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|The original church in 'Twynham' is recorded in about AD 700. The Doomsday
Book refers to 'The Monastery of Holy Trinity of Thuinam' in 1086 consisting
of a Dean and 24 secular canons. The church was given to one Ranuolph Flambard
by William II and Ranuolph set about his intention to build a new church
on St Catherine's Hill. There are 2 stories concerning the building of
the new church and that of the Priory we see today.
The first tells how the foundation materials were taken by the workers to St Catherine's Hill during the day and left there over night ready for the construction to start the next day. When the workers arrived in the morning the materials were nowhere to be found, well not quite, they were at the site where the Priory sits now. The version of this story told when I was a boy tells how the workers took the materials back to St Catherine's Hill over several consecutive days as them found them each morning at the town site. Eventually they concluded that God wanted his church here and who were they to disagree. The Saxon church constructed at this time was destroyed as it was predominantly made of wood and in 1094 work started on the building you see today.
The second story concerns a beam that to this day is stored high in the roof of the Priory and a carpenter who worked on the present building. This worker did not mix with the other workers not attending the communal meals nor drawing pay. When it came to preparing the main support beam for the roof it was cut to length and raised into position only for it to be found that the beam was inches short. The beam was lowered and left to the following day when by a miracle it was found that the beam was a perfect fit and had been fitted in place. Needless to say the carpenter was never seen again and it is said that the locals believed that Christ the carpenter was the stranger working on his own church.
As the years have past the name Twynham has been dropped and is now only used to refer to an area of the town, in its place Christ's Church has been adopted to Christchurch.
In 1415 the central tower of the original building collapsed taking the quire with it, when rebuilding took place the replacement was in a perpendicular style being completed in 1510. The existing tower contains a peal of 12 bells plus a flat 6th, 2 of these bells date from 1370. In 1539 King Henry VIII in destroying the power of the Monasteries ordered the destruction of the Priory. The locals petitioned him to spare their church which the King acceded to giving the Priory to the churchwardens and inhabitants of the town. The other church buildings were however destroyed and only some walls remain today.
The present Priory is 311 feet 4 inches long which makes it the longest parish church in the land. Unique Norman carvings and blind Romanesque arches are just some of the particularly beautiful features of the Priory. The Nave was completed in 1150 and the Quire screens in about 1320. At over 900 years of history the Priory is well worth a visit to all even those who are not quite so interested in either religion nor architecture.