Wren's chapel

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The history of Wroxall Abbey including Wren's Chapel.

Part 1 - Priory and Monastery of St. Leonard's 1141-1535 AD

The Priory of St Leonard, also known as the Monastery of St. Leonard at Wroxall, was founded in 1141 according to the rules of St. Benedict. Shortly after the Conquest, Henry, Earl of Warwick had a son Hugh de-Hatton who owned large acres of Warwickshire land who granted 3000 acres to the Church as a gift following his release from a prison in Jerusalem where he had been held a prisoner by the Muslims for seven years.

Two of his daughters, Cleopatra and Edith, were professed as nuns, and a lady from Wilton nunnery, Wiltshire, of the name of Edith came to instruct them in the rule of Benedict. The first Prioress's name was either Ernborow or Erneburga. Walter de Maydenflon Bishop of Worcester dedicated the Priory Church and high altar. In 1163 a charter was granted to Wroxall Priory by Pope Alexander III giving the Prioress, Sabina, wide powers over the whole of the Wroxall Estates and parts of Hatton including its church. In 1269 Henry III issued a writ to Bishop Giffard and his successors to deliver yearly to the prioress and nuns of Wroxall 6 marks yearly.

It is recorded that Bishop Cobham visited this nunnery in 1323 when he found grave discord existing and he settled the matter between the parties involved. The priory was visited by Bishop Giffard in 1269. The same bishop visited on 11 August 1284 and preached to the nuns from Ecclesiastes 7:26 “And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her.” He visited again on 30th 1290, preaching from the text Song of Solomon 1:3 “Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is ointment poured forth; therefore the virgins love you. “

Pope Alexander III gave a charter to the Priory in 1163 and is reproduced on this web site. It is not completely certain that the present Church was built in 1141 however; we do know it was the Lady Chapel to the larger Priory Church attached to it. In addition, the present Chapel was either refurbished or enlarged and re-opened on 9th July 1315. Therefore, there is strong evidence of its origins beginning in 1141.

The present owners, Wroxall Abbey Estates, have re-established worship in the Church and renamed it Wren's Chapel.

Part 2 - St. Leonard's Parish Church & Wroxall Abbey 1538c-1996 AD

With the separation of the Church from Rome, Henry VIII gave the lands to Robert Burgoyne and John Scudamore. They demolished the Monastery and Church adjacent to the present Wren's Chapel to allow an Elizabethan house to be built. The Lady Chapel was kept and designated St. Leonard's Parish Church of Wroxall (Church of England). Some of the ruins of the larger Church can be seen across the present driveway. Chaplains (ministers) were appointed from about 1538c. The estate took the title of Abbey i.e. Wroxall Abbey. The red brick tower and three bells in the Church date from 1663-1664. The bells are at present in an unworkable state. In 1713, Sir Christopher Wren the famous Architect purchased the estate for his son. While he is buried at St Paul's Cathedral his wife and family are buried in the graveyard at Wren's Chapel. His coat of arms is displayed on the south side of the present Chapel. Some rare 14th Century stained glass can be found on the West wall of the Church.

The last family to own the estate were the Dugdale's who purchased the estate in 1861. Their successors still own the farms and buildings in the village of Wroxall. They demolished the house shown on the previous page and built the present Mansion House in 1865. In 1936 the Manor House became the Wroxall Abbey Girls School until 1995 when it was closed.

Part 3 - Wren's Chapel Wroxall Abbey From 2001 AD

The present owners, Wroxall Abbey Estates, have re-established worship in the Church and renamed it Wren's Chapel in memory of its former illustrious owner. Unfortunately the Church of England were unable to provide ministry therefore the Renewal Christian Centre, a large multinational Free Methodist Church in Solihull, agreed to provide ordained ministers to continue the Christian witness in South of Warwickshire in conjunction with the other Churches in the area. Although the present ministers belong to the Free Methodist Church denomination, Wren's Chapel is registered for public worship and the conducting of Christian marriages as an independent congregation. As far back as 1141 the Church has been known as a 'Church of Ease' meaning that it drew its congregation from beyond the parish boundaries. Today its small congregation on a typical Sunday afternoon consists of people from Warwickshire and the surrounding area and further a field including Solihull together with those wishing to marry or have been married in the Church. Still others while belonging to a different Church enjoy coming to the simple Sunday service before going to their own place of worship. See www.wrenschapel.org for more information