Our building, the church of St Michaels.

As the town of Dorchester begins its victorian celebrations to commemorate the birthday of one of it's most famous residence, Thomas Hardy. We look back at our own connections to the Victorian era.

The building which now houses the internationally renowned Tutankhamun Exhibition has had an extremely strange history of its own and must be unique in Dorchester. It was originally designed and used as a monastic church and was initially built in Wareham, 17 miles distant from Dorchester.

In 1888 a small group of priests and brothers set up a monastery in Wareham. They belonged to an order in the Roman Catholic Church called Passionists, founded in Italy in 1737 and making their first foundation in England in 1841. Their name originated from the constant theme of their preaching - Christ's passion and death.

A year after their arrival in Dorset the foundation stone of the monastery church was laid on 28th April 1889, by Henry, Duke of Norfolk. It was opened with much ceremony on 7th June 1890 and dedicated to St Michael. The whole cost of the building was borne by two friends of the Order, Mr & Mrs Broderick of London.

The Passionists found little scope for their strict work and decided to leave Dorset. The monastery was closed and the building sold. But the church was to have a fresh lease of life. The Catholic priest at Dorchester found his little church too small for the growing congregation. He asked the Passionists to let him have their church. This was granted as the fathers left Wareham in 1906. The Building was dismantled, the stones numbered and brought by horse and cart to be set up again in the main street of the county town. It was ready for use in 1907 and served as the parish church of the Catholic community in this area for almost seventy years. It was dedicated to Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, and St Michael. The mention of the martyrs was in commemoration of a group of six Catholics who were put to death in Dorchester during the persecution that followed the Reformation, and St Michael's name recalled the original title in Wareham.

Mass was said for the last time in the building on Ascension Day, 27th May 1976. On the following day, the Catholics of Dorchester opened Holy Trinity as their place of worship. This was formerly a Church of England building that had become redundant.

The original Catholic Church was deconsecrated and on 10th June 1977 found a new owner and a new purpose as the antiquarian book-selling business of Mr H V Day. It thus opened on 29th September 1977.

After the death of Mr Day, the building found a new owner in 1986 and on 20th April 1987 opened to the public as The Tutankhamun Exhibition. 

Published: 31st May

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