The Gravestones of St. Alfege

In the Village of Greenwich, England, UK, located just south of London across the Thames you’ll find the Parish Church of Greenwich, known as St. Alfege with St. Peter. A little history: Alfege was the Archbishop of Canterbury when in the year 1011 it came under seige from the Danes and Alfege was captured. He was taken in chains to Greenwich where the Danes demanded a ransom of £48,000 plus an additional £3,000 a year later, however the English were quite impoverished at the time and Alfege sent word to them not to pay. About a week later he was killed by the Danes in the midst of a drunken feast. The following day his body was taken to St. Paul’s Cathedral and eleven years later it was transported to Canterbury Cathedral where his bones are interred on the North side of the High Altar to this day. The first Church of St. Alfege was build on the traditional site of his martyrdom.

In the Thirteenth Century, c. 1290 a new church was built and it stood until 1710 when the roof collapsed during a storm. The church has historical importance to Greenwich and Henry VIII and Princess Mary Tudor were visitors there. In 1491 St. Alfege was the site of Henry VIII’s baptism.

The third church on the site was dedicated in 1718 and was the first of 50 churches commissioned during the reign of Queen Anne. During WWII St. Alfege was severely damaged by incendiary bombs and was gutted in 1941. On the outside of the building one can still see where strafing pitted the stones during the attacks of that terrible time. A chapel named St. Peter’s Chapel is dedicated to a nearby church of that name that was destroyed by enemy action during the war.

The church of St. Alfege was restored and rededicated in 1953 and is still a parish church today.

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The Church of St. Alfege with St. Peter

Greenwich, England, UK

St. Alfege

 

Sign at the Entrance to St Alfege

On a stone slab in the chancel of St. Alfege is this inscription:

THIS CHURCH STANDS ON GROUND HALLOWED BY ALFEGE

ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY MARTYRED HERE

19th APRIL 1012

“HE WHO DIES FOR JUSTICE DIES FOR CHRIST”

The old churches in England are typically made of stone, as is St. Alfege. We were struck by the fact that in these churches there are crypts in many of the walls, sometimes very elaborate ones, and in some cases the floors are also made up of grave markers. You have the impression that the church is partially built out of these crypts. In the case of St. Alfege a sort of fence around the churchyard is actually a row of gravestones, now very weathered and green with moss and algae. They were fascinating!

St.Alfege2

Some Gravestones at St. Alfege Church

 

So there you have it…. as much a history of this old and historic church as a glimpse of yet another graveyard. Telling of our visit makes me long for another trip to the British Isles and the chance to visit more of the ancient graveyards.

SOURCE: Guidebook to Greenwich Parish Church, no publication information included, plus a paper handout from the church dated May 1998.

Copyright December, 2008, Susan J. Edminster. All rights reserved.

 

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