenth-century spire which once topped this tower fell down in a storm around 1600.
The Chained Library
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.
The organ dates from 1899 by J W Walker & Sons, and has had various rebuilds including some by Lance Foy in 2000 and 2006. The specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.
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. (See also Salisbury, Wells, Exeter, and Ottery St Mary.). It is currently maintained by notable Wimborne resident Bruce Jensen.
The most important tomb in the church is that of King Ethelred, the brother of Alfred the Great. Ethelred was mortally wounded in a battle at Martin, near Cranborne. The exact location of the tomb however is unknown, though sources and legend indicate that it resides somewhere near the altar. A 14th century metal brass memorial next to the altar states that the former king is buried in the wall and is the only brass to mark the burial site of an English monarch. Two other important tombs are also in the minster: they are those of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, and his duchess, the maternal grandparents of King Henry VII of England, constructed out of alabaster and Purbeck Marble.
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