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St Leonards Church, Hythe

St Leonards Church, HytheSt Leonards Church in Hythe is sited on a steep hill that overlooks the town. It is famous for the bone ossuary that contains approximately 8,000 thigh bones and over 500 skulls. These bones and skulls probably come from the grave yard surrounding the church. The church itself was originally of Norman construction, built around 1090. It has been expanded several times since then and is quite a large building. The size of a town’s church provides and indication of a town’s importance, or at least wealth. Hythe was once one of the Cinque Ports, but coastal changes silted the port up. It suffered the same fate as Hastings, Pevensey and Rye.

Church of St Leonard

Hythe is sited on the edge of Romney Marsh, on the foot of the North Downs. It was a strategically important area. The Military Canal terminates close to the town, there are two castles at Lympne and Saltwood, as well as three martello towers. So the St Leonards Church is large, and beautiful inside. The memorials on the walls inside tell the stories of local heroes and important families.

St Leonards Church

Here you can see the architecture inside. The sun shining through the stained glass windows was creating a coloured pattern on the stone frame work. Back to the bones. It’s thought the bones range in age from the time the church was first built up to around 1,300 when the church was partially rebuilt. The bone ossuary is at the rear of the church. The ossuary has windows and was well lit. A kindly old man was present to take a donation and provide some information. Not scary at all. It is odd to see all the bones stacked up however, knowing that these were once part of people. Looking at their skulls you wonder what they looked like, and who they were. The skulls don’t give you answers though, they just silently stare back at you.

Each of these photographs can be viewed larger on my Flickr account by clicking on them.

Bone Ossuary

One response to “St Leonards Church, Hythe”

  1. Ro avatar

    Thank you for a thoughtful and compassionate history. So many times people want to gawp at bones for the sensationalism, but in this case you have really indicated that these were living people, who each had lives, loves and hopes. “As they are, so shall we be!”
    Well done for downplaying the gruesome side of things and focussing on the humanity

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