Great Malvern Priory

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Great Malvern Priory

The Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael

Great Malvern, Worcestershire

Status: Parish church
Great Malvern Priory.JPG
Great Malvern Priory
Church of England
Diocese of Worcester
Grid reference: SO775458
Location: 52°6’37"N, 2°19’43"E

Great Malvern Priory is the vast parish church standing in Great Malvern in Worcestershire.

The origin of the church is as the church of the Benedictine monastery around which the town was founded, and which throve from around 1075 until dissolved in 1540. It is now the town's principal Church of England parish church. It is a grade I listed building.[1]

The church is a dominant building in Great Malvern. It has the largest display of 15th century stained glass in Britain,[2] as well as carved miserichords from the 15th and 16th century and the largest collection of Mediæval floor and wall tiles. In 1860 major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It also the venue for concerts and civic services.


Early history

The priory is brloieved to have been founded by King Edward the Confessor. The additions to William Dugdale's Monasticon include an extract from the Pleas taken before the King at York in 1387, stating that there was a congregation of hermits at Malvern "some time before the conquest".[3] Several slightly different histories explain the actual founding of the religious community. Legend tells that the settlement began following the murder of St. Werstan, a monk of Deerhurst, who fled from the Danes and took refuge in the woods of Malvern, where the above-mentioned hermitage had been established.[4]</ref>[5] St Werstan's oratory is thought to have been located on the site of St Michael's Chapel which is believed to have stood on the site of Bello Sguardo, a Victorian architecture|Victorian Villa. Bello Sguardo was built on the site of Hermitage Cottage. The cottage was demolished in 1825 and ecclesiastical carvings were found within it. A Mediæval undercroft, human bones and parts of a coffin were also uncovered.[6] Although the legend may be monastic mythology, historians have however concluded that St. Werstan was the original martyr.[7]

Norman Conquest to the Dissolution

The nave of Great Malvern Priory Church

During the reign of Edward the Confessor, Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, encouraged a hermit named Aldwyn to become the first Prior of Malvern Priory.[8] The monastery was in what was then the wilderness of Malvern Chase. According to the Worcester Monastic Annals this work began in 1085.[9] An ancient stained glass window[10] in the Priory church depicts the legend of St. Werstan, with details of his vision, the consecration of his chapel, Edward the Confessor granting the charter for the site, and Werstan's martyrdom.[2]

Aldwyn was succeeded by Walcher of Malvern, from Lorraine. Walcher's tomb lid was rescued from burial at the site of the South Transept cloister garth c. 1711. It is now housed in St Anne's chapel. The inscription on the lid reads:-

Philosophus bonus dignus Astrologus lotharingus, Vir pius et humilis, Monachus prior hujus ovilis Hic jacet in cista Geometricus et Abacista, Doctor Walcherus. Flet plebs, dolet undique clerus. Huic lux prima mori Dedit Octobris seniori; Vivat ut in coelis Exoret quisque fidelis. MCXXXV.
A good philosopher, a worthy Astrologer of Lorraine, A pious and humble man, the prior monk of this fold, Here lies in a casket, a geometer skilled in the abacus, Doctor Walcher. The people weeps, the cleric grieves everywhere. To him, our elder, the first day of October brought death; That he should live in heaven may every faithful soul pray. 1135.[11]

The Priory was built for thirty monks on land belonging to Westminster Abbey.[12] A charter from Henry I in 1128 AD refers to Great Malvern Priory as 'the Priory of St. Mary'. In 1154–1156, Westminster Abbey obtained a Papal bull from Pope Adrian IV which confirms a strong dependency of the priory of St Mary, Malvern, on the Abbey of Westminster.

An 18th-century document in the Worcester County Record Office states that in the 18th year of King William's reign (1083?), the priory was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.[13] Occasionally the patronage is recorded as to Mary and otherwise both St Mary & St Michael.[14]

On the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541, local people raised £20 to buy the building to replace their decaying parish church.[15]

Modern renaissance

By 1788 the Priory had fallen into disrepair. It was partly restored in 1812 and again in 1816, 1834 and 1841. A careful restoration was carried out in 1860 under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the famous architect, who also designed the roof of the nave in imitation of the mediæval original.[16]

The church is today a thriving parish church and one of the most popular visitor attractions in Great Malvern. The choir is well established. There are several active groups for children and young people. The church sponsors several "Mission Partners".


Mediæval stained glass windows at Great Malvern Priory

The present building dates from 1085, with mainly 15th-century structure, floor, and wall tiles. Extensions to the original Norman church began around 1440 in the Perpendicular style and work continued until 1502.[9] The great square central tower is very similar to that of the nearby Gloucester Cathedral; it was built by the same masons. It was redesigned in Perpendicular style by Sir Reginald Bray and has a very plain interior. The chancel is also Perpendicular in style, and contains the monument of John Knotsford (died 1589), a participant in the dissolution of the former monastic foundation. It is largely thanks to his patronage that the church, and particularly its mediæval glass, survived so well.

