St. Mary the Virgin, Reculver - Church History and Background
Standing in the Churchyard, at the eastern end looking north-east and south-east
respectively you can see the locations of two 3rd Century Roman forts; Regulbium
(Reculver) and Rutupiae (Richborough). It was at Reculver some 400 years later that
an early Christian chantry (monk's chapel) was established by St Augustine's pilgrims
from Rome, whose mission it was to plant a church on the pagan isles of Britain.
The well known church by the sea, also dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, with it's
two distinctive towers was the product of 12th Century Christian church building
fervour and incorporated the earlier Saxon remains. This lasted up to 1809 when the
church authorities decreed that it should be demolished and rebuilt inland. The towers
have been kept as a navigational mark and sea defences added at various times in
recent years to try and avoid their collapse into the sea.
The present site of the church, on the hill a safe mile or so inland, was chosen
for it's aspect overlooking the Reculver marshes. With its two forts at either end,
the extensive River Wantsum once flowed here, allowing trade shipping direct into
the City of Canterbury, the home of the Mother church of the Anglican Communion.
Picture of the present St. Mary’s church.
The first church, poorly built in 1810, only lasted about 60 years. The present church
was consecrated in 1878 and is the second structure on the chosen site. It is a simple
and relatively plain building with seating for just a hundred or so. Obviously it
is way off-centre as far as Beltinge is concerned, but the beautiful and quiet site
adjoining the school more than makes up for this.
Picture of a carved head from the original St. Mary’s church.
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church's boundaries encompass the eastern part of Beltinge
including Bishopstone, Hillborough and Reculver itself. Eastwards, the boundary extends
to the River Wantsum across the marshes and southwards to the railway line and the
Thanet Way (A299), abutting the parishes of Chislet and St. Nicholas at Wade, Herne
and Hoath. To the west, the boundary is adjacent to that of St. Bartholomew, Herne
St. Mary and St. Bartholomew, together with Holy Cross Hoath, operate as a 'United
Benefice' (two or more parishes functioning as a combined single unit under the ministry
of one vicar and clergy/lay team). All three are parishes in their own right, each
with an active Parochial Church Council (PCC).
St. Mary's has a fine organ installed by F.H. Browne and Sons (Organ Builders Ltd)
of Ash, near Canterbury, in 1955. The Organist and Choir Director is John Sinclair.
Singing is led by a small robed choir of mainly adults but younger members are always
welcome. For special occasions the choir is often augmented by singers from St. Bartholomew,
Holy Cross and other local churches who are interested in choral singing.
Children take great delight in looking for the carved "church mice" on the oak organ
casing (the organ maker's trademark).
We are delighted that a recent fund-raising initiative has enabled us to carry out
some modern ‘improvements’ to the existing organ, adding digital enhancements to
sound and capability. On December 5th 2010, Dr David Flood (Organist and Choir Master
of Canterbury Cathedral) will give a concert to demonstrate the newly enhanced organ.
St Mary’s church organ.
Although the Church was consecrated in 1878, the stained glass is not particularly
old (none of the glass from the old church by the sea survived). The oldest windows
are the two on the north side - one depicting The Virgin Mary and one St. John the
Evangelist. These were installed in 1903. The east windows were commissioned in 1924
and depict St. Augustine (founder of the first chantry at Reculver) and St. Nicholas
(patron saint of seafarers) recalling the long history of Reculver Towers as a navigation
mark. A superb window in the sanctuary to the left of the altar was donated in 1935
and depicts the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his association with animals and
St Mary’s church windows.
The churchyard has many old memorial gravestones to past members of the parish and
a number of these stones are well weathered owing to the exposed nature of the location.
In recent years, there have been fewer burials and they now take place within close
proximity to the eastern border fence and in family plots. Cremation has now become
more popular and there are two Gardens of Remembrance by the entrance to the church
with a third planned. There are further memorials in the church, some dating back
to the 17th Century. Others are more modern and include tapestry, furniture, candlesticks,
lanterns, altar and lectern frontals, given in memory of loved ones.
Reculver C.E. Primary School (Controlled)
There has always been a strong link with the primary school, which is a Church of
England controlled school. During term time, the Vicar regularly takes a morning
assembly and St. Mary's church is made available for children and staff to use as
a teaching resource. Each year a Leavers' Service is held when each child is presented
with a Bible from the United Benefice.
The school premises are often made available to the church for social functions and
larger meetings. The school car park is usually available for church parking on Sundays
and for Weddings held at the weekend. At present, there are three foundation governors
appointed by the Parochial Church Council of St. Mary's Church, the Diocesan Board
of Education and the Vicar, who is an ex-officio governor.