Yesterday I went to visit The Hospital of St Cross, or to give it its full name, the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, because it was one of those lovely bright winter's days. UPDATED after Gattina's comment to add it's near Winchester in Hampshire.
The Hospital isn't a hospital as we know it these days. It was founded by Henry de Blois between 1133 and 1136 for "poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely, or not at all, support themselves without other aid". Later, in the 1446, Cardinal Beaufort extended the scheme to include men of noble birth but now living in poverty. Hence the "noble poverty" in the name when the almshouse was founded 40 years after Beaufort's death.
Possibly the reason most people will have heard of St Cross is the Wayfarer's Dole, a piece of bread and a horn of beer offered to any traveller who asks for it. More than 800 years later, it is still available to those who request it.
I have been passing the Hospital on and off for many, many years, catching a wonderful glimpse of it through the trees as I pass.
This is the church itself and for some reason I find it a particularly pleasing shape as seen from the road, especially on my way home in the evening when the sun catches it.
On several occasions though, I have been tempted to visit properly. And it is totally enchanting: peace, antiquity, beauty.
Entering into the outer quadrangle, you see the Beaufort Tower where only one of the statues in the niches remains - one of Henry Beaufort kneeling. Through the arch you can glimpse the church on the south side of the inner quadrangle.
On the left of the inner quadrangle, the east side, is the ambulatory joining the church and the old master's lodgings. In spite of how it looks, it is the youngest of the buildings. It is thought that the upper level was intended as an infirmary. Through it is the entrance to the enclosed garden.
Opposite the ambulatory are the Brothers' quarters, seen here from an archway. The quarters are still in use today for 25 men who still wear the gowns of black or red, depending on their foundation: Knights Hospitaliers or the Order of Noble Poverty.
To the north are the Brethren's Hall and kitchen. The hall was originally built in about 1340 as the Master's hall. The ceiling beams are made from Spanish chestnut. The hearth is in the centre with no chimney. The hall is used three times a year for a Gaudy lunch, a festive meal.
The kitchen remained in use until the late 19th century. The fireplace dates back to the 15th century.
Leaving the Brethren's hall, you can seen the south side of the quadrangle. There used to be a south wing joining the quarters to the church but it was pulled down in the 1760s.
The church itself is the oldest part of all. It was started in about 1135, at the east end. The walls are over 1 metre thick (3 feet) and made of stone from Dorset, the Isle of wight and Caen in France.
One of the windows, known as bird's beak window, is surrounded by this carving and if you look very carefully you will see why. The style is similar to that in St Nicholas' Church Bishops Sutton, and St Mary's at Iffley in Oxfordshire and is thought to be Scandinavian in origin.
Now, believe it or not, it took me about 20 minutes to take the pictures and rush around the whole place (they were about to close). I don't feel I've done it justice at all, but I hope to go back at a more sensible time soon.
In the meantime here are some links to further information:
Please do say if you find the slideshow takes too long to load. I've never tried one before and I'm not sure if it's more of a nuisance than anything else.