Last updated Saturday, 31 March, 2012
In 1539 the dissolution of the Priory took place, the last Prior, John Draper, surrendering it to King Henry VIll's Commissioners on November 28th. On his eviction Prior Draper was granted a pension of £133-6s-8d (a substantial sum in those days) and the use of Somerford Grange as his home for his lifetime.
It is said that originally the King had intended to pull down the church as well as the Priory's monastic buildings but that in response to a plea from the townspeople, supported by Prior Draper who had been his chaplain, he relented, and on October 23rd 1540 he granted the church together with the churchyard to the churchwardens and inhabitants of Christchurch to be used as the Parish Church in perpetuity.
On February 12th 1612 King James I confirmed the above grant by his own letters latent and testified that the original grant had been enrolled in Chancery.
After the Dissolution a corporation known as 'The Sixteen' was formed under legislation passed in the Elizabethan Parliament which became largely responsible for he temporal as well as the ecclesiastical affairs of the Parish. The Vicar and the Churchwardens were the principal officers.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries extensive repairs have been carried out including the underpinning of the nave waIls, and the insertion of tie-rods in the tower.
Post Reformation, many additions have been made to the Priory Church including the lath and plaster stucco vaulting in the Nave in 1822, the installation of the Royal British Legion's Chapel of Remembrance in 1922 and the Norman window in the South Nave Aisle depicting St Francis of Assisi and St Anne, orginally from Jumièges Abbey in Normandy and donated to the Priory in 1976 by Highcliffe Castle.
The 900th Anniversary west window of the North Transept was installed in 1999. It shows a starry night in which the Cross of Christ dominates, surrounded by a pattern of circles, the symbols of Eternity and Perfection, arranged to create a feeling of endless space and time. Shafts of light, symbolising the Word of God, weave in and out of the circles and round the Chi-Rho monogram of Christ, giving the feeling of another dimension.
A new pipe organ was dedicated on July 17th 1999. Installed in the South Transept it is an extensive rebuild of the previous organ and cost over £500,000 of which some £373,000 was provided by the Arts Council from the National Lottery Fund. It weighs about 20 tonnes and has almost 4000 pipes, some from the original organ of 1788.
The main focus now is to preserve this beautiful church for generations to come by means of a comprehensive conservation plan and creation of the Christchurch Priory Building Conservation Trust to raise funds to carry out vital repairs to the fabric of the church.