Cerne Abbas — Dorset, England
Cerne Abbas is a village located in Dorset, in the South West, in a lovely valley situated among beautiful rolling hills near the winding River Cerne; with the figure of the Cerne Abbas Giant displaying himself prominently on a hill near the village.
Originally St. Edwold the hermit settled here in 870 AD, followed by the founding of the Benedictine abbey 987 AD; with the village developing around this dominating force that existed for over 500 years; until the Dissolution of the Monasteries was enforced during the reign of Henry VIII. There is little left of this once prominent abbey, other than the gatehouse, a guest house and the tithe barn; however the ruins of the original abbey can still be explored, including the ancient holy well that was dedicated to St. Augustine. The Church of St. Mary was built for the parish in Cerne Abbas by the abbey during the latter part of the 13th century, and still remains intact today, with many of the attributes and characteristics of the original building still in existence.
Following the Dissolution, Cerne Abbas prospered as a market town, with its success being partly due to the quality of the beer they produced. The quality of their underground water assisted in this enterprise, making the beer an exportable and profitable product. The great number of public houses that existed in Cerne Abbas was a tribute to their brewing industry. There are no longer 14 public houses available, as there were during the days of the coaching inns; however, this small village still has an ample number of pubs with several old inns remaining, one of which still retains their original 15th century fireplace; a fire destroyed most of the inn, and was rebuilt with the original fireplace in 1898. The public footpaths throughout the village will assist you in an exploration of all the interesting and lovely attributes of this village.
One walk, which leads just outside the village, is to the historic and enigmatic Cerne Abbas Giant, whose history is wrapped in legend and uncertainty. Many historians believe that he was created during the Iron Age, as he resides near the Iron Age earthworks located above his head. Theories concerning the giant are rampant, from Danish influence to Roman influence, with legends abounding in fertility rites. The giant's phallic prominence gave rise to many folk practices, from couples making love in the figure to insure conception, to maidens sleeping there to insure prospects for a future mate. One story suggests that a monk drew this figure as a joke after the Abbott Thomas Corton was expelled from the abbey for malpractice. The theory that the giant existed as part of a Pagan religious centre seems reasonable, as many churches were built near such sites in order to incorporate the existing religious population into the new religion, retaining some of the former Pagan ideologies in order to make the new religious order more palatable. Whatever the true historical significance, the Cerne Abbas Giant is one of the largest hillside figures in England, is owned by the National Trust and has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest; and is quite worth the trip to view.
Another walk from Cerne Abbas takes you to Minterne Gardens, home of the Churchill and Digby family. There are beautiful gardens here where one can spend time viewing the ponds, waterfalls and streams, as well as water plants and other magnificent flowers. If you continue on you will come to Dorchester and Thomas Hardy's world, Max Gate, and the Dorset History Centre which houses the Cerne Valley Parish records. A visit to Cerne Abbas in June has been offering a bonus event, an Open Gardens walk in the village proper. This event has been offered in recent years by the village, and appears to have been a great success with the intention of continuing this practice in the future. The modest fee for this event has been used to support a variety of worthy organizations, which is a commendable tribute to this friendly village that literally opens their homes and hospitality to you.Where is Cerne Abbas?
Cerne Abbas is located in Dorset along the A352 between Sherborne and Dorchester. The nearest populated areas include Godmanstone to the south and Longburton to the north.
Map of Cerne Abbas, circa 1940.
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