Out of the willows and water meadows along the Rivers Thame and Thames rises the fiery tiled roof of Dorchester Abbey: a striking beacon that marks a long history of devotion.
The Abbey building dominates the tiny Oxfordshire village of Dorchester-on-Thames where many an ill-fated character from Midsommer Murders has met their untimely end. This fictional setting has its own true stories to tell: of kings and saints, pilgrims and artists.
A visit to the Abbey can be many things: a history lesson, a time for reflection, an opportunity to find inspiration. For me, it’s to lose myself in the sense of space and of place, calm and contemplative: the simplicity of the architecture; the soft colours of the plastered walls; the gently filtered sunlight. There are special memories too.
I’m always drawn to the people’s chapel first, its plain glass windows cascading aquamarine light on to the stone floor below and illuminating a series of mysterious oxblood-coloured wall paintings.
From the back of the nave the view down the aisle is dominated by the window that fills the East end like a giant, multifaceted jewel. Walk down to the chancel and you’ll discover its special neighbour, the unusual 14th-century Tree of Jesse window, which weaves its way up the north wall; all tracery, sculpture, and stained glass.
In the Lady Chapel, with its shrine to St Birinus, gilded lilies and dog roses adorn the walls. Nearby, the shape of a giant St Christopher looms out of the plasterwork, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Crossing the nave to the north side of the building, an arched doorway leads to the beautifully designed, interpreted, and lit Cloister gallery, where the Abbey’s story is told in stone under sturdy oak beams.
If you’re visiting during the summer months be sure to stop and enjoy a generous portion of cake from the tea room in the Abbey grounds. Here cheerful volunteers continue the age old tradition of offering hospitality, with specialities including orange and ginger cake and Dorset gooseberry cake.