Patrixbourne, St Mary's Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Superb Norman carvings around the south door and priest's door
The Patric family, whose name eventually merged with the Saxon 'Born' to create the present village name, replaced the simple Saxon church around 1170 with a new double-aisled building. They did not stint on their new church, which is richly carved, particularly around the superb south doorway and the priest's door in the chancel wall. The east end was decorated with a large wheel window and further decorative carving.
The similarities between the carvings at Patrixbourne and the celebrated church at nearby Barfreston are marked, and it seems quite likely that the same team of masons worked on both churches, perhaps trying out ideas on Patrixbourne that were later refined and polished at Barfreston. The stone used is from Caen, in Normandy, which was highly prized by Norman masons.
The most impressive south doorway is the most impressive feature of the church, with a triangular string course in the shape of a gable containing a round-headed opening with five orders of voussoir moulding (voussoir being the individual stone sections of an arch).
The large wheel window in the east wall is similar to that at Barfreston, and shows the wheel spokes being devoured by monsters. Above the wheel is a small figure of a man's head, his moustache flowing to both sides to form zig-zag moulding.By contrast, the priest's door looks almost restrained, with 4 moulded orders surmounted by a niche containing a carved figue. Tradition suggests that the figure is that of Thomas Becket. There is no way to determine if this is true, but it makes sense given the location of the church on the Pilgrim's Way.
Though the chancel was heavily restored in the Victorian period the windows are all original, including the distinctive wheel window. There are lovely 16th and 17th century Flemish and Swiss enamelled glass panels in the three-light east windows and the Bifron Chapel. These panels were a gift of Elizabeth, Marchioness Coynyngham, in 1837 and who probably purchased them at antique fairs in London and Europe.
The panels depict both religious and secular scenes, including themes as diverse as St John the Baptist, alpine landscapes, and standard bearers guiding packhorses over the St Gotthard Pass. There are classical figures including Thisbe and Pyramus, familiar from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream. The panels are beautifully crafted in Renaissance and Baroque styles, with unusual colours.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Patrixbourne that St Mary's is listed on the excellent website 'Great English Churches' and in Simon Jenkins' popular tome, 'England's Thousand Best Churches'. Jenkins only rates St Mary's church worthy of two stars, which I think is uncharitable, but let's not quibble over a star or two. The point is that Patrixbourne's parish church is a delight, and one of the most enjoyable Norman churches in the south east. Not perhaps as exquisitely detailed as nearby Barfreston, but then, very few churches in England are the equal of Barfreston, so that's a bit unfair as well! Suffice it to say that if you enjoy Norman architecture or simply historic churches in general, you will find Patrixbourne an experience to treasure.
SOUTH DOORWAY PHOTOS
THE PRIEST'S DOOR
Address: Patrixbourne Road, Patrixbourne, Kent, England, CT4 5BP
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: In the centre of Patrixbourne village. Very limited parking along the main road! Normally open daylight hours.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Canterbury, St Martin - 2.6 miles (Historic Church)
Conduit House - 2.6 miles (Historic Building)
St Augustine's Abbey - 2.7 miles (Abbey)
Ickham, St John the Evangelist Church - 2.7 miles (Historic Church)
Fyndon Gate - 2.8 miles (Historic Building)
Canterbury Cathedral - 2.9 miles (Cathedral)
Canterbury, St Mary Magdalene - 2.9 miles (Historic Church)
Fordwich, St Mary's Church - 2.9 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to Patrixbourne: