Saturday, September 17, 2011
One of my most interesting discoveries thus far in Canterbury is St. Martin's Church. It is generally acknowledged to be the oldest church in England, parts of the building dating to Britain's Roman occupation. One can still see sections of the wall that are clearly Roman in architecture. Most of the nave was built around 597, when St. Augustine arrived to bring Christianity to the Saxons. Ethelbert, the king of Kent and the surrounding areas, had married a Christian Frankish wife named Bertha (from Tours, where St. Martin was bishop in the 4th century) and had already allowed her to use St. Martin's as a place of worship. Together, St. Augustine and Queen Bertha evangelised the Saxons, and King Ethelbert was soon baptised in that very church. Though the tower was added later in the Middle Ages, most of the structure remains intact as it was over 1,400 years ago, a fascinating remnant of the early mediaeval age as well as a monument to the work of the church in England. To this day, St. Martin's has always been actively used as a place of worship, first Roman Catholic and then Anglican, and I am very much looking forward to attending a service there. Unfortunately, the church is not well marked, so if you happen to be in Canterbury, take the A257 out of the town centre, past St. Augustine's Monastery and past H.M. Prison Canterbury (A257 will now be called St. Martin's Hill), and turn down a little one-way street on your left called Holmes Road (across from the turn onto Holmes is an interesting row of 17th-century poorhouses). The gate to the church will be directly ahead on Holmes. It is open on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It is well worth a visit!