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Dorchester Abbey: Church and people 635-2005

02 November 2006


Anglican paradigm: Christopher Currie on an abbey’s long story

The Stonesfield Press £15 (0-95271264-4)

 ON THE site of a Roman town; four times made a bishop’s see; for much of the intervening period the seat of successive houses of canons, and of a cult of its founding bishop, St Birinus; and with an unusually complete survival of the canons’ church — Dorchester-on-Thames has been close enough to Oxford to interest many antiquaries, and to discourage any attempt until now to produce a substantial scholarly history.

In this well-illustrated book, prepared for Dorchester’s fund-raising Abbey Campaign, Kate Tiller and her expert team provide a small version of those multi-author cathedral histories that have recently become so familiar.

Architecture dominates five chapters, and penetrates the rest. The building history is covered by Chapters 2 to 5, and not, despite its title, by Chapter 8, which is, rather, an architectural church guide. Its excellent integration of text and pictures, perhaps inspired by web pages, should encourage similar attempts elsewhere. These chapters will appeal to all interested in the longue-durée story of a complex church building.

Church Times readers will particularly enjoy Chapters 6 and 7, where the people, and still more the incumbents, at last get a look in. Much here is a paradigm of the story of Anglican parishes of the 19th and 20th centuries: the threat of Nonconformity, the arrival of a resident priest, the rise of high- churchmanship, the surpliced choir, the daughter churches, the ecumenical services, the reorderings, and, above all, the repeated restorations and fund-raisings.

From the publishers at Peakes House, Stonesfield, Whitney OX29 8PY.

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