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Stone Chapel

Stone Chapel is the ruined Church of Our Lady of Elwarton of Roman and Saxon origin. It lies in a copse 100 yards north of the A2 about 1/2 mile west of Ospringe. It is open at all times.

Stone Chapel today

Though it fell into decay more than 400 years ago, Stone Chapel is a unique church building, the only one in England known to incorporate the remains of a pagan shrine or mausoleum.

Roman work can clearly be seen and details of the building are given on a display board (see below).

The Church of Our Lady of Elwarton

The remains of the ruined church of Our Lady of Elwarton lie at the bottom of Syndale Valley, beneath Judd hill and Beacon Hill, close to where a stream once ran. From the road or from the railway to the north there appears to be just a group of crumbling remains set at the edge of a small copse in the middle of a field, and of no particular significance.

 

The church has not been in use since sometime in the 16th century. The date at which it was abandoned is uncertain, but the records of a visitation in 1511 indicate it was in a state of disrepair at that time and bequests during the early years of the 16th century indicate repairs to the fabric continued to be necessary. It is most likely the church was not used at all after the Reformation.

Stone ChapelG. W. Meates, reporting on one of the several excavations at the site, recorded that buttresses were added to the north wall of the nave during the 13th century because wooden beams had rotted; this suggests the building was based on an earlier structure already old by that time. Saxon and Roman remains found during Meates’s excavation in 1967 indicate a long period of use at the site, spanning more than a thousand years.

The remains consist of walls standing about three feet above ground level, somewhat higher at the east end. The walls enclose three distinct areas; the nave to the west, the sanctuary to the east and a section linking the two. The walls of the nave and the sanctuary are mainly of flint bonded with a mortar rich with broken seashells. The construction of the centre section is quite different; the walls here rest on a foundation of flint and consist of layers of tufa blocks, each around a foot square, separated by a double layer of red brick an inch thick. This construction is typically Roman and Meates’s discovery of Roman coins dating from the 3rd and early 4th centuries AD confirms this section as Roman in origin. The size and nature of the foundations revealed during the excavation suggest this was a mausoleum. The building was windowless with a barrel vaulted roof and a stout door with megalithic stone frame. Stones which formed the door frame can still be seen, re-used in the 13th century buttresses. The cill of the door is still in situ.

The site is now somewhat remote from habitation, though a road ran to the north of the church until the early part of the 19th century. In Roman times, however, the area was quite heavily populated. There was probably a Roman camp on Judd Hill and a cemetery of substantial size has been found a few hundred yards to the east of the church. A number of Roman artefacts have also been found in the field in which the church stands. The Itinerary of Antonius places the Roman station Durolevum 16 miles from Rochester and 9 or 12 miles from Canterbury. It is quite possible, but so far unproved, that the site on Judd Hill is this station.

In AD 601 Pope Gregory directed St.Augustine not to destroy pagan buildings, but to adapt them for Christian use. King Ethelbert of Kent allowed St.Augustine to build and repair churches in the area. It is tempting to think that this little church at Stone is one of the churches St.Augustine converted, but there is no proof that the fabric is of this early a date. As it is, the remains are a unique record of the adaptation of a pagan Roman building for Christian use and are preserved for that reason.

Plan of Stone Chapel

Stone Chapel plan

Key
Stone Chapel plan key

Stone Chapel is an Ancient Monument managed by The Faversham Society at the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, from which more information can be obtained.

 

Alternatively you can e-mail the Warden:
Clive Foreman  cliveandjean@tiscali.co.uk