St Candida and Holy Cross
Watch the casting of the new number six bell for Whitchurch on our YouTube Channel.
The Origins of St Candida and Holy Cross
The present building was started during the reign of William the Conqueror although the first mention of a church was in 881AD, when Alfred the Great bequeathed Hwitancircian (Whitechurch) to his youngest son. It was much extended in 1190 when the church and benefice was granted to the Bishop of Sarum.
In 1240 the Bishops of Sarum and Wells required more funds and so decreed that the benefice of Whitchurch, one of the largest parishes in England, pay its tithes directly to them. A vicar was then appointed instead of a rector. The word Canonicorum (of the canons) was added to Whitchurch.
The church may owe its name to Saint Wite (Candida being the Latin form of white) or to the light coloured stone of which it is built.
Centre of Pilgrimage
Apart from Westminster Abbey it is the only church to contain the relics of a Saint. During the Middle Ages it was a major centre of pilgrimage and is still often referred to as 'the Cathedral of the Vale'.
The font, south aisle and arcade are all Norman.
When the church was enlarged in the 13th century, the north and south transepts were added, the chancel extended and the chancel arch rebuilt. The barrel roofs of the nave and north transept are original, dating from 1400 and at this time, the tower and porch were added.
The north arcade, chancel arch and chancel are Early English, restoration in the1840s included rebuilding the east wall and the three windows, also the roofs of the chancel and south transept. At around the same time the clerestory windows were inserted and the north aisle rebuilt and widened.
During the 17th century, five bells were hung in the tower, a further three, added in the 20th century.
The Shrine of St Wite consists of two parts. The13th century base has three oval openings into which were placed diseased limbs or articles belonging to the sick. Resting on this, is the stone coffin, known to contain a lead box inscribed in Latin with the words "Here rest the relics of St Wite" in which lies the bones of a woman. When pilgrims visited the shrine and a miracle was performed, a candle was lit, the length of the candle being equal to the size of the cured part.
The local tradition identifies St Wite as a Saxon Holy woman who lived as a hermit on the cliffs, possibly lighting beacons to guide sailors. She may have been killed by Danish pirates during a raid.
St Wite's well, probably her fresh water supply, is still there and the water has always been claimed to have healing properties, especially for eyes.
Sir George Summers
The man whose exploits inspired Shakespeares` Tempest is buried under the vestry, although his heart is buried in Bermuda. Sir George Summers lived with his wife at Berne Manor in Whitchurch before setting sail to colonise Virginia.