The Royal Garrison Church is the oldest British Garrison Church in the world and has been called "The British Military Cathedral". But the church dates back to 1212.
The Domus Dei, Gods House, was founded in Old Portsmouth by Bishop de Rupibus in 1212 as a Hospice, to shelter and help pilgrims from overseas bound for the Shrine at Canterbury, Chichester and Winchester. Originally it was a long, vaulted hall, divided on either side into bays to house patients, with the Chapel at one end. In the hall the aged, sick and homeless were tended by six Brethren and six Sisters. As the importance of Portsmouth grew as a Garrison Town, so did the importance of the Domus Dei. The Chancel of the present Church was the Chapel of the old Domus Dei and the Nave of the Church was the Hospital of Domus Dei.
In 1449 Henry VI sent the Bishop of Chichester to the Church in order to pay the sailors and soldiers of the Garrison. Due to a disagreement in the amount of pay, the Bishop was murdered. For this the town was excommunicated and remained so for fifty years.
The Church was closed in 1540 when the religious houses were dissolved by Henry VIII, the buildings were then used for a brief time as an Armoury. Later the south side of Domus Dei was converted into a residence for the Governor of Portsmouth and was called Government House.
On 22nd May 1662 Charles II married Catherine of Braganza here. In 1672 James II visited the church and in 1709 communion plate was presented by Queen Anne to the Church. In 1778 George III and Queen Charlotte attended the Divine Service and in 1794 they welcomed Lord Howe after his victory on 1st June. In 1814 the church was visited by allied sovereigns, The Prince Regent, The Emperor of Russia, The King of Prussia, Count Platoff, Hetman of the Cossacks, Marshall Dlucher and the Duke of Wellington.
In 1826 Government House was demolished and in 1846 the interior of the Church was tidied up and then in 1866 the reconstruction work started to really begin. The generosity of many individuals made possible the lavish redecoration and a fine organ was installed. The oak stalls were dedicated to the memory of famous men including Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir John Moore, Lord Raglan and Outram of India. The Church restoration was completed in 1868. In 1930 the original Union Jack from the Whitehall Cenotaph was presented to the Portsmouth Old Contemptibles Association. Small brass tablets in the Chancel record that many old Standards adorn the walls.
On the night of 10th January 1941 a fire bomb raid on Portsmouth gutted the Nave of the church but the Chancel was saved by the Verger Mr J Heaton who was assisted by soldiers and airman.
The Church is home to some really good stained glass windows and each window depicts various scenes from history. The church is only used for a small number of services now. It is maintained by English Heritage and is open for viewing most Saturdays. The above and below pictures show different stained glass windows that can be found in the church. If you look hard you can see on the edges of the benches where the fire was stopped spreading. There are souvenir pictures and guides sold and this is well worth a visit. It can be found by going down the High Street and when the Square Tower is reached turning left and it is ahead of you.
In May 2009 Channel 4's Time Team visited Governors Green which is adjacent to the church for more information about the dig click here.
The English Heritage offices are housed at Portchester Castle.
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