Tag Archives: Canterbury

St Martin’s Church, Canterbury

IMG_4594It was fortunate that, when St Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 596, landing probably in Ebbsfleet in 597, to bring Christianity back to England, there was already an established church just outside the city. It meant that his arrival was not met with hostility as could have been the case. The reason for this place of worship was because the King, Æthelbert, had married a Christian Frankish princess, Bertha. Æthelbert restored and gave his wife an existing small Roman building for church services – it was possibly a mortuary chapel. Bertha came from near Tours, in France; two centuries before her birth, St Martin had been bishop there, and so the church for the queen was dedicated to this French saint. The tower at the west end of St Martin’s is shown here and was added in the fourteenth century.


IMG_4559In Bede’s ‘A History of the English Church and People’ he wrote about the church for St Augustine and his followers: On the east side of the city there was an old church in honour of St Martin, built during the Roman occupation of Britain, where the queen, who was a Christian, was accustomed to pray. Here they first began to assemble, to sing psalms, celebrate mass, to preach and to baptise, until the king was converted to the faith and gave them greater freedom to preach and to build and restore churches everywhere*. This round arched narrow doorway, now blocked up, was constricted in the Saxon period; it could perhaps have been the queen’s door; not it contains a modern statue of Bertha.


IMG_4577Although the church has been restored, the long, narrow Roman bricks are very much in evidence. These are in the chancel, but some Roman bricks were re-used in the seventh century to extend the church and build the nave, thus giving a larger space for the worshippers. This was the first Anglo-Saxon building to use bricks and stone with mortar; after the Romans left, buildings were constructed from wood. The Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Ruin’ is about the remaining stone buildings from the Romans having been built by ‘giants’ such was their awe at the sizes of buildings and the way in which they were constructed.


IMG_4560Inside the church, looking to the west wall, the construction of the nave with brick and stone can be seen clearly. Some of the stone is limestone from Paris. There are three narrow arched windows (the one on the right is clearest) which have since been bricked up and covered by the tower.





IMG_4562The font was thought to be from when the nave was built, and if so, it would have been used to baptise Æthelbert when he converted to Christianity, but it has been found to be later. In fact it was a well head from Canterbury Cathedral cloisters; the arched Norman decoration is particularly fine.





IMG_4589There is a squint, low in the west wall, and angled towards the chancel. Those who were forbidden from entering the church and so remained outside, such as lepers, could nevertheless peer through the squint and follow the mass being celebrated. It is rather low on the ground, though, and is unlikely to be a comfortable experience!





IMG_4581The piscina is also from the Norman period as the font, and was where the water used to wash the plate and cup used for the mass was poured away.

When St Augustine and his followers, about 40 in all, arrived in Kent it is likely that they landed first at Ebbsfleet; this settlement was then on a spur of land projecting south out from the island of Thanet into the Wantsum Channel. King Æthelbert ordered them to stay where they were and then agreed to meet them, however he knew that Christians dealt in magic – perhaps he was aware of the story of Samson destroying a building single handedly – and so he met them outside in the open air. Bede records this meeting as: They came … bearing as their standard a silver cross and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a panel. They chanted litanies and uttered prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and those to whom they had come. It must have looked pretty impressive, and no doubt with the encouragement of Bertha, the king allowed the contingent to travel on to Canterbury without any hassle, and then to have the use of St Martin’s Church for their services.

The church is now on the list of World Heritage Sites alongside Canterbury Cathedral, and a visit is highly recommended.




Eadui Basan – Edwin the Fat or Parchment?

Eadui PsalterEadui Basan was a monk who worked from Canterbury in Kent during the earlier part of the eleventh century, and his distinctive hand has been identified in a number of manuscripts. One of the ones I particular like is that of the Eadui Psalter, on the right. The whole page is united by the arched and pillared frame, yet divided by two lower arches. The hand of God holding a scroll with text is giving a blessing at the top, and blue lines indicate the heavens. Within the right-hand lower arch the monks of the foundation are shown in outline. This wasn’t because the artist ran out of ink or time, but it was the stye to colour people in outline only as they weren’t worthy of full-colour painting. In the left-hand arch sits St Benedict, and around his halo is written in Latin ‘St Benedict Father of the Monastery’. The saint sits resplendent in full colour, his hands open in blessing, with lots of gold leaf. At his feet is a small, kneeling figure grasping the feet of St Benedict and holding a book, again in full colour. There is no halo or other indication of sainthood so we must presume that he isn’t; around his waist is a belt on which is written ‘zone of humility’, and yet he is in full colour! It has been presumed that this is in fact the scribe of the book – Eadui Basan.

Grimbald GospelsEadui also worked on the Harley Psalter, another fascinating book (though what mediæval manuscript isn’t?), and the Grimbald Gospels, on the right. This shows his wonderfully clear script, and stunning gilded initials. Many will be familiar with the rounded letter-forms of Caroline Minuscule, which have a low x-height – often of only 3 nib widths – long ascenders and descenders, and a distinctly forward slant. A little later in time and across the English Channel, scribes slightly extended the x-height to 4 nib widths, but reduced the ascenders and descenders; they also made it more upright. Examples of English Caroline Minuscule are in the British Library’s Ramsey Psalter (Harley 2904) written in the last quarter of the tenth century. Some decades later, Eadui Basan takes this hand and runs with it. He forms letters based on an oval letter o, rather than a round one, and extends the ascenders and descenders creating the most wonderfully fluid writing style.

Corpus Christi PontificalAnother impressive book is the Corpus Christi Pontifical, right. A pontifical is a book of instructions for a bishop or archbishop including details on how to consecrate a church, ordinate a bishop, and even how to conduct a coronation. It is just possible that this book was used by Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury to crown Harold Hardrada in 1066 and also Ealdred, Archbishop of York for William the Conqueror.  The characteristic regular and rhythmic script contrasts with the coloured Versal initials. It is a most pleasing book and one of the gems at the Parker Library. It has been conserved and re-bound in recent years in the most vibrant red leather, how appropriate for a Pontifical!


Eadui CodexIn the Eadui Codex, now in Hanover, we even have his ‘signature’, which is the coloured paragraph in the middle of the page right (and enlarged below): Pro scriptore precem ne tempnas fundere pater. Librum istum monachus scripsit EADUUIUS cognomento BASAN. Sit illi longa salus. Vale seruus dei .N. & memor esto mei (which has been translated as: Father do not neglect to say a prayer for the scribe. The monk who wrote this book EADUUIS second-named BASAN. Let there be to him long health. Good Health to the servant of God .N. and be mindful of me).

Slide067 copy



So was he ‘fat ‘or was he ‘parchment’? I always understood that the Old English translation of ‘basan’ was ‘fat’ as in David Dumville’s English Caroline Script and Monastic History. Studies in Benedictism, AD 950–1030. However a paper by Tracey-Anne Cooper has looked at the ‘surname’ and does not refer to the Old English translation but suggests instead a Latin one. She thinks that it could refer to the substrate used by Eadui for his books, and that ‘basan’ or ‘bazan’ or ‘bazin’ means ‘sheep-skin tanned in oak- or larch-bark’. Without wishing to split hairs, I would think that, with the craft processes so much more a part of their daily lives than now, those naming Eadui would be fully aware that the skins for parchment or vellum aren’t tanned as are those for bookbinding, shoes, bags or clothes, but treated in a completely different way. Yet another example of mediæval manuscripts sometimes presenting more questions than they answer!