Chapter 3: The story of St. Martin's Church

Article Index
Chapter 3: The story of St. Martin's Church
Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Extensions
From Tudors to Stuarts
How old is the Church?
All Pages


After defeating Harold at Hastings, William the Conqueror sent out his commissioners to survey the whole of his new kingdom so he could raise taxes more efficiently. Thus was written the ‘Domesday Book’, which was completed in 1087.

In it is the first record of a church in Mongeham,

"There is a church. It was worth £22 TRE; and afterwards £10"

This short sentence tells us that there was a church in Mongeham in the reign of Edward the Confessor, but it is most likely the one at Little Mongeham. Evidence for a church in Great Mongeham was supplied by the Reveend Tonks in his short history of the village and church

"That there was a church here in Saxon times is shewn by its inclusion in a list of some 200 churches in Kent which paid fees to the Archbishop in the days of Lanfranc (A.D. L070-1089),"

 However there is no clear evidence for when the first Saxon church was built.The first church dedicated to Saint Martin was a basilica built over his tomb in Tours in about 470 AD. St. Augustine brought Christianity to Britain in 597. Parish churches were not built until the eighth century. Since dedication to St. Martin tends to indicate an early date for a parish church, it is likely that the first church in Great Mongeham was built in the early eighth century. No trace of this first church is visible today. It was pulled down and rebuilt by the Normans. However not much remains of that church. As a result of extensive rebuilding in the thirteenth century all that is left of the Norman church is a window in the North wall. The Church walls bear testimony to a much older building in the vicinity. While foraging in surrounding fields for flints to knap eleventh century craftsmen also collected pieces of Roman brick and tile. We can only wonder why mediaeval builders did this, but it is a practice seen in many other churches.

altSimilar pieces of Roman building debris can be found in the fields around St. Martin’s to this day. Surely this is evidence that a fine Roman building, perhaps a villa, stood in the vicinity of the church. But no signs of foundations have been found. If they exist could they be under the church? Perhaps we will never know. Whether or not the church covers evidence of Romano British occupation it almost certainly conceals the foundations of the Saxon church torn down to make way for the Norman one. Not much more than a century later the Norman church was partly demolished and enlarged. A subtle change in the colour of the flints shows the boundary between twelfth and eleventh century flint (see photograph).

In the Middle Ages noblemen saw church building or improvement as an act of piety which they believed would atone for the taking of Christian life. In an age when England was almost constantly at war with either France, Wales or Scotland there was much to atone for. Besides, church building was a public expression of wealth as well as piety. As a result St. Martin’s church underwent many changes in those years. Indeed very little of the Norman structure remains.

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