Malvern Priory

Continuing where we left off…

One of the reasons for my visit to Great Malvern was to see Malvern Priory, and I was not disappointed. What is the difference between a Priory and a Cathedral? The internet gave me this answer which more or less is what a former minister told me at the Priory. 

Cathedral: Any church (regardless of size) that is the seat of a bishop and therefore has a cathedra (literally a teaching chair or seat, usually in the form of a throne).

Priory: A monastery headed by a prior, who is subordinate to an abbot, analogous to priests being subordinate to a bishop. Usually the prior also wears a type of cross around their neck as a badge of office. 

The Priory I was visiting on this day was a former Benedictine monastery c. 1075 – 1540 and is now an Anglican parish church. It also has the largest display of 15th-century stained glass in England.

It is bounded on one side by the churchyard which has quite a lot of legible headstones but I did not really tarry in the churchyard for a change.

The interior plan conforms to what most Anglican churches look like in shape, although parts of the building are much older than others. The plan below I scanned from the information leaflet I got at the Priory. I will try to show images of as many of the markers as I can.

Entrance to the building is underneath the scaffolding in the image below.

I was very surprised when I went inside because the building is wonderfully light and airy and does not have the heaviness of many of the churches I have been in. The stained windows are absolutely spectacular although they are impossible to photograph and to do them justice. 

The Great East Window and High Altar

Looking towards the High Altar

The church was a monastery for over 450 years until in 1541 it was bought for the princely sum of £20 by the local people to save it from destruction, it has served as the parish church for Great Malvern ever since. 

Chapel to the left of the great east window

There is a very beautiful memorial to Sophia Thompson who passed away in 1838, in the North Transept. 

and there are two magnificent “Millennium Windows” that were installed in 2004. 

St Anne’s Chapel is equally beautiful. 

The Misericords (mercy seats) in the chancel look very solid and uncomfortable and they must have been very bad for the rheumatism in winter. Actually the word I would use for them is “unforgiving.”

And do not forget to look up! This is the ceiling of the crossing between the two transepts.

Ceiling in the Chancel and Nave

The organ is by Nicholson of Malvern from 1879, but was heavily rebuilt and restored by Rushworth and Dreaper in 1927 and 1977. It was further overhauled by Nicholson in 2003 and is a Certified Historic Organ

The War Memorial is a very beautiful one and may be found at the back of the Nave and opposite the entrance.

The Font is close by as is the memorial to Henry Edward Francis Lambert. The bowl of the font dates back to the Normans.

Looking back towards this memorial from the crossing you can see the large organ on the left.
Between St Anne’s Chapel and the Chancel is a fine memorial to John Notsford and his wife Jane who both died in the 1580’s. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 John Notsford bought most of the Priory land and monastic buildings. His daughter Anne is kneeling at the foot of the memorial.

One unusual feature that I saw were a wall of tiles that were made locally in the 15th century in over 100 different designs. 

One quirky item I discovered is outside the walls although it has a direct connection to the Priory and is worth investigating. 

Prior Walcher. The second Prior at Great Malvern, Walcher of Lorraine, may have been England’s first astronomer. In the 9th century, when Arabic scientific scholarship was world leading, Lorraine in north east France was a route for advanced Arabic knowledge to spread through the Medieval West.

Having learnt in Lorraine to predict eclipses, Walcher became famous for observing celestial events with an astrolabe and created tables charting the dates of new moons from 1036 till 1111. He translated an important scientific work into Latin, making it accessible to English scholars and helped to introduce Arabic numbers to England.” (Information disk on railing)

The coffin lid of Prior Walcher.

Inscription on the coffin lid in St Anne’s chapel – rescued from burial at the site of the South Transept cloister garth c1711.:-

“PHILOSOPHUS DIGNUS BONUS ASTROLOGUS LOTHERING VS/VIR
PIUS AC HUMILIUS MONARCHUS PRIOR HUIUS OVILIS
HIC JACET IN CISTA GEOMETRICUS AC ABACISTA DOCTOR
WALCHERUS FLET PLEBS DOLET UNDIQUE CLERUS HUIC LUX
PRIMA MORI DEDIT OCTOBRIS SENIORI
VIVAT UT IN COELIS EXORET QUISQUE FIDELIS MCXXXV?”
“Worthy philosopher, good astrologer, born in Lorraine, a pious humble man (monk):
Prior of this sheepfold (monastery); here lies in his coffin, a geometrician and
mathematician.
For Walcherus the people weep: the clergy everywhere grieve. The first light of October
brought this old man death. Let every faithful man pray that he lives in Heaven.

(http://www.greatmalvernpriory.org.uk/content/pages/documents/1373964578.pdf)

Exterior buildings

There are a number of other buildings outside the Priory that connect to it. The most visible being the gatehouse which is now a museum. Unfortunately I could not get a clear shot of the front of the building.

I was hoping that the back of the building would match the front but it doesn’t.

This building is the Abbey Hotel, although I am not sure what part of it is hotel and what part is not.

The Priory is walled on the one side so it is not easy to get an image of that side of the building, however I did manage a few great angles.

That concludes my visit to Malvern Priory. It is a beautiful building and in a very good condition. It is light and airy and very welcoming. It was definitely different from the Cathedrals I have seen and it is slightly smaller than Tewkesbury Abbey. And like our Abbey it is a survivor, and long may it be with us. 

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