St Mary's Church, Tarrant Crawford, Dorset
- What's nearby
Ghostly painted tales in a rural church
In a gentle valley above the River Tarrant this simple and evocative church, which dates back to the twelfth century, is all that remains of a wealthy Cistercian nunnery - thirteenth-century Tarrant Abbey - to which it may have been a lay chapel.
Today, the long, elegant interior has oak furnishings and a beautiful sixteenth-century wagon roof. There are also several thirteenth and fourteenth-century coffin lids set in the floor, probably of abbesses and nuns. Best of all, however, are the ghostly fourteenth-century paintings, made to instruct and inspire the parishioners. These cover most of the walls of the nave, catching your eye as soon as you walk into the church.
Though somewhat degraded, they still give a vivid impression of warmth and colour. It is unusual for such an early set of paintings to survive, albeit damaged. The earliest, in the chancel, is from the thirteenth century and consists of a simple masonry pattern with a flower stencil. There are also fourteenth-century depictions of St Margaret of Antioch, said to have been swallowed by a dragon, and three animated skeletons, who warn three princes of the emptiness of earthly rank and wealth. The paintings on the north wall are more fragmentary, but you can identify St Michael weighing souls, and St Christopher carrying the Christ Child.
A strangely beautiful church
A Victorian masterpiece returned to the community
A pair of eccentric churches
Flint and limestone exterior on a single floor, with a nave, chancel and single entrance (106 cms wide) through the north porch. Flagstone floors, level access to the nave with two steps up to the chancel. Stone and limewashed interior with mediaeval tableau wall paintings. Wooden roof beams, fixed pews, altar and pulpit. Central aisle 110cms wide, total area (chancel and nave) 85 sq metres. Limited parking on gravel track outside the churchyard, but no through traffic. The sloping grass access, through a gate and rising to the north porch, could be slippery in wet conditions. Accessible but with some difficulty.
Facilities & Hire
Due to the historic nature of our buildings only a small number have heating, running water and toilet facilities. The lighting is usually operated via a 'push button' timer or a motion sensor.
3 miles south east of Blandford, off A350
Nearest railway station: Hamworthy (8 miles)
History & Further Information
Why not make your visit more enjoyable and informed by finding out more about this church before you visit? You can download a range of publications below including the relevant county guide, and any walk round guides we have for this church.Cornwall, Devon and Dorset county guide
This free of charge short guide contains details of all the churches we care for in Cornwall, Devon & Dorset. Printed copies of the county guide are also available at the church.St Mary's, Tarrant Crawford Guidebook
All our Dorset churches are in our West region.
Useful local links: