The Oldest Church In England, St. Martin's

As one of the cities with the richest historical heritages in the UK, Canterbury is home to many old buildings and artefacts. In St. Martin's Church the city has the English speaking world's oldest church (that has been in continuous use), such is the importance of the site that it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. From a spiritual perspective St. Martin's is very much a living part of the local Christian community and the main weekly service is held on Sunday morning's at 9.00am.

Ancient churches are just one of the aspects of the Discover Kent directory, it includes castles, woods, beaches and anything else which users of this website are likely to think worth a visit.

There is clear evidence that there has been an unbroken lineage of Christain worship at this place for over 1,500 years. In all probability the church is far older. In his history of Britain, written in 731, the Venerable Bede comments about Canterbury:

"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."

The Church is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, a very important saint of the early Christian church, a figure of great spiritual power and inspiring humility. The Queen who prayed at St. Martin's referred to by Bede was Queen Bertha, the wife of King Ethelbert of Kent. She had grown up near Tours in France, and was betrothed to the pagan King on the condition that she would be allowed to practise her own religion (Christianity). Some historians think that King Ethelbert was baptised in St. Martin's following his own conversion to Christianity. St. Martin's was united with the nearby St. Paul's church in 1681.

The interior of the Church is rich in elements that tell something of the building's history. There is a Roman doorway and recycled roman bricks built into the walls, the font is possibly over 850 years old and the roof of the nave dates from the 14th century. There is a a bell tower also dating from the 14th century, the oldest of the three bells was made in 1393. The church has even retained its squint holes, apertures that allowed lepers to follow the service from the outside of the building. The full range of points of historical and architectural interest are too numerous to list here.

The churchyard enjoys views over the city and the Cathedral and the names of several of Canterbury's prominent residents can be found amongst the 900 graves.

When Is St. Martin's Open

The main worship service is held every Sunday at 9am but because of its status the building is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursday between 11am and 4pm (3pm during the winter months). The church is also open after the Sunday service to 10.15am. Donations and contributions to the maintenance and upkeep of the church are always welcome.

Location And Contact

St. Martin's can be found just off St. Martin's Hill/Littlebourne Road at the end North Holmes Road and the main campus of Christ Church University. The parish office contact number is 01227 768072 but the office is only manned on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 10am to 12noon.

  • St. Martin's and St. Paul's Parish Centre, Church, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 1NH
  • 01227 768072
  • www.martinpaul.org

St. Martin's Church - Feedback & Disclaimer

This brief introduction to St. Martin's has been written to provide some general information and provide an independent personal perspective about this important part of the city's heritage. The details have been checked but if you see anything out of date let us know. We welcome feedback from our users about this or other places to visit in the area, where possible we do publish user comments or links to other resources but we can't take responsibility for the information maintained on other websites, take a moment to review our disclaimer.

Your Comments

"Dear Buster et al at Yourcounty,

I have lived in the Canterbury area for seven years and I had never even heard of St. Martin's Church until I read your review, the church seems every bit as important as the Cathedral and Abbey, I'd recommend that everyone takes a visit, it's a very special place, please include my comments as your feedback, Hazel."