The building was originally established as a hospice for pilgrims, the sick and the elderly in 1212 and known at that time as the Domus Dei (God’s House). The Chancel was the Chapel and the Nave the Hospital. This use continued until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. During the twenty years following this, the buildings were neglected and the Church used as an armoury. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, plans were made for strengthening the fortifications of Portsmouth (the extent of the town being the part now known as Old Portsmouth) and the Domus Dei and its adjacent buildings were put into good order for use by the Garrison; a house was built for a Governor. In 1662, Catherine of Braganza landed in Portsmouth to marry King Charles II. He arrived a few days later and married her in the Presence Chamber of the Governor’s House.
The floor was concreted and tiled, the oak choir stalls were provided, windows were enlarged and glazed with stained glass, the organ was installed and many more improvements were carried out. Much of the work perished when the Church was hit by an incendiary bomb during an air raid on 10th January 1941, but the Chancel was saved although the stained glass to the windows was destroyed. Temporary repairs were carried out to enable the Chancel to be put into use by the following Easter. There have since been further repairs and new stained glass windows have been installed.
The fabric of the building is now maintained by English Heritage. A group of volunteers forming The Friends of the Royal Garrison Church care for the interior of the building and the artifacts which it contains. The Church is open to the public from 1st April to the end of September on weekdays from 11am to 4pm. Admission is free. Opening is dependent, however, on there being sufficient volunteers available and currently helpers are being sought to become, initially, assistants to the guides.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer is invited to contact the Secretary of The Friends of the Royal Garrison Church, Trevor Gale.