The Early Church

The Danish captors of St Alfege remained encamped at Greenwich for several years but we can be sure that the moment they left, the faithful people of this place would have erected some kind of shrine at the scene of the murder. Since AD 918 the manor of Greenwich had belonged to the abbey of St Peter at Ghent, a fact which reinforced the importance of the archbishop's shrine - so much so that, about 1150, Pope Eugenius III took St Alfege's site of martyrdom under his personal protection. Records have not survived to show how soon the first permanent structure was put up on the site, but it is certain that a church (regarded all over Europe as of prime importance) stood here ever since, enlarged and beautified as circumstances allowed. Early in the 13th century, a second church was built and lasted some 500 years until the storm of 28 November 1710.

It seems that the first rectors were inducted by the Abbot of Ghent. His choice was not always pleasing to the inhabitants of Greenwich, and the early gaps in the list of rectors testify to disagreements. It must have come as a relief to the church fathers at Greenwich when, in 1317, King Edward III was persuaded to take the Abbot's possessions into his own hand, ostensibly because of the danger of foreign ownership to an England at war. King Henry V's Act of 1414, by which alien monasteries were deprived of their English holdings, ended Ghent's power over St Alfege; it also made much easier the Crown's enjoyment of the Royal Palace at Greenwich.

The old church was full of monuments to royal servants such as keepers of the wardrobe, and appropriately for a Thameside town, watermen. Thomas Tallis was buried beneath the chancel, as was Antony Lyle, one of Queen Elizabeth I's four gentleman ushers. Thomas Sheffield, Keeper of Gardens to King James I, had his tomb near the north door.

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