Tuesday, 26 October 2010

St. Mary, Chilham

     The first bombs of World War II are said to have fallen on Chilham though, thankfully, not on the village itself.  Had they have done so, we would not have the delightful village square we see before us today, which is reputed to be the most perfect in Kent.  The village, castle, and church are situated on high ground around the square, with the church and the 15th century White Horse Inn to the north; the castle gates to the south; and the east and west sides taken up with a mixture of brick and timber-framed buildings.  The whole thing is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, and has been used as a film set on several occasions.  It is a real "tourist-trap" and is generally heaving with humanity during the summer weekends.

     St. Mary's is a large church, which plays a major role in the compelling picture here.  Constructed wholly of flint, and dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, it has a clerestoried nave with aisles; north and south transepts; a chancel with aisles; and a two-storeyed porch.  The west tower has an octagonal stair-turret and a clock face that is two-hundred years old.  The church is entered through the foot of the tower and not, as we might suppose, the south porch.  The interior was heavily restored in the 19th century, and is highly regarded for its quality.  We find some medieval stained glass - believed to represent the Popes of the day; many ledger stones paving the floor; and two quite outstanding monuments.  One of polished Bethersden marble is to Sir Dudley Digges, a former owner of Chilham Castle and Master of the Rolls to James I; and another to the Hardy children (d.1858), pictures them reading "The Babes in the Wood" surrounded by their toys.  Originally made for the castle, it was presented to the church in 1919.

     There is a story that St. Augustine's remains were moved here after the dissolution of his abbey, and that his tomb was defiled and his bones scattered by the powers-that-be of Canterbury Cathedral, who were afraid that Chilham might have become a more important place of pilgrimage.  There doesn't appear to be any firm evidence to support this story, although there is an extremely old-looking stone coffin (empty!) to be found in the church which certainly looks old enough to qualify.  If true, he couldn't have had a more idyllic setting in which to rest his bones - even if only for a short time.

     The photograph used here was not taken on my initial visit, as the churchyard was occupied by lager-swilling "yuppies."  It was a living example of Chilham's problem - a peaceful village often spoiled by its own attraction.  No doubt, however, the innkeeper would be inclined to disagree.

1 comment:

  1. sounds interesting that village. I might visit it next time I come over!