Early History of the Priory
The Priory Church of St Mary and St Blaise sits in the centre of the historic village of Boxgrove near Chichester, within the sweep of land beneath the South Downs. An entry in the Domesday book of 1086 tells us that a church existed here even before the Norman Conquest, and although nothing now remains of that Anglo-Saxon church, the present lovely and impressive building dates from the early twelfth century and is famed for its atmosphere of healing tranquility and peace.
Founded by monks from the Abbey of Lessay in Normandy, Boxgrove claims a continuing link with the Benedictine traditions of worship, hospitality and learning, as well as enjoying a long ecumenical friendship with what is now the Parish of Lessay. Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, "Boxgrove Priory" has served as the Parish Church of Boxgrove.
The interior of the Priory is a fine example of Norman (Romanesque) and Early English (Gothic) architecture. Until its dissolution in 1536, Boxgrove Priory was a monastic institution with a double church.
To the west, the parish church; to the east, the monastic church or "Quire" as it was called which is set within the architectural chancel. The monks, nineteen in the priory's heyday in the middle of the 13th century formed a small but influential community.
The floor plan above shows where the 12th Century parts of the current building still stand and, during that time, the church would been richly decorated, but this small fragment on the left is the only visible example that we have left.
The guesthouse, below, now in ruins to the north of the priory, was where the Prior entertained his guests and where travellers could find lodgings.
The 16th Century to the present day
The Priory has a splendid Chantry Chapel built by Thomas West, 9th Lord de la Warr, Lord of the Manor of Halnaker and patron of the priory, in the 16th century. Thomas West commissioned a local artist, Lambert Barnard, to paint the ceiling of the nave with the arms and badges of his own and his wife's families, entwined with flowers and foliage.
Lord de la Warr was forced by the Crown to exchange Boxgrove Priory for an estate in Hampshire in 1538.
Halnaker and Boxgrove remained in the possession of the Crown until they were granted to Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, in 1553. When he died in 1579, the property reverted to the Crown until it was sold to Sir John Morley in 1587.
It remained in the Morley family until Sir William Morley died 1701, leaving a daughter, Mary, who married the 10th Earl of Derby. After her husband's death, the Countess returned to Halnaker and-engaged in charitable work. Mary's heir sold the estate to Charles, 3rd Duke of Richmond. He became patron of the living and the present Duke of Richmond and Gordon is our patron today.