A History of St. Martin of Tours Church in Guston
The Church is dedicated to St Martin of Tours, one of the Patron saints of France, preceding St Joan of Arc by many centuries. He was probably born in 316 AD, in what is now Hungary, then part of the Roman Empire. He was the son of a Roman Army Officer and followed his father into the Army when he was old enough to do so. However, at the age of 20, his life was dramatically changed when, on seeing a beggar freezing in the cold, he cut his Army cloak in two and shared it with the poor man. That night, in a dream, Martin saw Christ as the beggar whom he had helped. Martin converted to Christianity and refused to continue in the Army, although, in order to rebut the charge of cowardice, he offered to stand alone and unarmed between the Roman and enemy lines. Perhaps fortunately, he was not put to the test and so lived to continue his new work preaching, first in Italy and then in Gaul, modern day France, and devoting his life to Christ as a hermit. He was eventually given land for a hermitage at Ligugé near Tours, and he was elected Bishop of Tours in 372 AD. He continued to live in a monastic cell near his cathedral, and later at nearby Marmoutier, until his death in 397 AD. Such was the respect in which he was held that his shrine at Tours soon became a major centre of pilgrimage and many towns and villages in France to this day bear his name, taken from the dedication of their local church. From his generosity in sharing his cloak, he has been taken as the patron saint of innkeepers, so that for Guston, it is perhaps appropriate that we hold our Harvest Supper in the Chance Inn.
However, going back to the 16th Century, the effects of the Protestant Reformation may not have been all to the good in Guston. During the brief period of the return of the Catholic faith during Mary’s reign, the record of the Visitation by Archdeacon Nicholas Harpesfield on the morning of Monday 16th August 1557 reports a state of sad neglect. There was no vicar or vicar’s house, the curacy was vacant, and ‘Master Craford had the parsonage in farm and receiveth great gain’’, which probably means that the income from the land endowed to the church to maintain the curate had been taken over by this Mr Craford and diverted to his own enrichment. The church also showed signs of neglect. The Archdeacon required repairs to ‘the chancel of tile and glass by All Hallows, with timber work.’ There was no mass book, nor altar even, and the font needed a lock and key for its cover, all no doubt sold off during the latter stages of Protestant reform under Mary’s brother, Edward VI. The Archdeacon also instructed that ‘a veil and covering cloth for the rood be provided before Lent’ and that the new altar should have ‘an altar frontal and curtains before Christmas’. The reference to curtains suggests that this is to revive the old pre-Reformation canon law that by the altar should be, suitably curtained, statues of the Virgin Mary and the Patron saint, in this case St Martin.
One other entry in this Visitation gives us a glimpse of what the church might have looked like in pre-Reformation days. The parish is to ‘provide a framework of candles for the sepulchre’ and ‘provide a streamer for when it be occupied’. The sepulchre was used in the liturgy of Holy Week, when Christ was symbolically entombed in the form of the Sacred Host that had been consecrated on Maundy Thursday. The streamer would then be placed outside the tomb until Easter day, when the liturgical drama from the Vulgate text : "Quid quaeritis viventem cum mortuis? Non est hic sed surrexit’ -'Why seekest thou the living amongst the dead/ He is not here, he has risen.') was enacted, to convey the importance of Christ’s resurrection. The sepulchre was one of the many examples of medieval piety that were largely swept away in the Reformation, but elaborate examples remain in Hawton (Notts) and Heckington (Lincs). One example of a sepulchre that gives us a possible clue to the use of the recess on the south wall of the chancel is that in St Giles, Cheadle (Staffs). This church was the reconstruction by the architect Pugin of his ideal of a medieval church, and the form of the sepulchre there does have echoes of this recess, which like Pugin’s, may have been similarly decorated with a painting of the resurrection. We can also grasp from this a little of the facility with which the Medieval mind, in a way that is almost lost to us today, could penetrate the veil between this world and the next. Through Christ they knew themselves to be united with the Church in Heaven, where he was enthroned in glory, and at the same time present in the Host in their sepulchre, thanks to what the Prayer Book still calls even now ‘these holy mysteries’.
