Saturday, 6 November 2010

St. Mary the Virgin, Eastry

     St. Mary's is a grand-looking church befitting the former importance of its village, for Eastry was once the Royal capital of the Saxon Kingdom of Kent.  It is generally accepted that Eastry Court, which stands next to the church, was built on the site of the Royal Hall of Kentish Kings.  It was here that the murder of King Egbert's nephews took place - the tale of which (as the more unflagging readers among you may recall) was recounted earlier in the narrative on Minster-in-Thanet.

     Built of flint and Caen stone, the church dates from the 12th century and consists of a mostly Early English chancel (1200-1300) and clerestoried nave with north and south aisles, and is finished off with a solid west tower complete with a north-east stair turret; low lean-to annexes north and south; Norman doorway; and Norman windows in the north and south faces. 

     My wife and I were fortunate enough to be visiting the village one day, with some friends who were searching the churchyard for signs of a relative who had lived in the village years before.  While so engaged, we were approached by a very friendly gentleman who happened to be one of the church wardens.  He very kindly obtained the key and then treated us to a highly entertaining guided tour.  He told us that Becket hid in the tunnel, which links the church with Eastry Court, when fleeing the wrath of Henry II from Sandwich in 1164, and showed us the spot where he entered the tunnel.  He pointed out the circular arcade pillars and asked us if we could spot the oddity.  This was one octagonal pillar, a late 13th century substitute, with carvings said to represent a perpetual calendar from which feast days were calculated.  Above the chancel arch are some faded medieval wall-paintings.  These are in medallion form, in four tiers of seven roundels, and were discovered beneath a coat of plaster.  The walls are bedecked with hanging memorials, one of which is to a Captain John Harvey RN, a native of Eastry, who died of his wounds at the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 when the British defeated the French fleet off Brest.  It features a circular relief of the battle, over which floats an angel holding scales and a victors palm.  Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton are known to have visited Eastry during their visits to Heronden House - possibly visiting our aforementioned Captain?

     Syms remarked how vividly the old village churches brought alive the history of this country and how, for him, this was part of their appeal.  I totally agree, but would go further and say that, allied to this, is the pleasure of meeting so many pleasant people who often stop and chat when they spot me in the churchyard.  Just like our churchwarden friend, whose name now sadly escapes me, and who made our visit so memorable.  They are a credit to their respective villages, and do great honour to the churches in which they display such obvious affection.


  1. I believe the thing that makes so many of these wonderful churches so special is the faith that has nurtured and cared for them for so many hundreds of years as a house of God. While common people, villagers and some famous people may have called these churches home, they were the place each one, whether servant or sovereign, kneeled to worship and praise God almighty. They have been places of comfort, places of joy for christenings, or weddings and places of sadness for funerals. Through all of this, they have been a part of sustaining life over the years in the heart of the village and continue to do so.

  2. Yes Paul, I totally agree - thank you for taking the time to read my blog and to comment, I greatly appreciate it.
    Kind regards,