Devil’s Door of Old St James the Apostle Church, Hubert Passage, Dover, Kent, UK

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John Latter on September 17, 2009

The blocked North Door of Old St James Church viewed from Hubert Passage, Dover, UK.

In early church history it was common for the north door of a church to be known as the "Devil's Door" which would be opened briefly during Christenings to allow 'evil spirits' to escape, thereby protecting the child. The north side of a church used to be associated with the Devil because it was always in shadow and also because pre-Christians considerd the north to be of religious significance.

From, "Shepherds' crowns, fairy loaves and thunderstones: the mythology of fossil echinoids in England" by Kenneth J. McNamara (Geological Society of London, Special Publications - subscription required):

"In medieval and earlier times this [the north side] was known as the Devil's side of the church. A small door, known as the Devil's Door, was frequently set into this northern wall (Tysack 1899). During the early period of the Christian church, those who still clung to the old pagan beliefs could enter the church through this door, for many still wanted to continue to worship at the old pagan sites that the Christians had built over " [My italics].

The north door was used either as a means of deliberately segregating these heathens from the Christian believers, or perhaps as a way for Pagans to identify with others of a similar belief, by entering the church by this door"

A continuation of psychological superstition can perhaps be seen in the way the Devil's Door of Old St James Church has been blocked up. The inclusion, layout, and orientation of what look to be recycled early Norman carved stones from disused but untainted parts of the church (and the more 'holy', the better) may have served an additional purpose: that of providing a 'lucky charm' to ward off any Demonic attempt to enter through what otherwise might be seen as a weakness in the fabric of the church itself - "well and truly sealed".

Mind you, perhaps I should try and find out exactly when the door was sealed before indulging in such speculations... :)

Old St James Church was destroyed during the Second World War and the ruins are now a memorial to the people of Dover who suffered between 1939 and 1945 (see 'Standard Info' below).

Click to see all photos of Old St James Church.

Standard Info (from an information plaque inside St James'):

St James' Church, known locally as 'the Tidy Ruin' was founded in Saxon times and is probably one of the Dover churches mentioned in the Domesday Book.

It was used not only as a Church but also by the Barons of the Cinque Ports for several of their official Courts until 1851. The Court of Shepway, the governing body of the Cinque Ports, met here under the Lord Warden, as did, from 1526, the Court of Lodemanage, the body which licensed Cinque Ports Pilots. The last meeting here took place in 1851 with the Duke of Wellington [1] presiding as Lord Warden.

By 1860 a larger Church was needed and with the opening of New St James' in 1862 the old Church fell into disuse for some years, until it was restored in 1869.

The church was virtually destroyed in the Second World War by German shells fired from France. The large front doors and the original Lord Wardens Bench were taken out and given to Dover Museum where they can still be seen. After the war, in 1948, the ruins of the church were not demolished but kept as a commemorative monument to the people of Dover who, like the church, suffered greatly from the bombs and long-range guns of the 1939-1945 War.

The White Horse Inn next door to the church on the other side of Hubert Passage is said to date back to about 1300, although most of the building visible today dates from the 18th Century.

St James' Street, of which little now remains, ran from the Church to the Market Square. It was one of Dover's busiest thoroughfares and the main Stage Coach route until Castle Street was opened up into the Market Square.

[1] Wellington Dock is named after the Duke of Wellington, as is - I believe - the swing-bridge (opened in 1846) between the dock and the Tidal Harbour.

John Latter / Jorolat

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John Latter on November 25, 2010

John Latter, on September 17, 2009, said:

St James' Street, of which little now remains, ran from the Church to the Market Square.

Click to see the Remaining Houses of St James Street.

John Latter on November 26, 2010

The "Remains of St. James's Church" is a Grade II Listed Building (1).

The following is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:

Building Name: REMAINS OF ST JAMES'S CHURCH Parish: DOVER District: DOVER County: KENT Postcode: CT16 1QG

Details:

LBS Number: 177821 Grade: II Date Listed: 30/06/1949 Date Delisted: NGR: TR3226141553

Listing Text:

In the entry for:-

TR 3241 WOOLCOMBER STREET (East side)

1/15 Remains of St James's Church

GV 30.6.49 II

the address shall be amended to read: CASTLE HILL ROAD

1/15 Remains of St James's Church

GV 30.6.49 II

WOOLCOMBER STREET l. (East Side) 1050 Remains of St James's Church TR 3241 1/15 30.6.49.

II GV

2. Originally a Norman building but restored in tile C19 (C19 = 19th Century). There is a Norman zigzag arch (2) and the side elevation, built of flints, has a blocked entrance filled with Norman fragments. The rest of the church is of Caen stone, with stone quoins. There is a C14 addition on the South side of the Nave which was used until 1851 as a Court house for the Chancery and Admiralty Courts of the Cinque Ports, and for the Court of Lodemanage. The last Court of Lodemanage was held by the Duke of Wellington here in 1851. The seat and bench used by the Duke of Wellington and the Barons of the Cinque Ports have been transferred to St Mary`s Church. This building was not used as a church since the middle of the C19 when the garrison Church in the Castle was restored. The building was very badly damaged by shelling from the French coast during the last war. AM.

Remains of St. James Church and White Horse Inn form a group.

Listing NGR: TR3226141553

Source: English Heritage. Click to see photos of Listed Buildings and English Heritage sites in the town of Dover, England.

(1) Grade II: buildings that are "nationally important and of special interest".

(2) The arch is Norman but I've seen photographs confirming the zig-zag engraving was added during the 1869 restoration.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on September 17, 2009
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2009/09/15 11:32:53
    • Exposure: 0.013s (1/80)
    • Focal Length: 26.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/5.600
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash

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