Thursday, 12 January 2012

St Martin, Canterbury

I was slightly misleading in my last post in that my first port of call in Canterbury was St Martin more or less next door to the eldest's house.

A bijou church it sits on a very tight site but has a largish graveyard with five CWC headstones and some nice C17th stones. Unfortunately it was locked but is normally open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and a keyholder is listed, so I blame myself for turning up on a Monday and needing to keep a tight leash on time as I had to return to Essex in time for the end of school!

St Martin (1)

St Martin (2)

Not having researched prior to my visit it appears I need to the next collection from uni occurs on the open days as Arthur explains:

The beauty of youth is about the house of the Grey Friars; the beauty of old age is about the walls of the small temple on the hill known to all English speaking Christendom as St Martin’s. It is the Mother Church of our Motherland. The light of Christianity may well have been shining here when the light of the Roman lamp was shining in the Pharos at Dover. Bede tells us it was built while the Romans were here, and it is thought it may have been a Roman temple given by Ethelbert to his Christian queen. Here Bertha worshipped God while Ethelbert worshipped his many gods in the temple nearby which was to become the Church of St Pancras, whose ruins we see. We can imagine the king and queen leaving their palace in the morning and parting for a while down the road, Bertha to go to St Martin’s and Ethelbert to his temple. Something of the walls of both is here. Augustine and his companions would catch sight of St Martin’s rising above the wooden houses as they came from Richborough. It would be here that he baptised Ethelbert - though not at this font, of whose age we cannot be certain.

The walls of St Martin’s are nearly two feet thick, and Roman brickwork in the chancel still stands eight feet from the ground with six feet of Saxon masonry above it. The lower part of the wall of the nave has ancient plaster and masses of Roman tiles, and where the woodwork has preserved the walls intact the salmon colour of the Roman plaster is still seen. There is a Roman doorway built up at the east end of the nave, a Saxon doorway at the south-west of the chancel, and a Norman doorway near the font. There are oak beams in the roof which seem to have rested on the Roman and Saxon walls since the Saxons put them there.

Nowhere in England stand two more interesting buildings so near each other as the little temple of St Martin’s and the great cathedral seen from its door. Everything here could stand on a tennis lawn and leave a good path round. The builders who restored this lovely place have not enlarged it. The Normans made their own doorway, the 13th century raised the chancel arch and the roof of the nave, the 14th century built the tower, and the 15th century made the windows.

One window shows us Augustine landing at Ebbsfleet, entering Canterbury by St Martin’s Hill, and baptising Ethelbert; another shows Queen Bertha and her maids, another Bede dying, and another English slaves in the marketplace of Rome.

We need not doubt that it is the oldest building in these islands used for worship. It was probably built by British workmen 1600 years ago. It was an ancient place when the first stone of Westminster was laid. It fell on evil days, and it is said that for 150 years the church peeped out from a vast heap of coal piled up here; but otherwise it has been a church all the time since Ethelbert. It would look out on Canterbury when the city was eight feet below its present streets; it was one of three churches outside the Roman walls in a line from east to west—St Martin’s, St Pancras, and the old church where the cathedral stands. So that we have here a straight mile with Roman, Saxon, and Norman in it, as we have found once more in Kent, at Eynsford.

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