St Catherine’s Oratory - History and Facts | History Hit

St Catherine’s Oratory

Ventnor, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

23 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St Catherine’s Oratory

Situated on top of St Catherine’s Hill on the Isle of Wight, St Catherine’s Oratory is an octagonal medieval chapel of which remains its west tower, thought to have been a lighthouse. Today, the tower is locally known as the ‘Pepperpot’ because of its likeness and is Britain’s only surviving medieval lighthouse (and second oldest only to Dover’s Roman Lighthouse).

St Catherine’s Oratory history

Completed in 1328, St Catherine’s Oratory was the project of Walter de Godeton, a local landowner who was condemned by the Church for stealing casks of wines after a shipwreck off Chale Bay in 1314. The ship had been carrying a large cargo of white wine for the monastery in Picardy.

For stealing, de Godeton was threatened with excommunication – not an idle threat for hell-fearing medieval folk. The only way de Godeton could be forgiven was if he built a lighthouse above the scene of the wreck to prevent it happening again.

Alongside the tower, de Godeton also built an oratory which would be housed by a priest, tending the light and saying mass for those lost at sea. This was the pattern of life at St Catherine’s Oratory until the Reformation during the 16th century, when the lighthouse was abandoned. A new lighthouse was built closer to the coast.

St Catherine’s Oratory today

Overlooking Chale Bay, today St Catherine’s Oratory continues to stand watch along the Isle of Wight’s coastline. The watchtower is open for visitors at any reasonable time during daylight hours without charge and offers spectacular views out to sea – on the occasion the hill is not shrouded in dense fog as it often is.

Getting to St Catherine’s Oratory

St Catherine’s Oratory is a 27 minute drive via A3055 from Yarmouth and 40 minutes from Fishbourne, where you can get the ferry across to Gosport. There is a car park opposite the path to the oratory which is about 400 metres across the fields or via a steep staircase.