What is the oldest church in England?
The Church of St Martin of Tours in Canterbury isn’t just the oldest Christian church in Britain, it’s also claimed to be the oldest in the entire English-speaking world...
Parts of its structure are Roman and it predates St Augustine’s famous AD 597 mission to bring Christianity to the pagan Angles.
In the mid-sixth century, an earlier (possibly Roman) structure was converted into a church by a Frankish princess, Bertha, who agreed to marry the pagan King Æthelberht of Kent provided she could continue practising her religion. When St Augustine arrived he was delighted to find Bertha an energetic accomplice in his mission, and he adopted St Martin’s as his headquarters.
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Why do churches have spires?
Spires, the tall point on top of a tower, first started to be built in the middle of the 12th century, with the earliest examples being found in northern France. They spread rapidly across parts of Europe and the British Isles, but never really caught on south of the Alps.
Officially, the idea of the spire was that it lifted eyes toward Heaven, and so encouraged the contemplation of God. More prosaically, the building of an expensive spire advertised the wealth of the village or town where the church stood. As so often in medieval Europe, civic pride and religious devotion went hand in hand.
This article was originally published in BBC History Revealed magazine
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