The fine collection of stained glass ranges from mediæval to modern, and includes 15th century and 19th century windows. The north transept window, depicting the Coronation of St. Mary, was a gift from Henry VII in 1501, and another from the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.


15th century misericord
Mediæval tiles

The twenty-two 15th century misericords and twelve 19th century misericords are divided into three subsets: a modern set that do not seem to follow a pattern, depictions of mythical beasts and representations of the Labours of the Months. It appears that some of the modern misericords replaced 5 of the labours, but this is still a useful record.[17]

It is possible that the same person who carved the misericords at Worcester Cathedral and Ripple St Mary, was responsible for the 15th century misericords, as they bear more than a family resemblance.

Labours of the Month

  • NH-02 Swine-heard, dressed in the usual flat cap, doublet and hose, and pointed shoes, knocking down acorns. Representing October.
  • NH-06 Man with bag fastened to a strap over his shoulders with a seed container on his left. He is a seed-sower and represents March.
  • NB-01 Man seated at a table holding up a wine cup in each hand. Probably representing January.
  • NB-02 Man reaping or weeding. In his hands he holds two implements to tend the corn. Possibly representing April, June or August.
  • NB-04 Man with a scythe. Representing June.
  • NB-05 Smiling man carrying a bunch of grapes in his left hand and a basket in his right. Representing September.
  • SB-06 Man holding a large bunch of flowers in each hand. Representing May.

The monuments include a recumbent figure of a knight dating from 1200 and an alabaster altar tomb with effigies to John Knottesford, 1589, his wife Jane and their daughter, Anne. Within the sacristy are several heraldic floor stones dedicated to the Lygon family. St Ann's Chapel houses the tomb lid of Walcher of Malvern, the second prior of Malvern.[16]

Great Malvern Priory has a large collection of over a thousand Mediæval wall tiles. The majority were made between 1453 and 1458.[18]


The organ, dating from 1879

The organ is by Nicholson of Malvern from 1879, but was heavily rebuilt and restored by Rushworth and Dreaper in 1927 and 1977. It was further overhauled by Nicholson in 2003 and is a Certified Historic Organ.[19] The specification of the organ is listed at the National Pipe Organ Register.[20]

See also


Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Great Malvern Priory)


  1. National Heritage List 1082794: Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael, Church Street
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nikolaus Pevsner: The Buildings of England: Worcestershire, 1968; 2007 Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-300-11298-6
  3. Dugdale, Sir William (1693). Monasticon Anglicanum or The History Of the Ancient Abbies, and other Monasteries, Hospitals, Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, in England and Wales. With Divers French, Irish, and Scotch Monasteries Formerly relating to England (Translated from the Latin). London: Sam Keble and Hen Rhodes. p. 234. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  4. Nott, James (1885). Some of the Antiquities of Moche Malvern (Great Malvern). Malvern: John Thompson. p. 14. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  5. Grindrod, Charles, F (1899). Malvern: what to see and where to go. Thompson. 
  6. Historic England. "St Michaels's Chapel (113665)". PastScape. Retrieved 27 May 2012 
  7. Weaver, Cora; Osborne, Bruce (2006). The Illumination of St. Werstan the Martyr. Cora Weaver. ISBN 978-1-873809-67-9. 
  8. Wardle, Terry Heroes & Villains of Worcestershire 2010 The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire p11 ISBN 978 0 7524 5515 0
  9. 9.0 9.1 Wells, Katherine (2009) Tour of Great Malvern Priory p.2., Friends of Great Malvern Priory ISBN 0-9510294-4-4
  10. "Drawing by M. T. Stevens in James Nott, Malvern Priory Church, c. 1900". University of Leicester. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  11. Great Malvern Priory: Prior Walcher of Lorraine Retrieved 22 September 2011
  12. "A Short Account of Great Malvern Priory Church" Page 8, 1914
  13. Worcestershire Record Office, 899.601 BA 9155.
  14. Worcestershire Record Office, Bishop Guilford's Register of 1283, x713.093 BA 2648
  15. Wells, Katherine (2009) Tour of Great Malvern Priory p.3., Friends of Great Malvern Priory ISBN 0-9510294-4-4
  16. 16.0 16.1 [1] A History of the County of Worcestershire - Volume : {{{2}}} (Victoria County History)
  17. Wells, Katherine (2009) Tour of Great Malvern Priory p.17., Friends of Great Malvern Priory ISBN 0-9510294-4-4
  18. Smith, Brian S. (1978) [1964]. A History of Malvern. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press. pp. 70, 71, 72. ISBN 0-904387-31-3. 
  19. Historic Organ Certificates Retrieved 3 August 2011
  20. National Pipe Organ Register: Great Malvern Priory Retrieved 3 August 2011

Further reading