The rather unusually named Church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe is the old Parish Church of Folkestone and stands high up on the cliffs overlooking the English Channel. The present Church dates back to the early 13th Century although very little of this original structure survives.
There had been other religious buildings in this vicinity as far back as 630 A.D. when the Father of Saint Eanswythe, King Eadbald of Kent, the son of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha had a Chapel built within the outer walls of his castle which was located to the East of the present Church.This chapel was dedicated to St Peter & St Paul. Here Eanswythe settled with a community of nuns as Abbess and Founder of the First religious Community for women in England. This Chapel was destroyed either by the Danes or by the erosion of the cliffs in 640 AD, the year that St. Eanswythe died.
In 927AD, a second church with chapel was built by King Aethelstan, although the site is not certain. It was destroyed, possibly by Earl Godwin of Kent as part of his running battle with King Edward the Confessor. In 1095 Nigel de Muneville and his wife Emma founded a priory for Benedictine monks upon a clifftop, which in 1138 was considered unsafe. A new church was built outside the Castle by William d'Averanches and dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe. This is the foundation of the present church. The relics of St Eanswythe were brought to the new church, which was destroyed by fire in 1216. A new church was built in 1220, which was extended in 1236 with the addition of windows ad a high altar. In the 15th Century the roof was raised to the two chapels either side of the chancel, a central tower and the font added.
In 1535 the primary surrendered. The number of monks had always been small and the history of the community in the 15th century is none too glorious. It is said that the stone from the primary buildings provided the stonework for King Henry VIII's Castle at Sandgate.
Part of the Nave collapsed in the Great Storm of 1705. The building was only patched up because it was felt that the cliff top would become unstable and that like some of its predecessors slide into the sea. Matthew Woodward was made vicar in 1851 and 47 years of restoration and adornment began, all in the high church tradition. Not everything remains. Much of the decoration of the walls deteriorated, including one of the murals, but what does remain makes the church a Victorian showpiece.
In the churchyard is a Victorian cross, restored in 1897, which stands on the original medieval steps. It was here, on the 8th of September each year that the Mayor was elected by the Freemen of the Town, who were all paid six pence each for their participation. The Cross is still used for the announcement of major proclamations.
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