Chapter 3: The story of St. Martin's Church - How old is the Church?

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Chapter 3: The story of St. Martin's Church
Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Extensions
From Tudors to Stuarts
How old is the Church?
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It is a popular misconception that the first church was built in Great Mongeham in 470 AD. Not only have I been told this but I have also seen it in print several times. The most prominent was in Kent Country Churches Concluded (1989) where Syms wrote “It is not altogether surprising that this church is dedicated to St. Martin for this village was placed under the patronage of the Bishop of Tours in the 5th century and a church was begun here in 470 AD - or so I read in the church.” He argues in a footnote that although Christianity was brought to England by St. Augustine in 597 Queen Bertha had brought her own Christian bishop with her [when she married Ethelbert in 560], and that there was a Celtic Church in the west in the second and third centuries. This all seems very plausible, after all Christianity came to Britain with the Romans in the second century. However Christian worship was never widespread until the Saxons came in the middle of the fifth century. They replaced it in Kent with their own pagan religion. Christianity flourished among the Celts of the west, probably as a reaction. Christian worship in Roman Britain was conducted in family homes where the faithful would gather. By Augustine’s time monasteries were established among both Celtic and Saxon Christians, but parish churches did not come until the incursion of the Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries.

What Syms (and others) read was a leaflet produced by the vicar at that time outlining the history of our village. In an excellent and accurate synopsis of the village’s history he wrote “The Church and Parish were placed under the patronage of S. Martin, Bishop of Tours, who died on November 11th 401. About 70 years later a successor to the bishopric built a church to his honour.” The church in question was the Basilica of St. Martins which was built in 470 by the new bishop in Tours (naturally enough) and not in Great Mongeham! The leaflet, so well researched on other matters was accurate on this point too.

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