The nuns of Romsey Abbey first provided a church for their tenants at Edington, probably before the Norman conquest. Some remains of a late Norman type were found during the 19th century restoration.
The 14th century foundation
In 1351 William of Edington, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, founded a college of chantry priests in Edington. This was soon converted into a monastic house of the Augustinian order of Bonshommes.
William pulled down the Norman church, and building began in 1352. The work is believed to have been carried out – under the supervision of William of Wykeham – by the masons who had recently transformed the choir of Gloucester Cathedral and who were about to rebuild the nave of Winchester Cathedral. The completed church was consecrated by Robert Wyville, Bishop of Salisbury, in July 1361.
The main fabric of the church has remained largely unaltered and is now the only perfect example of a monastic church in Wiltshire. Until the dissolution, the chancel formed the collegiate church and the nave was used as the parish church.
The work clearly illustrates the transition from the Decorated to the Perpendicular styles of architecture. The stone ornamentation in the chancel and the stained glass in the north clerestory and north transept is contemporary with the building.
The monastic period until 1539
The monastic buildings were to the north and east of the church; the monastery wall and the much altered rector’s house are still standing. Enrichment of the church during this period include the chantry tomb of Sir Ralph Cheney, between the southern piers of the nave; the canopied Baynton memorial – probably the tomb of one of the brethren – in the south transept; and the double wooden screen, or pulpitum, to the chancel.
The 17th century
Much of the chancel stone statuary and the original glass had been destroyed or damaged at the Reformation. During the 17th century the church underwent its first restoration, no doubt financed by the Lewis family, who at that time lived in the remaining monastic house. Lady Anne Beauchamp, widow of Sir Edward Lewis, erected the fine monument in the chancel in 1630.
The pink and white plaster ceiling in the nave and north transept, together with the inconvenient Laudian altar rail at the chancel sanctuary, the font cover, the pulpit and tester and the reredos in the north transept, all date from this period.
The poet priest George Herbert was married in the church in 1629. One of his poems, The Church Floore, is likely to have been inspired by the pattern of stones in the nave and chancel.
The 19th century
For a comparatively small population, keeping a building of such size weatherproof must have been a burden. Eighteenth century churchwardens’ presentments had mentioned various features out of repair, but in 1812 the church was said to be in good order. However a description of 1857 speaks of green and dank walls; the floor flooded regularly, and by 1887 the west front and the rest of the fabric had so far decayed as to be actually dangerous. A Diocesan appeal was made, and the distinguished architect Charles Ponting was appointed to supervise the work.
Restoration took four years to September 1891. The west front was underpinned; a complete scheme of external drainage was provided; and the roofs of the south transept and aisles were completely renewed. There were plaster repairs and reglazing works, and the bells were rehung. A new set of pews and various excellent fittings were provided to Ponting’s design.
The 20th century
The Jacobean reredos (now in the north transept) was replaced at the chancel altar in 1930 to the fine design of Randoll Blacking, the Diocesan architect.
By 1950 the church was again in some disrepair. Upon the arrival of Canon Ralph Dudley as vicar, substantial restoration works were identified and effected during the period 1954-1968. The four high roofs were re-laid, that of the chancel being in copper, with the other three in lead. Other works included floor and stonework repairs and two new north buttresses. The heavy plaster ceiling in the chancel had separated from its backing, necessitating remedial work in 1961. This was restored again in 1984 but is once again a cause for concern.
The 21st century
Cracks between the panels and ribs of the chancel ceiling have been the subject of detailed photographic survey and are being monitored. A stone path to the west door has been constructed to facilitate wheelchair access, and a lavatory building has been provided on the car park. New oak furniture at the west end of the south aisle makes the church more welcoming to visitors and this area is used for conversation and refreshments. The churchyard cross and Sanctus bell were repaired in 2008, and an intruder alarm was installed to safeguard the church’s lead roofs.
Following a major appeal launched by the Edington Music Festival Association in August 2011, a new Harrison & Harrison organ was dedicated on Friends Day 2014. New sound reinforcement has also been installed, and a camera system to enhance the organist’s view of the church has also been provided.