A map of showing the shrine of Our Lady of Stapehill can be seen here

The texts below are from 3 different sources (currently untraced)

The Jesuits established their college of St Thomas of Canterbury at Stapehill, about 1610 on land granted to them by Lord Arundel of Wardour, and almost at the same time in 1611 Sir John Webb, one of the wealthiest commoners in England, purchased the Canford Estate in Wimborne and founded in secret a Mass centre served by the Jesuits from Stapehill.

Sir John was accused of having purchased the land using Spanish money with a view to helping the Spanish invade the country, but  he easily disproved this and after some time was returned to Canford and maintained a Chaplain there. Thus Canford and Stapehill ensured the area became a centre of Catholic Resistance throughout the three hundred years of Penal times.


The great strength of the Catholic Church was it was International which enabled it to survive whereas a national church would not have done so.

 Many families sent their children overseas to the many centres in Europe, so that they could receive the Catholic education denied them in England. Generations of priests were trained in these schools in Valladolid, Douai, Rome, Lisbon and many other centres. These priests returned to England to labour in secret amongst the Catholic people despite the persecution whereby over three hundred priests were hanged drawn and quartered between 1535 and 1684.


So despite the fierce persecution by Penal Law of death to any priest and layman found harbouring any priest, the Faith survived in an unbroken line. William Pyke a West Moors man was condemned to death in 1591, and like Thomas Pilchard and other local martyrs died a terrible death. We also know of several names of the Jesuits working from Stapehill often banished but returning. Fr Upsall returned after his banishment and remained at Stapehill until his death after spending 49years in the mission field.

So Stapehill and Canford served the Catholics around the area for over 200 years, until in the early 1800s the Jesuits were disbanded and Canford passed by marriage out of Catholic hands. At this time the future looked particularly bleak and the continued and renewed fines, exclusion from the office of state meant moral was at its lowest for the local Catholics. However, the Cistercian nuns from St Antoine in Paris were driven out of France by the French Revolution and fled to Switzerland only to be driven out again by Napoleons invasion. They fled to Germany and on to Russia where in 1796 they were offered the Czars hospitality. By 1800 the Czar afraid of Napoleon ordered all French refugees to leave immediately. The nuns trekked through Prussia to Hamburg suffering great hardships. Nowhere could they find refuge and were considering attempting to cross to America when they met  Lord Arundel, who knowing the Jesuits were leaving Stapehill offered it to the Cistercian nuns, who too possession in 1802 and remained there till 1991. 

The text below is from the website of the Cisterian community at Whitland in Wales (see here)

Holy Cross Abbey was formally founded at Stapehill in Dorset on the Feast of all Saints of the Order on 13th November 1802. The founding group of women was led by Madame Augustin de Chabannes, a professed sister of the Parisian Abbey of Saint Antoine. She had been imprisoned in the Bastille, narrowly escaping the guillotine when the Bastille was stormed, and fleeing to Switzerland and a brief respite at La Val Sainte, before joining the monastic odyssey, which took the refugees across Europe in search of asylum.

Augustin de Chabannes understood the way of the Cross, teaching her daughters not to forget that true devotion to the Cross consists in bearing generously the crosses God sends us. She entrusted Holy Cross Abbey to Our Lady of Sorrows and indeed sorrows came in plenty. In the 1820s so many young sisters died that an enquiry was set up and Pope Leo XII decreed that the austerity of the Rules of Abbot de Rance should be mitigated and that the Community should come under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop. And so Madame de Chabannes and the sisters at Stapehill were cut off from the Order, and were left in isolation for almost 100 years until, in 1915, they were brought back under the jurisdiction of the Order. Madame de Chabannes knew the way of the Cross, suffering interminable isolation with no support from what was at the time a very fragmented Order. Nevertheless, in 1932 the Stapehill Community founded St Marys Abbey, Glencairn in Ireland, their Abbess becoming the first Abbess at Glencairn. And from that stock has grown five generations: Stapehill/Whitland, Glencairn, Wrentham, Mississippi, and Tautra in Norway.

In January 1991, under the leadership of Mother Catherine Priest, the Community moved to its present home at Whitland in Wales, just across the valley from the old Whitland Abbey founded in 1151 by the first Norman Bishop of St David's, (Bernard 1115-48) and monks.of Clairvaux. This came after a period of uncertainty as to the Communitys future, but supported by the Order, the move was made. Mother Catherine died in March 2002 and, later that year, the Community celebrated its bicentenary of foundation.

Point of interest:

From 1630-1802 the Mission at Stapehill was served by the Jesuits.

In 1802 the Cistercians took over the task of supporting Catholics in the area Wimborne, Canford, Stapehill and Ferndown.

In 1913 the Bishop of Plymouth appointed the first secular priest to charge of the Mission but the secular priests continued to work out of Stapehill.

In 1927 the first Catholic Church since the Reformation was built in Wimborne. 

In 1923 the Stapehill Mission was divided to cope with growing numbers of Catholics.

The West Moors Parish began with a Mass Centre in a private house and in 1923 a small wooden church was opened but the parish priest continued to operate from Stapehill.

In 1971 a new church and presbytery were opened and the parish priest resided there.

Stapehill continued as a Mass centre and was included into the new parish of West Moors.


Parish priests serving West Moors from 1923:

Charles Scalon                               1923-1925

Fr Doody                                       1925-1927

Patrick Tobin                                   1927-1933

Emmanuel McGinty                         1934-1937

Charles Moylan                              1937-1944

Walter Conway                              1944-1948

Robert Andras                                 1948-1952

Daniel O’Regan                              1952-1959

Phillip Pedrick                                  1955-1970

Phillip French                                   1970-1989

John O’Byrne                                  1990-2000

Fr Patrick Chrystal                             2001-2016

Fr Dylan James                                 2016-2020

Fr Anthony Achunonu                        2020-current