St John the Baptist, Bere Regis

THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST Bere Regis Church can be traced back to Norman times (there is some evidence of a previous Saxon church) and it is recorded that King John, after abandoning an invasion of Normandy in 1205, landed at Studland and came to the Manor House at Bere Regis. This house was in the field opposite the east end of the church, known to this day as Court Green. King John later paid fifteen visits to Bere Regis.



This is known as the Turberville Chapel and is referred to in Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'UrberviIles". Under the floor is a vast vault where many of the Turbervilles are buried. In one of the windows may be seen the arms of those who have held manorial rights, originally granted by King John to the Turberville family, down to recent days.


The main arcades of the church are transitional Norman though the church also contains early English, decorated and perpendicular work. Visitors should not fail to see the quaint carvings on the pillars of the south side. There is one of a man with toothache, another of a man with a headache and others of interest, including a crowned head, a monkey and dogs baiting a bull. Notice the splendid carved pew ends; there are no two the same anywhere in the building. Some are very ancient (those in the north to south cross-over).


The main glory of the church is the magnificent carved and painted oak roof given by Cardinal Morton in about 1485. Morton was born in Milborne St.Andrew, once part of Bere Regis parish, in 1420. He read law at Balliol College, Oxford, and became, after a series of adventures during the Wars of the Roses, one of the chief advisers to the Earl of Richmond in exile in Flanders. When Richmond became Henry VII, Morton was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and Lord Chancellor one year later. In 1493 he was made a cardinal and in 1495 he became Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Morton died in 1500 and lies buried in Canterbury Cathedral. He is thought to have given the roof in memory of his mother, who was a Turberville. He has gone down in history as the inventor of Morton's Fork and hence as the spiritual father of the Inland Revenue. At the east end of the roof there is a boss of the head of Thomas Morton himself. As tax collector and judicial authority he levied high taxes on the ostentatiously rich, but apparently taxed more modest spenders equally severely on the grounds that they were concealing their wealth. On either side project the figures of the twelve Apostles. Among them Saint Peter can be identified by his keys and triple crown. The ten small heads have not been identified. The roof is unique and there is not another quite like it anywhere in the world. It should be studied carefully.


The windows date from 1875 and are good examples of their time, all by the same artist. They tell the complete story of the Redemption starting with the Nativity in the west window of the north aisle, following round the whole church with the Crucifixion in the east window, the Ascension in the east window of the south aisle and finishing with Christ reigning in glory in the west window of the south aisle. Saint John the Baptist is commemorated in the great west window.





Note the fine roof with its ten delightful angels. Dating only from 1875, it is of great beauty and magnificent workmanship. There are fine brasses on the Skerne monument on the north wall, together with an intriguing inscription.


The stone altar slab with its original consecration crosses was buried under the chancel floor at the time of the Reformation, to avoid carrying out the edict that all such altar slabs were to be broken up and replaced by wooden tables. During the course of the 1875 restoration, carried out by Street, the stone was found buried upside down under the floor and was replaced in its original position, where it is now used Sunday by Sunday. See the fine modern processional cross and Victorian floor tiling both here and in the south aisle, specially fired for the church.


Cardinal Morton left a sum of money for masses to be said in his chantry for the repose of his soul. This beautiful little chapel, where the organ stands, has been renovated to the design of Mr. F. Pitfield ARIBA and has been furnished by memorial gifts from parishioners. Note the old panelling, part of the former pulpit and clerk's stall, which until its removal here was hidden away in the vestry. The tapestries both here and in the chancel were designed and worked by members of the Sanctuary Guild.


The font has been in use for over 850 years and is an exceptionally fine example of later Norman work. It was damaged in the time of Charles I when an attempt was made to fit a cover, in accordance with the order of Archbishop Laud.


The iron hooks were used for pulling down the thatch on cottages when they caught fire. They date from the 17th century.


The magnificent tower, which was built by Cardinal Morton in about 1500, is sixty-four feet (twenty metres) high and contains a lovely ring of six bells; the oldest dates from 1602. Note on your way out the tracery of the windows to the Bell Chamber and the grotesque gargoyles on the four corners.

© Bere Regis PCC


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