St Gregory's is a church with a long history
From Our beginning
St Gregory's is a church that had a humble beginning
Up until around about 1150, Marnhull had no church of its own and was part of the parish of Sturminster Newton. It could also have been linked with Glastonbury Abbey, which farmed land in Marnhull.
Around about 1150, when Salisbury Cathedral was still at the Old Sarum site and Magna Carta was still 60-odd years into the future, Marnhull became a separate parish.
It seems that a small rectangular stone church was built with four arches and an aisle on the north side of the nave.
You can still see one of the original pillars and the decorative top of the pillar or ‘capital’ with carved heads. Perhaps, as in many old churches and cathedrals, the heads were loosely modelled on some of the men – many very likely from Marnhull and the surrounding area – who worked on that first church.
The first rector Alan de Waldish, was appointed in 1250. He was rector until 1263 when a rector referred to only as M. Osmund took over.
If you look to the left of the door as you come inside the church, you can see a complete list of rectors up to 2011.
The church was altered and extended throughout the Middle Ages.
The nave was extended to the west and a north transept, now the Hussey Chapel, was added in the late 14th century. The west tower and a south transept seem to have been begun in the second half 15th century and eventually the north nave wall was moved further to the north.
If you look closely inside the church today you can see evidence of these alterations in the stone and woodwork. For example the western part of the nave roof is carved coffered* work dating from 1520. Further east the plain coffering is from a later date. Put simplistically, ‘coffer’ initially meant basket or box, and the ceiling is panelled in boxes.
The north aisle has a 16th century wagon or barrel roof, which to some of us resembles a sturdy upturned rowing boat.
There are several stone angels on the capitals of the chancel arch also dating from the early C16th. The chancel also has a wagon roof.
On the north side of the chancel you can still see – and look through – the Mediaeval ‘squint’ or ‘hagioscope’ which allowed the general and more lowly part of the congregation in the north transept to witness the mass. In those days, mass was for the benefit of the clergy and the high born. Everyone else could only stand and watch. It wasn’t until 1545 that church services were taken in English rather than Latin and became more inclusive.
If you go into the vestry and look inside the robing cupboard and the toilet next to it, you can see a stone ledge running along the wall. This is the remains of the only seating provided for the general population and was meant for the elderly and infirm. This was a standard feature of churches in the middle ages, hence the saying: “the weakest go to the wall”.