Express & Star

Church of England seeks new reliquary for earliest remains of an English saint

St Eanswythe’s remains were first discovered in the 1885 but were scientifically verified in 2020.

St Eanswythe remains

The Church of England is seeking a new home for the remains of a saint present at the very beginning of Christianity in England.

St Eanswythe is the patron saint of Folkestone, Kent, and was granddaughter of Ethelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity.

Her remains were first discovered in a lead container in 1885 and in 2020 Kent archaeological and history experts, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, confirmed that the human remains were almost certainly those of St Eanswythe.

The bones are thought to be the earliest verified remains of an English saint.

The container currently housing her remains is now no longer suitable, and the Diocese of Canterbury is seeking applications from designers and artists to create a new reliquary for St Eanswythe’s remains.

Dr Andrew Richardson of Isle Heritage, a Community Interest Company (CIC) focusing on archaeology and cultural heritage, explained: “Eanswythe will always belong in Folkestone – and she will always be a part of this church, but she needs a new ‘home’ within that home.

St Eanswythe remains
The remains discovered in the wall of a church in Kent were verified to belong to St Eanswythe in 2020 (Matt Rowe/PA)

“The lead container in which her relics were found in 1885 is an important artefact in its own right, but it is now very fragile and no longer suitable to house her remains.

“So, we’re looking to commission the creation of a new reliquary fit for a Kentish royal saint, one that will protect and preserve these relics for generations to come.”

St Eanswythe is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England, most likely around AD 660 on the Bayle, the historic centre of Folkestone.

She is thought to have died in her late teens or early 20s.

Her relics mark the period that saw the very beginning of Christianity in England.

Her remains could have been destroyed in the Reformation had they not been hidden away in the north wall of the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe.

The reliquary needs to be housed in a new containment system, set within the shrine’s existing alcove, that ensures the security and long-term stability of the reliquary and relics.

Contemporary designs are encouraged, as are those which draw upon the artistic traditions of seventh-century Kent.

The deadline for expressions of interest is March 1 and the design brief and application form can be requested from Dr Richardson through the Isle Heritage website.

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