Tour the outside of the church

Lyminge church c1890 Lyminge Parish Church from the north east c1890

If you approach the church from the adjacent car park today, you will see a building not so very different from the one depicted above around 1890.  However, there are subtle differences.  Old photographs of the church show some details that have become obscured over the years.  Repointing of the stonework has made it more difficult to see some of the changes that have been made to the building over the years.  Thus in 1890, it was easy to see the contrast between the original masonry of Archbishop Lanfranc's 11th Century church, at the east end of the chancel, each stone laid at an angle in courses in what is known as 'herringbone style', and the infill in the mid portion of the chancel wall where some rebuilding has taken place.  Nevertheless, despite this repair, the chancel is substantially Norman work and the north side does give a good impression of what it looked like originally as both original windows - the small round headed windows - survive.  The larger two light window was inserted around 1400, as was the large window at the east end.  It is likely that Lanfranc's church had a much smaller single east window. 

The church is made largely of relatively local materials: Lenham ironstone, with Upper Greensand and flint, and some re-used Roman brick. The brick may have come from Queen Ethelburga's church, which in turn had recycled brick from ruined Roman buildings. As no Roman period occupation has been found anywhere in Lyminge, the current view is that this is likely to have been imported from further afield, possibly from the Roman fort at Lympne as during the early medieval period, Lyminge had a port at West Hythe close by. The corner stones (quoins) are of a distinctive stone that has been variously identified as Binstead stone or Quarr stone. Either way, this means that the stone comes from a quarry on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. The Binstead and Quarr quarries only began to be exploited after the Norman Conquest, which reinforces the conclusion based on scientific analysis and dating of the mortar that the oldest parts of this church building date to the end of the 11th Century.

 Path, east end and buttressPath around the east end of the church and the buttress (© Rob Baldwin)

As you approach the church through the main gate at the north eastern corner of the church yard, you begin to ascend a fairly steep slope.  The site today is dominated by the standing Norman church, but it was dominated equally by Queen Ethelburga's church from the 7th to the 11th Centuries.  This first church was plastered and coloured white on the outside.  It would have stood out and was clearly intended to attract attention.

As you pass round the east end of the chancel, you pass under a curious buttress, or half arch that dates to around 1400.  The role of the buttress seems difficult to explain structurally as it stands on the upslope.  There is in any event no evidence for weakness in the chancel indicating that it needed to be propped up.  Thus it may instead have served some liturgical purpose in the medieval period involved with processions around the church.  This is a possible hypothesis to explain a structure that otherwise seems to serve no useful purpose. 

Once through the arch, to the south of the nave of the Norman church, you can see marked in the path the outline of Queen Ethelburga's church.  We now know that this church was built in the 7th Century, within a few decades of when Roman Christianity returned to England with the Mission of St Augustine in 597.  You can read more about the history of how this church came to be built in our pages on Queen Ethelburga.  This church was demolished around the time that the current Norman church was built.  Its foundations were discovered in 1859 by the Rector Canon Jenkins who was searching for the burial place of Queen Ethelburga.  The remains were reburied in 1929 to protect them from further frost-damage, and then were re-investigated in 2019.  As a result of this work, it is now arguably the best understood of the tiny number of churches known that date to this very early formative period in the history of Christianity in this country. 

Outline of 7th Century churchThe outline of the 7th Century church in the path to the south of the standing Parish Church (© Rob Baldwin)

Aerial view of 7th Century churchAerial view of 7th Century church under excavation in 2019 (© Will Wright)

Mass dialThe 'Mass Dial' on the south east corner of the nave (© Rob Baldwin)

To the left of the chancel door, at the end of the nave, you can see on the wall the weathered remains of what appears to be a sun-dial. These are often called 'mass dials' and are found on many medieval churches. Whether they were actually used to judge the time of services is unknown. Although this example in Lyminge, facing south, could have functioned well enough with the addition of a gnomon (a short rod) in the hole to cast a shadow, not all such 'mass dials' are so well-placed. Elsewhere, these features are sometimes found where they would have been in perpetual shadow, so it is not absolutely clear that they are sun dials at all.

If you look carefully at the photograph of the porch and south nave wall taken around 1889, you can see how the masonry around and to the right of the window is very different to that elsewhere.  The darker and more textured stonework is the original Norman masonry, where the stones are laid in courses at an angle in the distinctive 'herringbone' style that is found over much of the nave and chancel.  The lighter and less textured masonry is a later repair.  No attempt was made to restore the look and feel of the Norman stonework, and the mortar of the repair even has 'galleting' (small inserted stones) which highlights the extent of this major rebuild.  

Beneath the window inset into the wall is a marble plaque recording Canon Jenkins' belief that he had found the location of Queen Ethelburga's tomb at this spot.  We now think that this is more likely to have been further to the west in the area now covered by the porch, extending into where the nave of the Norman church now stands. 

