A Brief History of the Minster
From whichever direction Wimborne is approached the two great towers of the Minster can be seen. Most of the building dates to the 12th century, although it was restored substantially by the Victorians.
The Minster is dedicated to St Cuthburga, sister of Ina King of Wessex. She founded a Benedictine Nunnery here around 705 AD; there may also have been a monastery. Nuns from Wimborne were sent to Germany with St Boniface of Crediton (c. 680-755) to help convert the pagan tribes. As a result, Wimborne still has a special link with the town and Benedictine nunnery of Ochsenfuhrt. In 871, Alfred the Great buried his brother Ethelred here (not the later King of England Ethelred), after a battle near Cranborne. The Nunnery, possibly already in decline, was destroyed in a Danish raid in 1013
In 1043 Edward the Confessor founded a college of secular (non-monastic) canons to live and worship here. The greater part of the church as we see it today was built by the Normans between 1120 and 1180, to support these canons. It was flourishing in the 13th century, when a spire was built and in the 14th century an early clock installed. Around this time St Margaret’s Chapel and Almshouses were built, and services are still held at the Chapel. In 1318 Edward II declared the Minster a Royal Peculiar which exempted it from all diocesan jurisdiction. The choir used to wear scarlet robes, a legacy of this 'Peculiar' which lasted until 1846. The spire collapsed around 1600 and was not rebuilt.
In 1496 Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of Henry VII, founded a small chapel in the Minster and the priest attached to it was required to be in permanent residence and 'to teach grammar to all comers'. This was the seed of Wimborne’s Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, now Queen Elizabeth’s Upper School and still a church school. Lady Margaret’s parents are buried near the high altar.
In 1562 Queen Elizabeth I returned part of the property and prerogatives formerly belonging to the college of canons, to Wimborne and twelve Governors were made responsible for this and for the Grammar School. A new charter, from Charles I, added an organist and singing men. There were many problems in Wimborne during the Civil War, but the church did not suffer any severe damage and the town avoided taking sides.
The 18th century saw years of sleepiness and duties were very much neglected, both in the town and the Minster, but a revival in the 19th century included the extensive restoration of the whole church (1855-1857). As a result, the Minster has a range of fine Victorian stained glass and a rich decoration of encaustic and geometric tiles around the chancel and high altar. Medieval wall paintings were almost completely whitewashed over; one remains, a complex palimpsest (painted over several times), which was recently restored.
Over the last 120 years, the Minster has been beautified further through new stained glass, altar cloths and robes, and kneelers, as well as a wildlife garden. It has an important place in civic life, is a venue for concerts and school events, and draws large congregations for Remembrance, Carol Services and other special services. Most important, it is still a centre of spiritual life for many as it has been for over 1300 years.