Exploring Hythe, Kent. Battleaxe visits the Ossuary

More exploration of the Kentish coast, see previous post about Deal and Sandwich. We’ve been to Hythe already several times, largely, yawn scratch, to visit Waitrose.  (Oh crikey, say exasperated readers, why don’t these silly people order on-line and get the stuff delivered).
     Anyway, the first time we went to Hythe, we thought it was so cut off from modern life that it was probably inhabited by people with one too many heads. The second time, we found some good junk shops, and the third time, just recently, we had a proper look round. 
     The approach road to Hythe from Hastings is discouraging, passing horrible caravan sites, a huge military firing range and rows of downtrodden-looking little houses.  However, you pass the station of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and drive into the town along the Royal Military Canal. We’ve been on the railway a couple of times, both times from Dungeness – it is quite interesting, but most of the journey is spent rattling slowly past the backs of people’s houses, and not, as you might expect, chuffing romantically across the wilds of Romney Marsh.
      Hythe High Street is indeed full of junk shops and lots of other interesting little places, and there is a good antiques centre in the Malthouse. There are independent clothes shops, galleries and endless craft shops – I guess people don’t have much else to do down there apart from knitting.

Lots of knitting here….
Nice nick-nacks in the High Street
Excellent patisserie

     We found an excellent French patisserie for coffee and cake, and then set off to walk down to the sea. Once across the canal, which is actually very attractive and leafy, the place reminded us very much of towns in Normandy – the long promenade backed with large houses and green spaces where in France, they would be playing boules.

Royal Military canal – you can rent boats
More canal
Hythe plage
Hythe fishing beach

      Following lunch in a cafe that promised much but unfortunately delivered little, we climbed up to the church through very attractive old streets.

Walk up to the church

      I had heard that below St Leonard’s parish church is one of only two ossuaries, or charnel houses, in England, and luckily, a party was just going in to view it when we arrived. See more about it here.
      I find such places interesting – a few years ago we went to a truly amazing one in Rome, the Capuchin Crypt, where the skeletons are bizarrely arranged as macabre decoration, and even made into chandeliers.
      The ossuary in Hythe is more modestly arranged, with stacks of thighbones, and neat shelves of skulls.  The remains date from before 1500, and despite interesting legends about pirates and French invaders, are currently believed to be the bones of townspeople, moved when the church was extended or when the churchyard became full.

Neatly stacked skulls
Thigh bones

Lower jaws

     We listened in to the guide talking to the party who went into the crypt before us, and were told that the reason for keeping these particular bones was rooted in beliefs around bodily resurrection. Apparently, on the day of Judgment, a minimum of a thigh bone and a skull were necessary to ensure that resurrection would take place.  In Hythe, about 2000 different individuals have been identified. We looked at a display of lower jaws, containing teeth with no cavities, indicating a sugar-free diet, considerable wear to the back molars, caused by constant chewing of fibre and roughage, and many untreated abscesses, which must have been horribly painful. Many people also had anaemia, and possibly even malaria. Life was tough back then.
      Despite the horror movie connotations of skeletons and charnel houses, the place felt quite peaceful and unthreatening.
      Anyway, overall, we rated Hythe very positively – it is an attractive place, full of interest, and well worth a visit.

Ceiling of the Capuchin crypt in Rome

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