A medieval priory begins a new chapter in its 700-year history this week with the unveiling of a new and long-awaited £1.3million extension.
Fourteen years after it was first mooted, work is nearing completion on a project designed to give the Augustinian friars, who run Clare Priory, extra congregation space in their historic Catholic church.
Construction started 18 months ago – the culmination of years of careful planning and consideration by English Heritage about what could and could not be done to the church, which is an ancient monument.
Prior Father Bernard Rolls said: “We are just putting the finishing touches to the extension and it looks like it will be finished and ready to be handed over by July 22.
“Architecturally, it is a splendid building and works very well in terms of space. It is also very atmospheric. It has a great feeling of spaciousness and light.”
After 14 years of meticulous planning, the ambitious project was hit by a blow when the economy took a turn for the worse.
The firm employed to carry out the work went into administration and a new specialist company had to be found to start the work again.
“There is a great sense of expectation from everyone who has watched and waited for the extension to be built,” said Father Bernard. “It has been in development for the last 18 months.
“People show such interest and curiosity about what it is going to be like.
“It is going to give us plenty of space with many different aisles – the old church was very intimate and did not give us the space we needed.”
During construction, a villager, who is also a regular church-goer, found some stones from the old medieval Priory and used them to craft a holy water font. It is to be installed in the new building.
“This gives us a wonderful connection between the old and the new, as it will be positioned in the doorway linking the church with the new extension,” explained Father Bernard.
The completion of the extension comes just in time for this weekend’s craft fair – the Priory’s annual fundraising event.
Over the last decade, it has helped to raise funds for the extension, and will continue to do so as further money is still needed.
Parishioners and friends raised £360,000 for the new building and this sum was matched by funds from the Augustinian Province of England and Scotland, with the parish fundraising team raising the remainder.
Although the building will be officially handed over on July 22, the parish will start using the church with a celebration Mass on Sunday, July 28, at 10.30am.
Father Bernard said: “It will be a way of celebrating our new church, and a means of thanksgiving.”