Roman Catholics in Dorset, Chideock

Making use of the fine weather, after being confined to the flat for a couple of days with a cold, I decide to make for Chideock. It’s not far from Bridport, just a few kilometres on the Lyme road but it takes a while as austerity has not been kind to rural bus services. I can’t get into St Giles, the parish church, as building work is in process so, after I quick look at the outside, I walk up the lane towards the rather large Roman Catholic church beside Chideock manor.

There are a few places in Dorset where the Reformation didn’t altogether manage to crush the Catholic church, usually where a local landowner was catholic  so that services could be discreetly held in a barn or some other outhouse during the “penal period” when it was illegal.

Another such place was Marnhull in North Dorset  where my own ancestors came from. Here in the eighteenth century, the same people appear in the registers of both the Protestant church (as was at one time required by law) and of the Catholic church (presumably this only applied to birth and marriage and not death…).  Here too important members of the local gentry were Catholic.

Marnhull provided a refuge for nuns fleeing the French Revolution.

These areas seem to have survived if they were sufficiently out-of-the-way and discreet and didn’t pose any form of challenge to the authorities. Chideock has its martyrs, however, described in detail in the museum attached to the church.

There is another religious curioso in the nearby village of Whitchurch Canonicorum (Canons’ Whitchurch), where the church dedicated to St Wite (Candida) contains a shrine to the saint where visitors have left requests for the saint’s assistance. I’m not sure what the Protestant Chuch’s formal position is on this, but I believe it is very unusual in a Protestant church.

Back to Bridport after another long wait for the bus.

I’m beginning to feel sated with church architecture for the time being. I need to read more to sort my ideas out about neo-Gothic architecture. As you travel about Dorset, you realise the massive scale of church rebuilding in the nineteenth century and that there are few churches that fit neatly into the mediaeval classifications.

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