The south door was probably added in the early 14th Century and the porch some two hundred or so years later.  Previously, before the current tower was added, the main door to the church would have been in the west wall, where the tower arch now is.  The porch was substantially rebuilt in the late 19th Century and was glazed at this time.  

Porch c1889Church porch c1889 showing the repair to the nave wall

Just beyond the porch (to the west) is an information panel that is part of the heritage trail through the village.  This provides information about Queen Ethelburga's church.  You can find out more about this church inside the standing church where you will find an interactive touchscreen and archaeological display in the north aisle.

Once you have viewed the information panel, if you turn round to face the standing church, you will see a strange recess cut into the wall of the nave, with a large slab in its base and a brick arch over.  This recess has caused much discussion over the past hundred years or so, and a number of scholars have suggested that it might have been connected with a shrine associated with Queen Ethelburga.  In fact we now know that the explanation for this feature is much more mundane.

Correspondence between Canon Jenkins and the antiquarian Charles Roach Smith, who published an account of the excavation at Lyminge in 1861, reveals that it was Canon Jenkins himself (or at least workmen acting on his instructions) who cut the hole in the wall in September 1860.  He was interested to investigate the large slab built into the wall, which is not paralleled anywhere else in the building.  

Recess in the nave wallThe strange recess in the nave south wall (© Rob Baldwin)

It is quite likely that this large slab came from the earlier church and was re-used in the new church in the 11th Century as it was built alongside. Jenkins' final conclusion about this stone was that it could have been the grave slab on the tomb of Queen Ethelburga, which was noted in the late 11th Century, when it was still in existence, to be plain and without any inscription or epitaph indicating to whom the tomb belonged. It is not impossible that this stone in the base of the recess was a grave slab, perhaps even Queen Ethelburga's grave slab, as it is a substantial stone that would have required significant effort to transport to Lyminge. The stone is certainly grave-sized, and it was obviously not just another piece of building stone. It must have served a special purpose, however it was used. 

Canon Jenkins thought the slab was special, and decided to keep it on display as a central feature of the remains he left open to public view. The hole above the stone was tidied up by creating an arch of Roman brick, demolition debris from Queen Ethelburga's church that must have been left lying around when it was pulled down in the late 11th or early 12th Century. The origin of this recess became lost after Canon Jenkins died, and its true history has only been pieced together since the excavation work in 2019 revealed that it was certainly not an ancient feature. The discovery of Canon Jenkins' letter proved what was already suspected, so we know that this is yet another mark that he left on the fabric of the church.

Church from north west c1920The church from the north west c1920

Parish Church from the north west in 2022The church from the north west in 2021 (© Rob Baldwin)

The two views of the church taken from the north west, separated by a hundred years, both show the massive tower added in the late 15th and early 16th Century.  Wills of 1508 and 1527 show it under construction.  The very eroded arms over the west door are those of Archbishop Cardinal John Morton (1486-1500) and Archbishop William Wareham (1503-32).  It is possible that the massive blocks of stone used in its construction were taken from the demolished buildings of the archbishops' residence that lay a little further to the west in what is now the New Churchyard. 

It is quite likely that this was not the first tower.  If you look to the left of the tower in both pictures above and in the aerial view that follows, you will see two massive buttresses flanking the corner of the north aisle.  These buttresses are considerably over-engineered to support the walls of the aisle, and it seems most likely that they supported a tower that was once located at this point to the side of the main entrance, possibly built in the 13th Century.  A similar arrangement still exists at St Mary, Hastingleigh, about 7 miles from Lyminge.

Projecting from the side of the north aisle now is a structure added in 1971.  It is now used as the church office and vestry, and there is a toilet accessible when the church is in use for services, although it is not generally open.  

Aerial view of church from northAerial view of the church from the north (© Will Wright)

The aerial view shows the most recent addition to the church.  This is the new path that was laid in 2020 round the tower and the north side of the church to provide access to the north door.  Although this door was probably used to facilitate processions around the outside in the later Middle Ages, no path was laid in the 19th Century when the other paths in the church yard were given a hard surface.  The threshold to this doorway has now been provided with a low ramp, providing access for those with restricted mobility, making this ancient church accessible to all.

This is the end of the tour of the outside of the church.  You can continue your tour inside the church, or you can continue to explore the church yard.  In the New Churchyard beyond the boundary wall, you will see the War Memorial.  This is made of Cornish granite and was designed by local farmer Frederick Wheeler who lived in Rhodes Minnis.  It was unveiled on 25 September 1921 and cost some £300.  There is an information panel close to the War Memorial, and if you follow the path westwards through the churchyard gate into Court Lodge Green, you will find another panel.  These panels deal with the monastery that was here in the period from around 700 to the later 9th Century, with the shrine of St Eadburg that lasted until 1085, and with the residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury that was built here in the period after the Norman Conquest.