St. Martin's Church, Canterbury
On a gently sloping hill, about
a thousand yards due East of the Cathedral, stands the small historic
Church known to all English-speaking Christendom as St. Martin's
- the Mother Church of our Motherland and of the whole Anglican
Church (left) with the Cathdral in the background.
The date of the existing building
is a source of never-ending controversy, as it contains many features
attributable either to Roman or Saxon architecture. While whatever
may be thought of its possible connection with Christian soldiers
of the Roman army, or with St. Martin of Tours, there can be no
doubt that it was the oratory of Queen Bertha and her chaplain,
Bishop Liudhard, as well as the scene of St. Augustine's preaching,
and the Baptism of King Ethelbert. In a short sketch of this kind
it is impossible to enter into controversial details.
The first mention of the Church
is the statement by the Venerable Bede, written within 100 years
of the death of St. Augustine. It reads: "There was on the East
side of the City a Church dedicated in honour of St. Martin; built
of old while the Romans were still inhabiting Britain." Bede does
not state if it was used for Christian worship in Roman times, or
if it was a pagan temple converted to Christian use at a later date.
The curtain of history is not again
lifted until about the year 580. Ethelbert, the King of Kent, married
Bertha, the daughter of Charbert, King of the Franks, who reigned
in Paris. Bertha was a Christian and as Ethelbert was a heathen
it was stipulated that Bertha be allowed to practice the Christian
faith. Bertha was accompanied to England by her chaplain,
Bishop Liudhard, and it was to this Church, rebuilt on the Roman
ruin and dedicated in honour of St. Martin of Tours, that they came
We now jump to the year 597, to
the landing in Kent of St. Augustine and his companions, bringing
the Christian message. With the King's permission, it was to St.
Martin's they came, and again to quote the words of Bede, "to meet,
to sing, to pray, to say mass, to preach, and to baptize."
Soon the first fruits of this mission
began to appear in the conversion and baptism of the King. We know
the ceremony took place on the Feast of Pentecost, June 2nd, 597,
but nothing else. Tradition says it was at St. Martin's and
in part of the existing font (to be dealt with later), but it is
tradition, and at that we must leave it.
After the death of St. Augustine
the Church relapses into a period of comparative obscurity. It is
mentioned in a Saxon charter of 867. It gave its name to two Suffragan
"Bishops of St. Martin's" in 1032 and 1052. The Church is a peculiar
[which means it is independent of the Archdeacon] and so remains
exempt from the jurisdiction of the Archdeacon of Canterbury. By
this we are deprived of much valuable information usually found
in the Archidiaconal Registers. We do, however, find entries in
the years 1511 and 1552. Many items of interest are gathered from
numerous wills between the years 1402 and 1598. The list of Rectors
is complete from the year 1314. The benefice was united with the
parish of St. Paul in 1681. The patronage of the living is in the
hands of the Archbishop. The Registers date from 1662, but contain
nothing of historical interest, just the bare narration of Baptisms,
Marriages and Deaths.
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