Walk in the footsteps of Portchester monks

St Marys Church was once part of a monastery
St Marys Church was once part of a monastery
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THIS Sunday, we’ll recreate an event that happened almost 900 years ago.

It was a pilgrimage made by monks from Portchester to Southwick which created a bond between the two villages which endures today.

Back in the 1120s, King Henry I and his devout wife, Good Queen Maude invited some Augustinian monks from Normandy to set up a religious community. It was based around the newly-built Church of our Blessed Lady of Portchester in the grounds of the army camp at Portchester Castle.

Within a few years, they realised a noisy garrison was not the best place for monastic quiet and contemplation.

While the monks prayed and sat in silence in church, they could hear sergeants barking out orders, heavy marching boots and the clash of sword practice outside.

After just 20 years, the monks decided to abandon the monastery for the quiet solitude of the valley on the other side of Portsdown Hill.

They started again in the village of Southwick, and built the Church of our Blessed Lady of Southwick.

Portchester’s monastic buildings were dismantled, although the church was left standing to become the parish church of St Mary’s, Portchester.

The monks of Southwick didn’t completely abandon Portchester, as one of their number was appointed its vicar – an arrangement that continued until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538.

In the meantime Southwick grew in importance, and was itself a venue for pilgrims stopping off between the other great pilgrimage shrines of Winchester and Canterbury.

Today both churches share a common patron, Robin Thistlethwayte, the squire of Southwick.

The churches are also neighbouring parishes.

We will re-enact the journey of the monks from Portchester to Southwick on Sunday.

It will begin at Portchester at 2.15pm with a short monastic service and we’ll set off at 2.30pm, stopping at various points en route for Southwick.

At each stop there will be a short service reflecting monastic prayers. We’ll arrive at St James’s Church, Southwick at 5pm for tea, followed by a Songs of Praise in the church – six members of each congregation have chosen and will introduce their favourite hymn.

Anyone is welcome to join us, especially children.

And you can even dress up as a monk if you want – costumes will be provided.

n St Mary’s Church is in the grounds of Portchester Castle, Castle Street.