Friday, 13 August 2010

The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty

We visited St Cross on a wet Monday in August but despite the weather the place lived up to its description as 'England's most perfect almshouse' (quote from England's Thousand best Churches, by Simon Jenkins).

The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is a medieval almshouse near Winchester, founded between 1133 and 1136. It is the oldest charitable institution in the United Kingdom. The founder was Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, grandson of William the Conqueror, half brother to King Stephen of England. The Hospital comprises a group of grade I listed medieval and Tudor buildings, including a medieval hall and tower, Tudor cloister, Norman church and gardens.

The hospital buildings are grouped round an inner and outer quadrangle on the south side of the church. The porter's lodge, the gatehouse known as the Beaufort Tower, and, to the west of it, the great hall occupy the eastern two-thirds of the buildings surrounding the inner quadrangle.

The photo below is taken from the inner quadrangle near the church looking at the Beaufort Tower. The hall adjoins the Beaufort Tower on the west side (left in the photo) with three windows.

This is a view inside the hall with its the central hearth just visible in the bottom of the photo.

Behind the hall is the kitchen. The kitchen was built at the same time as the hall (about 1450) and for 500 years provided food for the Master, staff and Brothers of St Cross. The range was installed about 200 years ago.

The Bretherens quarters or Almshouses were built during the Bishopric of Cardinal Beaufort in the early C15. There are fourteen 2-storey almshouses with one tall octagonal shafted chimney to each house.

The Transitional Norman Church is all that remains of the original Hospital at St Cross. Building began in 1135 at the east end with the north porch added nearly 200 years later. The walls are over one metre thick and built from stone brought from as far afield as Caen (in Normandy), Dorset and the Isle of Wight, as well as some flint taken from the local chalk pits. The church is 125 feet long and 115 feet wide at the transepts. In the church at the window nearest the eastern side of the north transept, the stone surround is strangely angled. On a pillar on the north aisle, is the cross of St Cross. Sunlight from the window falls on the cross only on 3rd May (the day in the church calendar of the Invention of the Cross) and 14th September (Holy Cross Day).

A bird un- known to zoology sits on the on the lectern, having an eagle's body with a parrot's head, webbed feet, and terrible talons. It is very old, and the story is that it was to have been destroyed long ago, but was cut up by a man so cleverly that he was able to put it together again.It is suggested that the parrot should remind you that the Bible is not to be repeated like a parrot.

A window in the South Transcept has chevron carving with 64 little birds.

The west window.

Looking east towards the chancel.

The church framed by the arch of the entrance to the hall (on the left in the first photo above).

The gardens which we didn't really explore due to the weather.

More can be found at

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