THE CHURCH OF St MARY THE VIRGIN

St Mary the Virgin Church, Fordwich
The parish church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the Norman period, although it retains traces of its Saxon origins.

It was extended in the late 12th century by the addition of a north aisle and again a hundred years later when the chancel was lengthened and a west tower added.

The Augustine Stone, Fordwich
In the north aisle is the "Augustine Stone", a carved tombstone-cover dated to about 1100.

It has been in the church since at least 1760, but its origins are mysterious. It may once have formed part of the tomb of a saint, and there is a widely believed tradition that it covered the tomb of St Augustine himself. If this is true the stone could not have been contemporary, as he died in AD 604. But its age suggests that it may have been part of his tomb in the Abbey in the post-Conquest era, when Augustine's cult was actively promoted.
Also in the north aisle and dating from the 12th century is the large font. Its standard Norman design with blank arcaded sides may be seen reproduced in many other local churches. The plain oak cover was added in the 17th century.
The large windows on the south side of the church were inserted into the earlier walls in the 14th century and, miraculously, some of the original stained glass survives.

There are numerous memorials to townspeople of Fordwich. Perhaps the most affecting is the beautiful brass in the central aisle commemorating the brief life of a young woman, Aphra Hawkins:

Here lieth The Body of Aphra HAWKINS, Wyfe of Henry Hawkins, Gent, and Daughter of Thomas NORTON, Esq. who scarcely having arrived to 21 Years of Age, fully attained to Perfection in many Vertues departed this frayle Lyfe ye XVIth of Janu. 1605/6.
Built into the wooden screen at the base of the tower is a rare bread shelf. Here loaves for distribution to the poor would be placed each week, paid for under the will of Thomas Bigg (d.1669). This, and other benefactions to the town are described on the adjacent large boards. The charitable benefactions are maintained by Fordwich United Charities (see "Other Organisations").

Over the chancel arch is the magnificent Royal Arms of 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution and the accession to the throne of William and Mary.
Large box pews were installed in the 18th century and the church re-floored with handmade clay tiles. Very little work was done to the church by the Victorians, an omission which modern visitors regard as a blessing.

A 20th century addition to the church is the east window, an Annunciation by Martin Travers which commemorates a long-serving Rector, the Rev Richard Hitchcock (d. 1931). The lining of the Archangel Gabriel's cloak features a pattern that appears to resemble the mural in Watergate House, which served as the Rectory from 1850 to 1947.

Since 1995 the church has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It is open to visitors on most days, and is used by the community for its annual Civic Service in November and a Christmas carol service.