Plans for a great new Abbey Church began in 1840, during the priorship of Dom Bernard Murphy. Yet it was the vision and ambition of Priors Dom Aidan Gasquet and Dom Edmund Ford that created the abbey church we see today. The foundation stone was laid in 1878 and the first section of the church, including the abbey tower, was finished by 1882. Such was the involvement of Gasquet and Ford that their likenesses are carved in stone above the entrance to the abbey tower.
The rest of the church as we know it was added in phases; the choir in 1905, the sacristy in 1915, the nave in 1925 and the Gasquet crown of the tower in 1938. The church, which is still lacking a complete west front, was consecrated in 1935 and was raised to the rank of minor basilica in the same year.
It is one of England’s great neo-Gothic churches with the work of several distinguished architects including Thomas Garner, Sir Ninian Comper and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott contributing to its beauty and originality.
You can purchase a copy of Downside Abbey’s Architectural History by clicking here.
What to look for when you visit:
- The Sir Giles Gilbert-Scott designed Nave, with its ‘unfinished’ West front: spot the arches.
- The magnificent gate to the Lady Chapel; itself one of the most complete and successful schemes of Sir Ninian Comper.
- The Garner-designed woodwork of the choir, modelled on the stalls in Chester Cathedral.
- Listen to the Compton organ with its 142 speaking stops and casework by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The console is made from timber from HMS Bellerophon which transported Napoleon to British waters after the Battle of Waterloo.
- The decorated transepts, the oldest part of the Abbey Church, designed by Dunn and Hansom in 1882.
- The Chapel of St Oliver Plunkett, home to his beautiful reliquary.