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Minster-in-Thanet (Kent)

Long Wittenham (Oxfordshire) plus Lead Fonts

Benefield, Hemington & Fotheringhay (Northants)

The Stonemasons and their World

Stoneleigh-in-Arden (Warwickshire)

Garway (Herefordshire) - rewritten

Tansor (Northamptonshire)

New Romsey (Kent)

Apethorpe (Northamptonshire)


Dedication : St Mary       Simon Jenkins: ***                              Principal Features: Ancient foundation. Awe-inspiring Norman nave. Superlative Early English chancel. Misericords

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Kent is a part of England where lots of stuff happened. It was here that the fabled Vortigern during the immediate post-Roman invited Jutish mercenaries to help him sort out a few local difficulties, thus precipitating mass incursions from the Germanic tribes of Europe. Kent was not, as is commonly said, the place where Christianity first arrived in England but it is where St Augustin’s mission set about spreading the Roman forms of Christianity in earnest.  It was one of the seven autonomous kingdoms that constituted the “Anglo-Saxon” heptarchy. It was not where the Normans landed - that dubious accolade goes to adjoining Sussex - but Kent was right in their firing line and resisted William vigorously. If you wanted to take England you had to take London and if you wanted to take London you had to get past Kent first. That was still true when Kent was the scene of the Battle of Britain centuries later.

Unsurprisingly then, Kent has some of the oldest and most important church foundations in England, steeped in history and awash with connections to innumerable legendary characters, secular and religious. That’s apart from being the so-called “Garden of England”.

Minster, as its name implies, is situated on the Thanet peninsular which is best-known, perhaps, for its seaside resorts of Margate and Broadstairs. The monastic house was founded in AD670, hence the name “Minster-in-Thanet”, but it also served as a parish church. It was founded by the noblewoman St Domneva and the first abbess was her daughter, St Mildred. Many succeeding abbesses were linked to Anglo-Saxon royal houses and yet more were made saints. All of this nepotism and rampant sanctification came to an abrupt halt when the Vikings destroyed the buildings in around AD850. It was re-established, however, until the Danes finally destroyed the buildings in 1011. It is likely that a stone church was then built but if so then it is hidden under the existing building.

 he church was given to Canterbury Cathedral in AD1030 so there was obviously a late Anglo-Saxon era replacement for the destroyed church. Simon Jenkins claims that the west wall is Anglo-Saxon but I have not seen any support for that assertion. The two western bays of the nave are believed to pre-date the other Norman parts of the church. Likewise there is  speculation that the arcade walls of the three western bays were part of the earlier Anglo-Saxon church - although there is no evidence other than that the walls here are thinner than at the western end. Really, that’s a ll a bit academic becasue this is a church decidedly Norman in character. Two blocked Norman windows on the arcade walls indicate that there were no aisles at that time.

From AD1150 the church was considerably extended. Both walls were pierced to allow aisles to be built. The arcades are lofty and impressive. The additional bays on the south side are stylistically earlier than those on the north so the south aisle was probably added first. The western tower was added later in the twelfth century with three stages with a turret stair. The west door, sadly, is neo-Norman!

In the early thirteenth century the entire east end was remodelled, replacing the existing apsidal structure. A chancel of four bays was added in the Early English style. It is a magnificent example. Like the Norman nave it is extensive, finely crafted and clearly designed to be prestigious. It has three bays, each with a quadripartite stone vault. Transepts were added on each side, again in the EE style. These too have quadripartite vaults but these were only added to the transepts on 1863. The aisle walls were raised in the early fourteenth century to allow the insertion of larger Decorated style windows.

All in all, then, this is a church that is architecturally and historically rewarding. More than that, however, it is visually magnificent. There are few nobler sights in any English parish churches than the intact arcaded Norman nave leading seamlessly through to the vaulted Early English chancel.  Don’t forget also to look for the fine and interesting set of eighteen misericords. Unusually, these can be dated precisely to the early fifteenth century. John Curteys, the rector in 1401-19 carved his name on one of the stalls! The subject matter is a beguiling mixture of satire and historical references...of which more anon!

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Left: The view of the east. The fine Norman arcade on either side draws one eyes to the Early English east end with its fine triple  lancet window that is the epitome of the era. The chancel and transepts  here have a uniform gabled roofline and the double window opening above  the chancel arch show that the roof space was utilised in some way. Right: Looking towards the west. Note the changes in style of the capitals and the diameters of the columns. The chancel arch is lofty and plain.  Above it is an original Norman window,

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Left: The chancel arch. Note the two Norman windows in the west wall of the tower. Centre: Looking into the chancel. The misericords are to left and right. Note the  quadripartite stone vault. This is surely one of the finest Early  English chancels in England. Right: The north transept. It is  Early English, beautifully lit by a profusion of lancet windows. The  vault, however, is nineteenth century. There is a blocked and slightly raised doorway which  is unusual on a transept, especially on the north or “devil’s side”.  What was it for? In the centre is a tomb which is contemporary with the transept itself.

