Church of St Leonard
Oak Walk, Hythe, Kent CT21 5DP
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During the 12th century, St Leonard’s was extended by the addition of north and south aisles, and a south transept to form a cruciform church. There are sections of two blocked Norman windows high up in the wall of the nave, above the north arcade arches. The original Norman arches through the nave side walls were replaced with larger arches in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The small window above the chancel arch lights the triforium walkway where it crosses from one side of the chancel to the other.
The crowning glory of St Leonard’s, Hythe must be the beautiful 13th century chancel, said to be “the finest chancel of any church in England”.
Shown second in the gallery is the south elevation of the chancel, with large decorated arches, triforium and clerestory windows bestowing the appearance of a cathedral.
Seen through the left hand arch in the photograph is a superb sculpture which was the former reredos. It was carved from a single block of Carrera marble in 1881.
The triforium is an arcaded gallery which, at Hythe, forms an upper storey above the arches leading from the chancel to the north and south choir aisles. The round headed arches of the triforium each enclose a pair of pointed arches, showing the transition from Norman to Early English architecture.
The third picture is of the chancel and sanctuary. The lovely east window consists of five shafted lancets, the two narrow outer ones being blind. The stained glass is modern, having been replaced in 1951 after bomb damage in 1940. Scenes depicted include, in the centre, the Ascension of Christ, and in the outer panels, a Cinque Port ship and anti-aircraft gun and searchlights reflecting Hythe’s ancient and modern port defences.
Shown first in the gallery below is the double piscina in the sanctuary south wall, next to a double sedilla. Usually there is just one sedilla for the priest, or three, the second and third being for a deacon and sub-deacon. Above these is a string course which runs around below the east window and on to the north wall. Under this is a band of alternate carved rosettes and quatrefoils, similar to those found in the Canterbury Cathedral cloister. Taken with the similarity between the Hythe triforium and the choir at Canterbury it is very likely that the same masons were employed.
The second picture shows the view from the chancel, looking westwards back along the nave to the tower door, the west organ and the font. The tower was added to the church, or perhaps rebuilt, in the 14th century. It had to be rebuilt again in the mid 18th century after crashing down in 1739.
The current organ was installed in 1936, and is part of a split instrument, the east section being in the south choir aisle. Both organs are, however, played from the main console.
The pulpit is 19th century. The mosaics and red marble copings were added later as enhancements.
The fifth photograph in the gallery shows St Katherine’s chapel from the north choir aisle. A Canterbury cross is carved on the wall behind the altar, denoting the position of the act of dedication of the chapel.
The ossuary contains over 2000 skulls and 8000 other bones neatly stacked for display. There are various theories as to the origin of the bones, the most likely being that they were dug up from part of the churchyard when foundations were laid for an extension to the 13th century church.