Ossuary at St Leonard's Church, Hythe
Few would disagree with the suggestion that this is one of the most impressive parish churches in Kent. Standing as it does upon a steep slope, dominating the town, overlooking the old houses jostling together and the little criss-cross lanes, apart from its archi-tectural interest, its very situation is remarkable. It is dedicated to St. Leonard, the patron Saint of Prisoners.
The church itself is of outstanding interest, with its famous graceful 13th century Chancel, rearing up loftily like the choirs of Canterbury and Rochester Cathedrals, its unusual ambulatory, and the ossuary or charnal-house.
The original early Norman church, built about 1090, consisted of an aisle-less nave and a small square-ended Chancel such as that at West Hythe. Traces of this early Norman work may be seen in the two round-headed windows at the western end of the north arcade.
At a later Norman period about 1175, consider-able enlargements were made when the aisles were added by piercing the north and south walls, and inserting an arcade of Norman arches. The plan of the church now became cruciform by the addition of north and south transepts, and a new chancel was built round the earlier one.
The third stage in development was achieved in the 13th century, when the Early English style of architecture was reaching perfection. A west tower was added, the Norman choir demolished, and replaced by the existing magnificent choir and sanctuary.
The chancel floor was raised to its unusual height and reached by a flight of nine wide stone steps. This was in order to build a vaulted passage, or Ambulatory, underneath the sanctuary for the customary church processions. This vaulted passageway was used for centuries as an ossuary or bone-house. Here was found, neatly stacked, an immense collection of mediaeval skulls and bones, which had been disinterred from time to time when fresh graves were dug.
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