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Left: The north chancel tomb. Note the simple arcaded decoration, typical of the period. Originally there were inset brass letters. Right: Am I right in assuming these window openings above the chancel arch are original? They are round-headed above an Early English chancel arch. Surely, though, they would not have been made in this style later?

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Left: The triple lancet east window. Note the lovely luminescent quality of the Caen stone. Right: The font is reckoned by the Church Guide to be “twelfth century Norman”. I don’t want to split hairs but it looks a little later than that to me. More likely thirteenth century in my view.

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The misericords here have unusually conspicuous “supporters” - that is the carvings either side of the central one - and supporters are, moreover, unique to England. I am indebted to a sheet printed by the church for the explanations of the imagery here. Left: The “horned headdress” was fashionable in Europe. It was quite common to satirise the excesses in aristocratic womens’ headgear so its appearance here is no surprise. The central figure is imposed on a monstrous body and the supporters show some species of reptile encircling the heads. A clear indication that evil lurks beneath the vanity of costume excesses! Right: This hind represents Domneva (or Domne Eafa), a member of the Kentish royal house, who founded the abbey. She has crosses embedded in leaves on either side. Legend has it that King Ecgbehrt of Kent fostered Domneva’s brothers, Saints Aethelbert and Aethelred and was implicated in murder. Ecgbehrt agreed to pay “weregild” (financial restitution) amounting to the amount of land that Dumneva’s pet hind could encircle. Guided by Domneva in some supernatural way, the hind encircled eighty “sulungs” of land and on some of this Domneva built Minster in Thanet. precisely how much land constituted a “sulung” (a unit of area apparently unique to Kent) is unclear. I bet it was a lot though!

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Left: The horned headdress comes in for “the treatment” again! The demon of fashion sits between the horns while slanderous tongues flank her on either side. One rather imagines that the nuns who renounced all personal possessions were rather taken with this imagery. Right: These are the arms of the Blaxland family. Two birds are back to back. The supporters show fish with tails in their mouths - a symbol of eternity. Somehow or other the carver seems never to have seen a fish.

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Left: A real beauty. A housewife is spinning on her distaff. Her dog peers over her shoulder and her cat sits by her other side. One of the supporters is probably her husband. The other shows a fox running away with a goose, a popular mediaeval motif. Right: Possibly the face of Christ flanked by criminals according to the Church Guide. I’m a bit dubious about that one. There is nothing to really indicate it and there is a tradition that monks and nuns were reluctant to rest their feelthy backsides on sacred images.

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Left: An angel bearing the monogram IHS (representing the name of Christ) again flanked by symbols of eternity. This man had a considerable imagination on matters piscatorial! Right: Father Time flanked by eternity.

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Left: Another classic. The abbey cook is surrounded by his implements. On either side birds await being plucked and cooked. Again, I am slightly dubious about this interpretation. The cook is not tonsured like a monk or with a covered head like a nunand I don’t think the monks or nuns would have endorsed a design that seems to imply gluttony. Who knows, though? Maybe this was a little bit of satire on the part of the carpenter? Right: An angel plays a lute. On either side a man has the mane of a lion, the snout of a pig and large ears. The manes represent the courage of the men who listened to the gospels with their large ears, overcoming their ignorance represented by their snouts.

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Left: A preacher also addresses supporters with mane, snout and large ears. Right: This is believed to be John Curtis himself (the rector at the time the misericords were installed) flanked by scroll-bearing angels.

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Left: It’s not obvious at first glance, but this is a Green Man. His hair is a leaf and leaves are sprouting discreetly from either side of his mouth. The supporters are a couple of unidentifiable birds - doves? - each clutching a scroll in its beak. Right: There are three misericords with coats of arms and I’m bothering to show only one because they are of little interest except to local historians and the genealogy crowd who have their own resources anyway.

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Images of the Minster in Thanet Misericords.

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Left: The tower from the south. Is the base Anglo-Saxon as some believe? The west door is neo-Norman dating from 1863 but the windows are original. Centre: The tower from the south. Right: The Early English triple lancet east window. The small window above suggests a roof room.

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Left: The north transept, like the chancel, is unspoilt Early English with lancet windows. Above: The rectangular Gothic aisle windows jar somewhat. Right: The parish chest, complete with its three locks for which churchwardens and rector would have had a key each.




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