No numbers for communicants were given in the 1557 Visitation, which, in view of the lack of mass book and altar is perhaps not surprising, but by 1588, there were said to be 38 communicants, and since religious practice was almost universal, that gives us some idea of the number of adults in the village. Guston was, however, as a Parish exempt from Archdeacon’s Visitations once Mary’s return to the earlier ways had been ended, following her succession by her sister, Elizabeth I; hence further such reports are lacking. There was a Commissary’s Visitation of Exempt Parishes on 25th November 1561, seeking to determine if the protestant reforms had been re-instituted, and we read that Guston certified that the parish had complied with the Commissary’s requirements. These requirements focused on finding out if churches had pulled down the rood loft and if the newly required parish reading had been provided, in this case probably homilies by Calvin; however it is not clear whether Guston had complied with both, or, in view of the small size of the church and since it might well not have had room for a rood loft, the gallery by the crucifix over the entry to the chancel, it was simply a question of having bought the homilies. At the Restoration of Charles II in the mid-17th Century, which brought the 1662 Prayer Book that is still in use today, there were 39 communicants and the stipend had risen to £10: by way of comparison, as we start the 21st Century, the Church has 14 on its electoral roll of communicants, and the Quota, which is the Parish share of stipend, and other Diocesan costs, is £1,600 per annum.
St Martin is also, not surprisingly in view of his early career, held to be the patron saint of soldiers, and his festival day is the 11th November, which is also Remembrance Day. The Frankish Kings preserved his cloak (in Latin - Cappella) as a sacred relic that was carried before them into battle. The cloak was kept in a sanctuary in the care of cappellani, or chaplains, and the word chapel came to be extended to any building being used for worship, which was not a church - again a link to our church in Guston, when it was a chapel for the Archbishops of Canterbury.
The Doomsday Book, William of Normandy's record of the England which he had recently conquered, refers to Guston as Gocistone, part of the possessions of the Canons of St Martin, and in view of its proximity to the Roman Road from Dover to Richborough, it is not surprising that the settlement here would have been well developed by Saxon times. The Church may have Saxon origins, but the present building dates from about 1097, contemporary with the Norman development of Dover Castle. The full entry of 1086 reads thus:
“Lands of the Canons of St Martin of Dover. In Guston Wulfric holds 1 yoke (of oxen)and there he has a villan (higher status peasant) and 1 bordar (lower status peasant)with 1 plough (unit of ploughland) . To this land belong 25 acres of land in Cornillo Hundred (near Eastry) and there are 5 bordars with half a plough. All together it is worth 20 s (shillings) : TRE 10s. (Tempore Regis Edwardi; i.e. pre-Conquest). Alric held it as a prebend. (income to support one of the canons of St Martin, Dover).”
[By way of comparison with Guston being rated as worth 20 shillings (£1) that of the Archbishop of Canterbury was £1,750.]
After the Norman conquest, Guston belonged to the Augustinian Canons of St Martin, Dover, but about the time of King Henry I, ownership was passed to the Benedictine’s who took over St Martin’s as a Priory, a dependency of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. There is an Act of Archbishop Stephen Langton dated July 1227 that confirms this ownership, and about 1377 a record for Richard II reports ‘the abbot’s land at Gonstone was 109 acres of pasture’. The chancel of the chapel in the manor would have enabled those monks working locally to maintain their round of daily services and in addition, the nave would have provided the local inhabitants with a parish church. A tax return for the Papal dues of 1291 shows the value of the church as £10 and the vicarage as £3/6/8d. (For information on Dover Priory click here )
Prior to Henry VIII's dissolution of the Monasteries, his Chancellor Cromwell’s report on the state and condition of the monasteries, the Valor Ecclesiasticus, reported that the Manor and Spiritualities of Guston were still owned by St Martin’s Priory, and this was eventually surrendered to the Crown in 1535. On 31st July 1538, the King passed (sold?) ownership to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who was later to become one of the first martyrs of the Anglican Church when he was burnt at the stake by Henry's successor, Mary. From that time, though, the church was classed as a Chapel, with the Archbishop of Canterbury having the right of nominating a "perpetual curate" with a stipend of £4 and to this day, the Patrons of the church with the right to nominate the parish priest are the Archbishop and the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral.