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A religious site?

Home / History / The History of Sittingbourne / A religious site?
From the above interpretations of the town’s name Alan Abbey believes it was more than this, perhaps the site of a shrine. There is a spring here as the stream running down what is now Bell Road, emerged from below the ground. In those pre-Christianity days when the Celts ruled Britain with their multitude of pagan gods, springs were a point of veneration. 

Later, the Romans arrived and they too venerated springs, as can be seen in many of their towns like Bath. The trackway would not pass over a spring as they did not want to upset the spring spirit so it passed above the spring, minimising a major flooding issue and also fording a previously very wet area. The Romans cut drainage ditches alongside their roads and built excellent foundations which for the first time, allowed year-round passage through some previously tricky terrain, heavily wooded to the south and very wet to the north with the tidal creek. The spring may have stayed as a venerated spot but could, of course, have had some form of shrine built by the side of the road. It could have been just a simple marker, built using locally sourced materials, gradually evolving over time, but it still needed to be still visible to the early medieval people.

By the early medieval period, the springs and wells that were still running, started to become officially Christian; Augustine ordered all pagan shrines to be taken over, not destroyed. Sittingbourne as such does not exist as a distinct town or even village yet, but perhaps the roadside / travellers spring shrine still exists. It’s easy to see the mini shrine being very popular and even practical, hence it keeps some importance. Such a site would be very attractive to Augustine. Canterbury has always been important and there would have been plenty of early medieval travellers passing by our shrine before the church built the first cathedral so imagine how that grew during the building and after with more people passing towards it and back again.

In support of this hypothesis the focal point of the ‘town’ for pilgrims and others passing through was St Michael’s church where, on its south-eastern corner, was a niche set in the buttress that contained a statue of the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of the Buttress.. It was held in high esteem by the locals, some of whom requested to be buried close to it. Until 1765 there was a large wooden porch around this buttress where those hearing Mass could shelter.