Finding Eanswythe: the life and afterlife of an Anglo-Saxon Saint
An exciting new project for Kent starting 2018. Canterbury Christ Church University will be working with local communities to recover an endangered ancient heritage and to bring people together to explore our shared past.
‘The whole story of Kentish Christianity, which is so important a part of the history of Anglo-Saxon England, is embodied in this young woman’s bones’ (Dr Eleanor Parker, University of Oxford).
This is a community-led project about a nationally important heritage story. Our project spans 1400 years, and focuses on the life and legacy of a remarkable young woman, St Eanswythe, a Kentish royal saint and the granddaughter of Ethelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity under Augustine. Eanswythe is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England (c.630AD) on the Bayle, the historic centre of Folkestone. Over the centuries a rich heritage ‘afterlife’ has developed around the site and its saint, including a number of intriguing mysteries: the buried course of an ancient aqueduct built to carry water from the downlands to the minster, a lost chapel, and the extraordinary survival of St Eanswythe’s relics, carefully concealed at the time of the Reformation in a Roman lead casket only to be rediscovered in the 19th century.
This fascinating ancient heritage is ‘hiding in plain sight’ [Beda: a Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede], overshadowed by a modern high-street and rarely visited, with almost no public awareness of its significance; it can be traced in the remains of ancient buildings, the surrounding landscape, folklore, and sources as diverse as manuscripts, superb Victorian art, and local traditions; together these unite local, regional, and national history. Unfortunately, much of this heritage is not well understood and is now in imminent risk from vandalism, pollution, development, and lack of awareness and engagement. Finding Eanswythe invites specialists and community to work together to explore and protect this valuable national heritage before it is too late.