The Archbishop takes control


The Archbishops of Canterbury seem to have taken a close interest in Lyminge from at least around the year 1000. A new book called The Life and Miracles of St Eadburg of Lyminge is believed to have been commissioned by Archbishop Ælfric (995-1005) at this time and we have evidence for new building west of the current church that appears to date to this period immediately before the Norman Conquest. It is conceivable that this is associated with a move to promote and develop the cult of St Eadburg, which may have gone into decline during the 10th Century, and the new building represents renewed investment in the shrine that was intended to attract pilgrims.


Excavation of 11th Century towerExcavation in 1991 of the tower structure, within what is now the Memorial Garden, which may have been part of an 11th Century refurbishment of St Eadburg’s shrine (© David Holman)

Lanfrancs churchReconstruction of Lanfranc’s church at Lyminge as it may have looked around 1100 (© Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture)



It used to be thought that the core of the standing church we see today was built by Archbishop Dunstan (959-88). There is a brass plate in the church put up in the 19th Century celebrating this. But new work has completely overturned this hypothesis, and we can now be reasonably confident that the current church dates to the years immediately following the Norman Conquest in 1066. The quoins of the chancel and nave, (the large squared stone blocks that form the corners), are made of a stone that comes from the quarry at Quarr on the Isle of Wight. This is where the word "quarry" comes from. This quarry was used extensively by the Normans, but does not seem to have been exploited previously. Mortar samples from the chancel have been analysed scientifically and these point to a construction date close to the time of the Norman Conquest, rather than in the later 10th Century under Dunstan.


 We know that the first Norman Archbishop, Lanfranc (1070-89), exercised control over Lyminge because in 1085, he ordered the holy relics still preserved there to be translated to his new foundation in the North Gate in Canterburydedicated to St Gregory, the Pope who had sent St Augustine's mission to convert the English in 597. There is a description written only a few years later recording that the tomb of Queen Ethelburga lay “in a north porticus [or side chapel] on the south side of the church under a vault”. The only way to  interpret this statement sensibly is to see the new Norman church standing alongside and to the north of Queen Ethelburga’s 7th Century church which was still standing at this time with her tomb still preserved. The construction of the present church could have begun before 1066, and it may not have been complete by 1085, but all the evidence points to construction largely in the second half of the 11th Century, and it is most likely that it was begun by Lanfranc after 1070.


 The description of Queen Ethelburga’s tomb is in a work by the Flemish monk Goscelin, written in Canterbury probably in the 1090s. He includes a first hand account by Ralph, a priest at Lyminge who carried out the exhumation. Ralph describes how he removed two sets of remains, and although he says that there were no inscriptions recording who they were, he says he knew one of the bodies was that of St Eadburg.  The best explanation is that the other was the body of Queen Ethelburga. The foundation charter of St Gregory’s, though surviving only as what is probably a forgery of the later Middle Ages, nevertheless records the claim to have both their remains and it is reasonable to see this as preserving a memory of what actually happened. Separately, there is a note in one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that St Eadburg was translated to St Gregory’s in 1085, and we can see that her feast day of 13 December was added into the liturgical calendar used in Canterbury Cathedral at the end of the 11th Century, indicating that she was recognised as a new and significant saint for the Canterbury community at this time. 


 The role of Lyminge as a place of pilgrimage may have ended at the hand of Archbishop Lanfranc, but this was not the end of the story. At some point, a residence was built in Lyminge where the Archbishop could come to stay and quite literally hold court, since he was responsible for dispensing justice locally. This residence might have been begun by Lanfranc, and this is why he built a new church. However, the evidence is lacking and all we do know is that Archbishop Peckham (1279-92) found the buildings in a poor state of repair, indicating that they had been constructed some time before. Nevertheless, 9 June 1279 was the day of a grand event in the Archbishop’s hall when Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, was received in what is likely to have been a magnificent display of medieval pageantry as the retinues of the Archbishop and the Lord of Tonbridge Castle gathered together under one roof.


Grave cut in the Anglo-Saxon church

Excavation of the 13th Century grave cutting the wall of Queen Ethelburga's church in progress in 2019 (© Rob Baldwin)


 It seems likely that Queen Ethelburga’s church did not survive much if at all beyond the end of the 11th Century. Excavation in the interior of the church in 2019 revealed a collection of intersecting graves, some of which had been cut through the foundations suggesting no one knew they were there until the graves were dug. The lowest, and thus the earliest, of these graves contained pottery from the early 13th Century. The implication is that Queen Ethelburga’s church had long-since been demolished and forgotten and the surviving foundations could no longer be seen in the early 1200s.  This might suggest demolition a century or more previously, allowing enough time for it to have passed from memory.


Canon JenkinsCanon Robert Charles Jenkins (1815-96), Rector of Lyminge 1854-96 (© Rob Baldwin, from an original in the collection of Lyminge PCC)

 Canon Jenkins, the Rector of Lyminge (1854-96) who rediscovered Queen Ethelburga’s church in the 1850s, found much else besides in and around the churchyard. He recorded carved, decorated stone and painted floor tiles, but only a very few stone fragments still survive. A gatehouse was remembered by an octogenarian living in 1757. In 2010, medieval demolition debris, together with extensive waste pits were discovered in Court Lodge Green immediately west of the churchyard (in one of the bumps that give this area its local name “the Bumpy Field”). Then in 2019, large stone foundations together with deep red painted wall plaster were uncovered in the churchyard under the path leading to the War Memorial. The evidence, fragmentary though it is, suggests the Archbishops’ residence could have been elaborate and extensive, but we know very little about it.  


Archbishops residence under excavation

Excavation of the Archbishops’ residence in progress in 2019 (© Rob Baldwin)


 Archbishop Courtenay (1381-96) received permission from the king to demolish some of his neighbouring manor houses to repair his castle at Saltwood. This may have removed much of the complex, but probably not all of it. Court Lodge was still standing in 1685, when it was illustrated on a map drawn by William Hill. The church is quite accurately depicted on this map, so it is possible this drawing of Court Lodge is accurate too. If so, this is probably just a part of what was once a very grand complex of buildings stretching across the whole area that is now occupied by Court Lodge Green and the New Churchyard, the area lying west of the Old Churchyard boundary wall. The New Churchyard, where the War Memorial now stands, was once known as Abbots Green. Burial began in the northern part only after it was allocated for this purpose in 1855, and in the southern part not until after the First World War. Prior to this, it was a meadow. Canon Jenkins says that it was covered with building remains that were destroyed by his predecessor in order to build the Rectory Farm, that used to stand on Rectory Lane. But as the area is now densely covered with graves, it is unlikely we will recover much more information about the buildings that once stood here.


Thomas Hills map of Lyminge

Detail from Thomas Hill’s map of 1685 showing the area around the High Street, including Court Lodge and the church (©Lyminge Historical Society)



At the time of the Reformation under King Henry VIII, the estate at Lyminge was a pale shadow of what it had been in its heyday. In 1546, Archbishop Cranmer surrendered the estate to the King, who in turn sold it to Sir Anthony Aucher of Bishopsbourne (which lies north of Lyminge towards Canterbury), one of the Commissioners who had overseen the dissolution of the monasteries for Henry. Lyminge was no doubt seen as part of the reward for his role in this.




This page is managed by Lyminge Parish Council Historic Environment Working Group