Saxon St Mary-in-Castro Church from the Roman Pharos, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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Comments (9)

John Latter on November 18, 2007

The west wall of the nave of St Mary-in-Castro as seen looking out of the east entrance of the Roman Pharos (built in AD 46 - see the Pharos: South Face or Pharos: North Face photos for more information) which stand in the grounds of Dover Castle.

Within the recessed arch of the nave wall are the west entrance doors, currently only used for disabled access, and to the right of the doors, a small window which Canon Puckle describes as a lychnoscope or low side window [1]:

Low side window (Arch.), a peculiar form of window common in medieval churches, and of uncertain use. Windows of this sort are narrow, near the ground, and out of the line of the windows, and in many different situations in the building.

According to a pamphlet available from St Mary-in-Castro, 12th Century alterations:

led to the establishment of an altar specifically for the military thought to have been done when the Constable of the Castle [a post long since combined with that of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports] was directed to 'repair the Church of St Mary' in 1223. To this period belongs the sedilia and double piscina at the south east corner of the nave and also the small window pierced in the wall near the west door. The castle statutes of the time directed that one sergeant and one guard be sworn to keeping a light burning within the church, probably before the Soldiers' Altar, the small window being used to allow the sentry to command a view of the light without entering the church. The light is still kept burning.

In his book, "The Church and Fortress of Dover Castle" (published 1864), Canon John Puckle states:

The lines of the [current] building [of St Mary-in-Castro] were so curiously set out for working, that there is not a true right angle among them; no two walls are perfectly parallel with one another. [Page 15]

Walls and windows can be easily changed. Foundations, on the other hand, are another matter:

The foundations are deposited in a very strong and workmanlike manner, far more comparable to those of Roman than of any Anglo-Saxon construction. [Page 15]

Indeed, the specific foundations under the actual tower of St Mary-in-Castro are continuous with the walls of the transepts and chancel being built onto the tower, rather than having been bonded in. This indicates the original tower was perhaps a donjon (an earlier word for keep, derivative dungeon) with solid walls.

There is a great deal of other detailed evidence to indicate both church tower and nave began life as part of a Roman fortress. From "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" by Reverend S. P. H. Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899):

With very little hesitation we suggest that the [Roman] fortress when first constructed consisted of the tower, nave and Pharos. From an examination of these buildings we find that an arched passage existed on the ground floor between the Pharos and nave, the remains of the arch are still clearly visible [see above photo], whilst, beneath the surface of the ground, the solid concrete foundations for the connecting walls remain intact. [Page 228]

The Pharos was also connected to the west wall of the nave on other levels - check later 'Comments' for links to the appropriate photos or click on the "Pharos" tag on the right in case I forget!

[1] I can't find it at the moment but I'm pretty sure another source describes the small window as a hagioscope or squint.

John Latter on November 18, 2007

Click to see a photo of the whole inner east wall of the Pharos with more information on how this lighthouse/watchtower was connected to the 'Saxon' church of st Mary-in-Castro.

snorth on November 23, 2007

I like the perspective similar angle in Crusader Castle

John Latter on November 24, 2007

snorth said:

I like the perspective similar angle in Crusader Castle

Quite a striking photo, snorth - and those arches look very impressive indeed!

I looked up Crac des Chevaliers and found it was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades.

Its interesting stuff (partially because of the connection with the Knights Templar) but sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to follow everything up.

John Latter on December 26, 2007

Click to see the "classic view" of Dover's Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro.

John Latter on December 19, 2010

Text of a 2007 St Mary-in-Castro leaflet:

There is no documentary record of the age of the Church of St Mary-in-the-Castle). Archaeologists have assigned dates to it extending from the 4th century to the 10th.

John Latter on March 28, 2011

Click to see the Roman Ruins of the Classis Britannica Fort and Saxon Shore Fort at Dover photo.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on November 16, 2012

Also see an 1834 "in days gone by" woodcut of the Roman lighthouse and Saxon church at:

Georgian Engraving of St Mary-in-Castro Church and the Pharos, Dover Castle

A photo on the Pinterest Old Dover board.

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Photo taken in Dover, Kent, UK
Dover Castle

This photo was taken indoors

Photo details

  • Uploaded on November 18, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/10/19 10:30:58
    • Exposure: 0.022s (1/45)
    • Focal Length: 18.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/3.500
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • Flash fired