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Bertha founds St. Martin's

Bertha and Aethelbert

From Pope Gregory I, to Queen Bertha of Kent: "the nation of the Angles through the zeal of your Glory".

Short version of the history for those without context: In the sixth century, Bertha was a Merovingian princess who married Aethelbert, king of Kent, whose capital was Canterbury. She brought her priest with her, and she converted Aethelbert (and by proxy, Kent) to Christianity. She restored a Roman (?church ?temple), St. Martin's, as her place of worship. Thanks to her efforts, when Gregory sent Augustine to convert the Angles, he had a warm welcome and was given land to found what became St. Augustine's monastery. That's Bertha's hand in the foreground, showing her establishing the religion "here", with Aethelbert in the background.



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 28th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
I had no idea this would turn out to be a public service announcement for you! Bertha and Aethelbert. I walk by them en route to campus so have had ample opportunity to see them up close.

(It occurs to me: as a Kentish person, do you know who Bertha and Aethelbert are? I didn't want to elaborate unnecessarily.)

Edited at 2010-01-28 04:59 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 28th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
I find it really funny that I'm an Essex girl. (Not that I've been here all that long. I still identify most strongly as an Iowan.)
Jan. 28th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
Well, geographically speaking you're a person of Kent, aren't you? :-)

(Although I identify as a native Londoner, my birth certificate was issued by the County of Kent, as I was born in Beckenham Hospital, not yet then part of London-- making me a Kentish Man on paper)
Jan. 28th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
St Martin's definitely does seem to have been a Roman church - it seems to have been the right shape.

In recent centuries far too little attention has been paid to the role of royal women in spreading Christianity by influencing their husbands; Bertha followed Clothilde's example, and the same happened in Northumbria. Medieval writers gave them a lot more credit than 19th and 20th century writers did.

(And I'm still puzzled by why Clothilde was Catholic in the first place; apart from her sister all the rest of her family seem to have been Arian. Maybe there's some truth in a suggestion I found, but couldn't track down, that their mother was from the Roman nobility)
Jan. 28th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC)
Interesting! I do hope to make it inside the church one day. It's right by campus, but the one time I had spare time to go visit, it turned out to be a day it's closed. (It's only open about half the days of the week.)

I see it's open on Thursdays. Oh good. That means I can finally see its interior next week.

I've been really pleased to learn more about Bertha by being around Canterbury, but I don't know a whole lot about her quasi-contemporary conversion queens.
Jan. 28th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
What would count as "more attention"? It's been a cliché of the conversion of England all my life.
Jan. 28th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
Checking a few bits of bibliography, it seems that, whilst there's clearly a lot of reused Roman material in St Martin's, it's a lot less clear that any of the structural fabric is that old. What's there now is mostly probably seventh-century, with later alterations, possibly around an earlier building (the present chancel) which dates back to Bertha's time. The east wall of this building could date back in origin to Roman times, but this is by no means certain.

That said, there's no reason why it can't be on the site of a Roman building dating from the third or fourth century. This could have been a church (there's certainly evidence for Christianity in Canterbury in the Roman period), or it could have been another building (there are cemeteries not too far away, so it's been suggested it might be a mausoleum; personally I doubt it was originally a pagan temple, though it's not impossible). But there's no good reason archaeologically to say that it was; that depends on the identification of this building with Bertha's St Martin's, and the assumption that Bede was correct when he said that Bertha restored a building from Roman times. Again, no good reason to disbelieve either, but there's no positive evidence.
Jan. 28th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
Reading's oldest church, St. Mary's Butts [*] owes its existence to a much less admirable queen, Aelfthryth (or Elfrida), who had her stepson Edward (as in "Edward King and Martyr") murdered at Corfe Castle in the 900s, and was forced to fond a nunnery there as part of her penitence.

[*] No giggling: "The Butts" was the site of legally-mandated archery practice in what was then the centre of the town.
Jan. 29th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
This is a beautiful memorial! I love the hand. What does her face look like?
Jan. 29th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
Here you go:

Queen Bertha of Kent

Jan. 29th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
That's a really nice photo you took! Somehow, I missed seeing the statues of Bertha and Augustine when we were in Canterbury in November. But we did go to see (Bertha's) church of Saint Martin, just down the road from your campus. I don't believe that there is anything left of the original Roman church. But there is a nice brochure in the current church that delineates the different phases of building.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )