On a day out in Hythe we visited St Leonard’s Church.
The church is 11th century, the tower at its Eastern end was reportedly destroyed by an earth tremor in 1739, and restored in 1750.
There’s a notice outside saying that there’s been a church on the site since Saxon times.
The church was built using Kentish Ragstone, with Caen stone window dressings.
The information also says, “On May 25th 1917, during the height of the First World War, sixteen Gotha twin-engined German aircraft dropped bombs over Ashford, Folkestone, Lympne, and Hythe. One of these bombs fell in the churchyard where Reverend H.D. Dale was talking to the verger at the West door. Unfortunately, the verger was mortally wounded and later died in hospital. Miraculously, the vicar escrowed unhurt, although his wife was slightly injured. He realised later what a close call he had when a piece of hot shrapnel was discovered in his coat pocket.”
A brief walk uphill from the high street and we were outside the entrance to the church.
Inside was peaceful, there were only two other people looking around the interior.
The church organ fills the end wall, and there were lots of interesting stained glass windows.
Possibly the most striking window, a replacement because the originals were smashed in a bomb blast which caused serious damage to the East end of the church in 1940, shows a scene of the war.
The replacement glass window was designed by a local artist, Wallace Wood. The impressive glass was unveiled in 1951 commemorating the front line role Hythe played, it depicts a Cinque Port ship, searchlights, and anti-aircraft guns in action.
After spending some time inside the church we went outside to the graveyard.
The graveyard at St Leonard’s Church was as peaceful as the inside of the church, and I don’t mean that in an obvious way. This church is very popular with tourists, but it was not at all busy when we were there, which made walking round the graves all the more pleasant.
We like graveyards, you meet some interesting people there, they’re good listeners.
It was nice to be able to stop at any of the graves we were drawn to, to read the epitaphs, and take a moment to think about the people who were laid to rest there.
One grave was of particular interest. The grave of Lionel Lukin.
The words on his tombstone read ~
This Lionel Lukin was the first who built a lifeboat and was the original inventor of that principle of safety by which many lives and much property have been preserved from shipwreck and he obtained for it the kings patent in the year 1785.
At least that’s what I think it says, it may not be completely accurate, I didn’t have my glasses with me.
Having walked up and down the graveyard; St Leonard’s Church sits on the side of a hill, we wandered back down the side of the church building and in to the ossuary, or crypt, or bone-house.
The ossuary houses a reported 2,000 skulls, many of which are displayed on shelves. It’s possible to get up close to examine the skulls, but, do not touch.
The oil from your skin may damage the skulls, or so says a sign inside the crypt.
The guide in the bone-house was telling some other visitors about the skulls, and other bones. She pointed out a couple of skulls that showed particular dental and medical conditions.
The skulls and other bones date from the medieval period, it is thought they were stored there having been removed to make space for new graves.
This was common practice in England, but the bones were usually dispersed, which makes this large collection a rare thing in this country.
As well as the skulls lining the shelves there were also lots of long bones, apparently some 8,000 of them, mainly thigh bones.
The thigh bones are in a very neat, high pile, with a skull sticking out here and there, some of the skulls still have a tooth or two.
The skulls and thigh bones are reportedly the remains of about 4,000 people, men, women, and children.
There are more thigh bones than skulls simply because they were tougher, not quite as fragile as the skulls, and much less likely to have been damaged over the years.
The ossuary isn’t only home to skulls and thigh bones, there were also a few glass topped display units containing jaw bones, and loose teeth.
We paid £1 each to enter the crypt.
Apparently the bone-house has provided an additional income for St Leonard’s Church since the medieval times.
The church states that although some people may think it’s inappropriate to have the skulls on show, they are treated with reverence, they’re on consecrated ground, are of scientific importance, and are contributing to their church in death, just as they did in life.
Video of St Leonard’s Church, Hythe
We thoroughly enjoyed our time visiting the beautiful and interesting church of St Leonard’s in Hythe, Kent.
St Leonard’s Church
Kent CT21 5DN
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