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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Kent

by Peter Kessler, 30 August 2009

Canterbury Part 10: St Stephen's Hackington

St Stephen's Parish Church, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent

St Stephen's Parish Church lies a little way north of Canterbury, in the parish of Hackington which extends two-thirds of the way north towards Whitstable, sandwiched between the parishes of Blean and Sturry. The name of the parish seems to mean the settlement among the hacks or thorn bushes, from a time when the forest stretched from the Stour to the sea. The first Anglo-Saxon church held here was very shortly after the Augustinian landing in AD 597.

St Stephen's Parish Church, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent

At first it is probable that one of the monks from St Augustine's Abbey would come and preach here on a Sunday, erecting a cross of wood or stone with a temporary shelter which the local people would have encased in a wooden building roofed with thatch. This formed the nave of the church, which they kept in repair, while the section erected by the priest was the chancel which he or his monastery would have maintained themselves.

St Stephen's Parish Church, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent

The manor of Hackington was held by the monks of Christ Church, but it wasn't until Thomas Becket's murder in 1170 that change came to Hackington. Henry II and his new archbishop felt that the power of the monks had become too great, as the result of the veneration which was paid to the cathedral as the shrine of Becket, and Archbishop Baldwin (1184-1190) decided to build a great church which would outrival the cathedral in its beauty and power.

St Stephen's Parish Church, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent

The old wooden church was pulled down to make way for Baldwin's cathedral, which was to be dedicated to St Stephen. The monks of Christ Church at last understood the plan and appealed to the pope, who issued an order forbidding the work. After some years of delay, during which both sides did their best to persuade the pope to adopt their point of view, Baldwin gave up his idea and went with King Richard to the Holy Land to fight against the Saracens.

St Stephen's Parish Church, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent

The church that was finally built was the earliest version today's far more modest building. The lower part of the tower and the nave are probably survivors from this period. The windows and doors are a mixture of Norman and slightly later Early English styles. In the chancel, Lady Lora, or Loretta, was interred, wife of the earl of Leicester who died on the Crusades. She came to St Stephen's to live as a hermit and minister to pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. She died in 1219.

St Stephen's Parish Church, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent

In the thirteenth century, the tower was strengthened by adding buttresses after a local earthquake affected many church towers in the region. It was also lowered, and the steeple removed, as the upper windows of the tower show them to be much later than the lower ones. The church was greatly restored during Elizabeth's reign, and again in the 1880s, to leave the present attractive church building in place in the centre of a glade of ancient trees.

Five photos on this page by P L Kessler.



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