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Kent Queen Bertha picbanner.jpg
Diocese of Canterbury
Kent Queen Bertha pic.jpg
Diocese of Canterbury
World News

New Camino honours women pivotal to Christianity in Kent

by Donna Birrell

A new pilgrimage route highlighting the role of royal women in Kent who were crucial to the development of Christianity in England is being launched. The route, known as the Royal Kentish Camino connects churches in Canterbury, Lyminge, and Folkestone.

The start of the pilgrimage is at St Martin’s Church in Canterbury, and celebrates Bertha who prayed with St Augustine in her private chapel on the site, laying the foundation for the conversion of Kent to Christianity. Bertha was pivotal to her pagan husband King Ethelbert accepting Christianity and together they established the first Christian royal family in England.

Midway along the route is St Mary & St Ethelburga Church, Lyminge, where recent excavations uncovered the remains of a church, dated to the time of Queen Ethelburga, daughter of Bertha. These stone foundations are evidence for what is acknowledged as one of the first Christian communities in England. Ethelburga is celebrated for beginning, with her husband King Edwin, the conversion of the North of England to Christianity. She later returned to Kent to live at Lyminge after Edwin was killed in battle.

The end of the route is at St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone. The church is dedicated to Bertha’s granddaughter, and Ethelburga’s niece, Princess Eanswythe, who is recorded as founding a very early Christian community at Folkestone. Human bones were discovered hidden in the church wall in the 19th century which have been scientifically analysed. They are of a well-nourished young woman and date to the time of St Eanswythe, making them most probably her bones preserved as relics in the church she founded since the time of her death. This is the only church in the British Isles known to have retained the relics of its founding Saint, and her shrine provides a fitting end to this new pilgrimage celebrating the foundational achievements of three generations of Royal Kentish Women who had once been forgotten.

Talking about the Royal Kentish Camino, St Martin’s Senior Visitor Host Jessica Morris said: “This new pilgrimage route is important in uniting three long forgotten Christian women. Here at St Martin’s, we hope that people will enjoy this Camino whether it be to connect to the centuries of prayer within our walls or to explore the rich history that Kent, and these churches, have to offer”.

Also involved is Rob Baldwin, Chair of Lyminge Historical Society, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, who further added: “Our new Camino offers a chance to explore some fabulous countryside while reflecting on the significant achievements of three powerful women who were pioneers of their faith fourteen centuries ago when it was still very new in England. We are delighted to create the opportunity for pilgrims of all faiths and none to follow literally in their footsteps."

Jenny Coleman, treasurer and PCC member at St Mary & St Eanswythe Church stated that the church felt honoured to have in their care the bones of St Eanswythe. Coleman went on to say that “we are looking forward to welcoming pilgrims from everywhere to our beautiful church to learn more about our matronal saint, as well as our sister churches on the Camino".

The pilgrimage launches on Saturday 27 April 2024 and more information can be found on the Lyminge Parish Council Website.

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