Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 13 April |
Saint of the Day: Pope St. Martin I
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

St. Martin’s Church of Canterbury is the oldest church in the entire English-speaking world

ST MARTIN;CANTERBURY

Adam Bishop|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Daniel Esparza - published on 10/29/19

The story of this church is intimately related to the lives of St. Bertha, King Aethelbert, and Augustine of Canterbury.

St. Martin’s church in Canterbury is not only the first church ever founded in England, or only the oldest parish church in continuous use. It is also the oldest church in the English-speaking world.

The church was, at first, the personal chapel of Queen Bertha, one of the most influential figures in the history of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. In fact, she is a saint venerated in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches, referred to as either St. Bertha or St. Aldeberge.

Bertha was a Frankish princess, born circa 564 in Neustria (France), the great-granddaughter of St. Clotilde, who contributed to the spread of Christianity in Western Europe by her role in the conversion of her husband, the Frankish King Clovis I, founder of the Merovingian dynasty and first king of the Franks, from Arian Christianity to Catholicism.


HOLY ISLAND

Read more:
Lindisfarne: One of Britain’s oldest churches is discovered on the Holy Island

Bertha would follow the steps of her great-grandmother. Being a princess, she married the pagan King Aethelbert of Kent. Aethelbert allowed her to continue to practice her religion, and renovated for her an already existing church, built in the late Roman period, that had fallen into disuse. According to St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, this church was originally dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, a city close enough to Bertha’s natal Neustria.

A few years after Bertha’s arrival in England, Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission led by Augustine of Canterbury to restore Christianity to England. The year was 596. The mission got to England in 597 and was quite successful, mostly because of the favorable influence of Bertha: it is said that without her support and King Aethelbert’s good will, monastic settlements in that region of England would have not been possible.

As Augustine of Canterbury arrived in England, he used Bertha’s chapel of St. Martin as his own mission headquarters. Soon after his arrival, King Aethelbert himself was baptized there.

Tags:
ArchitectureCatholic historyEngland
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
PRINCE PHILIP
Cerith Gardiner
11 Interesting facts about the late Prince Philip
2
JESUS
Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ
A simple test to see if you really believe Christ is risen
3
Archbishop Georg Gänswein
I.Media for Aleteia
Gänswein: Benedict XVI expected to live only a few months after r...
4
SAINT FAUSTINA,CELL
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
St. Faustina’s coffee cup and lessons for Divine Mercy Sund...
5
DIVINE MERCY
Aleteia
Here’s how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home
6
Philip Kosloski
Why you can eat meat on Easter Friday
7
Sister Bhagya
Saji Thomas-ACN
Catholic nun faces conversion charges in central India
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.