St Catherine's Chapel

St Catherine's Chapel is a small chapel situated above the village of Abbotsbury in Dorset, England at grid reference SY57238482. It is dedicated to Saint Catherine. It is now in the guardianship of English Heritage.

It is thought to have been built in the first half of the fifteenth century as a Pilgrim chapel for Abbotsbury Abbey. Its position on the top of a hill about 80 m (260 ft) high, overlooking the coast from Portland Bill to Bridport, meant that it was a prominent feature for seafarers. The construction is notably robust in order to withstand the elements; the walls (made of locally quarried ashlar stone) are 4 ft thick and supported by stout buttresses, and the roof is (very unusually) also made of stone. In the north-west corner is a tower.

It is best seen from the viewpoint on the B3157 Abbotsbury to Bridport road, with Chesil Beach in the background. The medieval strip lynchets etched into the side of the hill are known locally as the Chapel Rings.

St Catherine's Chapel has a local tradition of 'wishing'. This involves using the niches (one for the knee and two for the hands) in the east jamb of the south doorway to 'post' prayers to the saint asking for her help.

The chapel is frequently visited by women searching for a husband, St Catherine being the patron saint of spinsters. A traditional prayer used here by these women says:

The chapel appears briefly in the Powell and Pressburger film The Small Back Room.

The chapel was the inspiration behind PJ Harvey's song "The Wind", from her 1998 album Is This Desire?. The lyrics of the song discuss the chapel's location on top of the hill, and end with an inversion of the prayer for a husband mentioned above. PJ Harvey lives and grew up near Abbotsbury.

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