God’s Bleak House

Said to be the second oldest parish church in the country, churches don’t come much bleaker than All Saints’ Church, West Stourmouth, Kent.

It was a lowering, blustery day. Rain-swept with incipient thunder and the occasional flash of lightening.

Much of this isolated, lonely marshland was once under water and the river Stour still winds its quiet way up to Canterbury. Stourmouth was once a port; perhaps it was crusaders landing here who carved their crosses into the stonework at the porch.

It is a relic of times past, no longer ruled by stern clergy berating local sinners and threatening them with old testament monsters.

Now no more does a pompous man of the cloth insist I am a sinner, nor point me to Dante’s circles of hell.  Or to the lake of Gehanna.  The church has closed its doors to all but the occasional service and perhaps it is all the better for that.

There is a dark, gloomy, ascetic beauty about the place. You can almost hear the quiet moan of plainsong, the soft chanting of the liturgy of the hours.

Is there melancholy here? Perhaps, but it is a soft and beautiful sadness, polished by ages, to be relished not lamented.

A Saxon church, refurbished by the Normans and partly built with Roman bricks. If ever there was a place for quiet reflection, this lonely outpost of Christianity on the misty marshes of South East Kent comes close to perfection.

No christian smile to be had here, no pompous local (trussed in his Sunday best) to shepherd you to your seat. No passing of the peace, no sanctimony; nor earnest lecturing.

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