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St James


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St James

St James image The small, peaceful, village of Ansty lies off any main roads about 6 miles from Shaftesbury. In the centre is a 13th century fishpond and grouped around the southern end of this pond are the buildings which once housed a Commandery of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

After the initial surprise of finding such a strong connection with medievial crusaders in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside, one can only be delighted to find that it is also considered the finest example of its type to have survived in England.

The Commandery consisted of a small group of knights and clerics, under a "Commander", who ministered to pilgrims on their way to the Abbey of Shaftesbury or to more distant destinations. In the early 13th century they were additionally significant since England was under a Papal Interdict for a period and the churches were closed. However, because the knights were independent of the bishops of the Church, they were able to continue to minister pastorally and administer the sacraments to, among others, King John and his court.

The tiny church, still in use today as a regular place of worship, was built by the members of the Commandery, with their local helpers, and completed in the year 1230. This was more than a quarter of a century before the main part of the new Salisbury Cathedral was finished.

Between the road and the fishpond is the stone building which probably formed the hospice which the knights used as a refectory and guest house. Measuring 110 feet by 30 feet, with interesting internal details, unfortunately the original roof was destroyed by fire in 1922. Now replaced by corrugated iron, and after other repairs in 1986, the building is used for village functions including the indoor part of the village May Day celebrations.

Ansty Manor, now a private property, is the fine stone house on the hillside looking down on the pond. It was probably once the domestic building of the Commandery, although extensively rebuilt after the reformation.