St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Kent

Surrounded by flocks of sheep and acres of green, this little church is somehow just right for Romney Marsh and the scattered community that it has always served. A church has been here since the late 12th c., around the time that its patron was martyred; a visitation of 1294 refers to a church of wood and plaster; this was later encased in brick, though timber-framing remains inside.

Much of what we see today is due to a restoration of 1913 by W.D. Caroe, which rebuilt the porch and altered the bell-turret, at a time when the whole church was in danger of collapse. A little causeway was added then, making the church accessible in time of flood. The oil-lit interior is joyously unspoilt, containing a three-decker pulpit presiding over a full set of box pews whilst the low roof is covered by a splendid selection of 18th c. boards carrying scriptural texts; up in the chancel three-sided communion rails surround the altar.

At first sight, Fairfield has little in common with Cuiseaux, a rather larger church in the southeast corner of Burgundy, not far from the Swiss border. Cuiseaux has two things every French village church should have; a much-venerated Black Virgin [see p. 18] accompanied by lots of ex-voto tablets, and a statue of the Holy Infant of Prague. But Cuiseaux church is also dedicated in honour of St Thomas of Canterbury; how this village church in the Bresse shares with Fairfield the dedication to St Thomas Becket is lost in the mists of time, but it reminds us that the Catholic Church exists beyond frontiers and beyond the centuries.

Map reference: TQ 966264

Simon Cotton