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The History of St Catherine's Church in Wimborne

In the Middle Ages a small Chapel dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria existed on the same site as the present Church. Devotion to this saint seems to have started in the Holy Land on Mount Sinai. Although accounts vary, the fact remains that today there is still a monastery dedicated to St. Catherine.


It is at the foot of Jebel Musa, the "Mountain of Moses" and was built at the beginning of the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian. In the centre of the monastery (which housed six to seven thousand monks in the first centuries of Christianity and three to four hundred during the Middle Ages) is the Church. Inside, near the central altar, is the "Crypt of St. Catherine".


According to local tradition her cult can be traced back to the early fourth century when, during the reign of Maximinus, she left Alexandria in Egypt and retreated to a rocky valley in Sinai. There, Catherine devoted her life to God and managed to escape Caesars persecution. Ultimately, she was discovered and martyred. Approximately three centuries later some Sinai monks, in response to a dream, found her body on the mountain. It was reverently transferred to a golden casket in their Church.

The Catholic Church in Wimborne has been active in an unbroken line since 350 A.D. Right through the Reformation, Mass continued to be said daily at Canford and Stapehill within the parish boundary. The stone Church of St. Catherine replaces an earlier wooden building where Mass was celebrated for the first time on Christmas Eve 1926.

The opening of the present Church took place in November 1933. Inside there is an interesting stained-glass memorial window dedicated "to the greater glory of God and in memory of the Rt. Hon. James Radcliffe 3rd Earl of Derwentwater and his wife Anna Maria daughter of Sir John Webb Bart of Canford in this parish, where the faith was kept alive during the Penal Times Feb.24th 1716 R.I.P." The Earl of Derwentwater was executed for his part in the 1715 Rebellion.

There is an ancient "link" also between the holy city of Rome and Wimborne. The Church "Santo Spiritu a Sassia" which stands on the site of a former hostelry, a house for pilgrims instituted in 726 A.D. by King Ina of Wessex, cherishes a picture of the Madonna thought to have belonged to King Ina. This same monarch donated land to his sister, St. Cuthberga, for the founding of Wimborne Minster in 713 A.D.

In 705 A.D. St Cuthburga, sister of King Ina of Wessex, founded in Wimborne one of the largest monasteries in England. There were two monasteries, one male, the other female, both ruled over by the Abbess. St Cuthberga had been brought up in court and married Alfrid, King of Northumbria, from whom she parted by mutual consent so that she could enter religious life.


Under her determined rule, the monastery gained international reputation. St Cuthberga her sister and Saints Lioba, Wulpurga and Teela, all near relatives, were also directly associated in the new foundation. St Boniface from Crediton in Devon, who brought Christianity to Germany drew many of his helpers from the Monastery at Wimborne, including St Lioba, who together with Boniface
were both martyred at Fulda some years later. The letters from St Boniface to the Wimborne Monastery are now at the British Museum, and they relate as to how much Boniface owed the Wimborne Monastery in the conversion of Germany. It is suggested that Christianity in Germany owes its foundation to Wimborne.


Rudolph of Fulda in 836 A.D. wrote: “Wimborne was a foundation of the Kings of the English, surrounded by high walls and supplied sufficiency of income; one a monastery of clerics, the other an order of women.” According to Anglo Saxon chronicles, the monastery was destroyed by the Danes in late 10th to early 11 C.

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