As promised, I went back to St. Martin’s when it was open so that I could go inside. If possible, it’s an even lovelier day than when I was there a few days ago.
St. Martin’s is a UNESCO SITE and is said to be the oldest church in continuous use in all of the English-speaking world. It is thought to have been built by the Romans, dating to the 4th century. Services are still held on Sundays and I think I’ll go this weekend. If you know me, you know that I’m not a religious person, but the experience of spirituality, especially connected to history, always fills me with emotion. My son says that my behavior around religion and church confuses him. I confuse myself, too.
The original church was built by a pagans. King Ethelberht of Kent renovated it (c 580) for his French wife from Tours who was Christian. St. Martin was a bishop from Tours so that must be the naming connection. It is thought that the pope in Rome sent the missionary Augustine to the north following the marriage of the two countries. King Ethelberht converted to Christianity and was baptized in the church. He later donated land that eventually became the site of Canterbury Cathedral and thus, wide-scale conversion to Christianity began. King Ethelberht was sainted for his contribution to the establishment of Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons. His wife, Queen Bertha, continued to travel the short distance to St. Martin’s to worship throughout her life and is buried at St. Augustine’s Abbey. It seems like a real love story between the queen and king!
The monks that were sent to St. Martin’s to begin converting the Anglo-Saxons to Catholicism found the church too small so they extended it. Later, the Puritans changed some of the windows and doors. It has mostly been restored to its form during the time of the original king and queen.
In 1844, a hoard of gold coins, likely from the 6th century was found in one of the graves. There is no information about the person who was wearing the necklace for his/her internment. Such a mystery!
Wandering the graveyard is lovely. It’s very peaceful with some peek-a-boo views of the cathedral and St. Augustine Abbey. Sadly, the Victorians planted trees that obscure the view today.