The Oldest Church in England: St Martin’s Church Canterbury

The Oldest Church in England

If you’re looking for a bit of history and culture whilst in Canterbury, be sure to visit the oldest church in England: St Martin’s.

This beautiful church has been standing since the year 597 AD, and is well worth a visit if you’re interested in learning more about England’s religious past. It’s a ten minute walk from other popular tourist destinations in Canterbury, making it easy to fit into your sightseeing itinerary.

Why visit St Martin’s in Canterbury

Canterbury was once the capital of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Kent. As well as being the oldest church in England, St Martin’s forms part of Canterbury’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Canterbury World Heritage Site

In 1988 Canterbury was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its cultural and historical significance. This site encompasses three religious sites dotted around Canterbury:

  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • St. Augustine’s Abbey
  • St. Martin’s Church.
Canterbury World Heritage Site map

The History of St Martin’s Church

A 10 minute walk from Canterbury Cathedral is the Church of St Martin, the oldest church in the entire English speaking world.

The Oldest Church in England St Martin’s Church Canterbury
Photochrom Print Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You can still see the original roman temple structure from when it was first built in 597 AD.

The story of the church’s origins is quite a romantic one. In 580 AD, Bertha, a Christian princess from Tours in France married Ethelbert of Kent who was a pagan Anglo-Saxon. She married Ethelbert on the condition she could continue to practice her own religion and had a place of worship.

This led Ethelbert to build St Martin’s for Queen Bertha as a private chapel for worship. Ethelbert later became king of Kent and eventually converted to Christianity himself.

St Martin’s Church has been altered and extended in the 6th, 7th and 14th centuries but the southern wall retains its Roman fabric.

Entrance to St Martin's Church in Canterbury
St Martin’s, Canterbury

There is plenty of information within this cute church and usually a volunteer who can answer any questions you might have about the building.

The church has been meticulously preserved and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in England.

When was the first church in England built?

The first church in England was built in the year 597 AD by Augustine of Canterbury.

Which Cathedral is the oldest in England?

Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in England, and was founded in the year 597 AD. The cathedral is located in the city centre of Canterbury and is home to numerous important religious artefacts.

The exterior of the cathedral is made of stone, with several large stained glass windows. inside, there are several carved stone walls and pillars.

Can you visit the oldest church in England?

Absolutely! Keep reading to find out how.

Visiting St Martin’s in Canterbury

Opening times:
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays: 11am to 3pm.
Saturdays: 11am to 4pm
Sunday mornings: 9.45am to 10.30am (following the 9am service)

St Martin’s Church ticket cost: Free / Donations welcome.

Address: St Martin’s Church Canterbury Address

Visiting Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral Gate
Canterbury Cathedral Gate

Canterbury Cathedral is an absolutely fascinating place to walk around. As well as being the being site of Thomas Beckett’s murder, a top highlight was simply wandering around the grounds.

Cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral

Remains from the monastery include a brewery, bakery, herb garden and water tower.

Canterbury Cathedral Grounds
Canterbury Cathedral Grounds

Opening times:
Weekdays (Monday to Friday) 10:30*, 12:00 and 14:00 (14:30 Summer) hrs
Saturday 10:30, 12:00 and 13:00 hrs

Ticket Cost: £12.50 for 12 months entry.
Tours are £5 and are worth it as there is not a lot of information available. There are also knowledgeable volunteers dotted around inside.

Address: Canterbury Cathedral

Visiting St. Augustine’s Abbey

St Augustine’s Abbey was one of the first monasteries established in England. Founded in 597 AD by St Augustine, the Abbey quickly became a centre of learning and pilgrimage.

St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury
St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

Visitors can explore the ruins of the Abbey church, which was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. You can also learn about the history of the Abbey and see some of the original manuscripts and relics.

Opening times: Everyday 10am – 5pm.

Ticket Cost: £6.90

Book tickets: English Heritage

Address: St. Augustine’s Abbey

How to get from London to Canterbury

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of London, Canterbury is the perfect place to go. Just a short train ride from the city, this quaint town is full of history and charm. Here’s how to make the most of your trip.

Traveling from London to Canterbury by Train

The most common way to make the journey is by train, which takes around an hour and a half to two hours depending on which train you catch.

Price: From £11.60 one way

Departure address: London Victoria Train Station

Tickets: Book on the Trainline

Traveling from London to Canterbury by Bus

National Express offers service from London Victoria Coach Station to Canterbury. The journey takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. There are multiple pick-up times throughout the day.

Price: From £6.90 one way

Departure address: London Victoria Coach Station

Tickets: Book on the National Rail website

Traveling from London to Canterbury by Car

Canterbury is located about 80 miles southeast of London and the journey takes just over an hour.

If you’re looking to learn more about the history of Christianity in England, a visit to St. Martin’s is a must. The beautiful architecture and peaceful atmosphere make it a perfect place to reflect on the history of the place. Don’t miss out – make sure you add St. Martin’s Cathedral to your list of things to do in Canterbury!

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