in whose name the church is uniquely dedicated and her sister Kyneswitha, were believed to be the daughters of the heathen King Penda of Mercia and his wife Kynewise. Kyneburgha married Aldfrith son of King Oswy of Christian Northumbria at the same time as her brother Peada married Aldfrith’s sister Alchflaed. Celtic Christianity flourished in that part of the world and it was likely that this latter union depended on Peada’s conversion as Christian, which subsequently influenced Kyneburgha. Following her husband’s death, she came back to Mercia and established a convent among the ruins of the Roman palace here in Castor.
The now almost vanished Roman Palace (Praetorium) at Castor was one of the largest Roman buildings in England. Its role is uncertain, however it was a huge building with significant importance, probably administrative. Built in 250AD it was close to the site of Durobrivae. It was abandoned in 450AD and some of its stone is incorporated into the church. Durobrivae is where the Water Newton treasure, the oldest known communion plate in the Roman Empire, was found. Some scholars argue that this silverware was from the Praetorium at Castor and hidden from raiders by burial. See the work done by Castor Primary School pupils and friends click here > Castor Romans
The Celtic Christian foundation at Castor was established by Kyneburgha, aided by her sister Kyneswitha. After their deaths circa 7C a shrine was established in this Saxon minster church, to the two sisters and it became a place of pilgrimage. There were outlying chapels at Ailsworth, Sutton, Upton, Milton and Marholm. Viking raids, probably on several occasions from 870AD onwards ruined the fabric of Castor Church by 1012. Kyneburgha’s remains were removed to Peterborough Abbey for safe keeping by Abbot Elsinus. The Normans rebuilt the church, re-using some of the Roman and Saxon fabric especially for the nave, and it was re-dedicated on 17 April 1124. This re-building gave us the nave, the remarkable tower, most of the transepts and the capitals that we see today. By 1330 the church was almost complete as it is now seen, with the exception of alterations to the roof line about 1450, including the magnificent carved angels and other figures. These were restored to their former glory in 1973.
The term Praetorium in this case means a Roman governor’s residence or headquarters. Its function is still not fully understood. There have been several theories and suggestions over the years. One supposition is that it was the residence of a Roman provincial governor during the third century AD. Castor would have been in Britannia Superior for most of the third century, then in the province of Maxima Caesariensis for most of the fourth century. Another possibility is that the building was the headquarters of the Count of the Saxon Shore, a Roman military commander post possibly created by Constantine I during the fourth century AD, whose job it was to govern the military defences of the southern and eastern coasts of Britain from barbarian (Saxon) attacks. However, this is conjecture and there have not yet been any conclusive clues as to the identity of the building’s occupants and its purpose. (left: Foundations still visible in Stocks Hill near the village school)
By 654, a marriage was being negotiated between Peada, son of Penda, and Alhflaed, daughter of Northumbrian King Oswy. The Northumbrian king stipulated that first Peada must accept Christianity, which he was prepared to do whether he won the hand of the maiden or not and was baptized by Finan, the Celtic Bishop of Lindisfarne. The royal couple returned to Mercia and may have taken up residence on the site of the huge but derelict Roman Praetorium on the terrace at Castor. Peada had already been appointed by his father as sub-king of the Middle Angles, whose province covered Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Peada’s sisters, Kyneburgha and Kyneswitha came south too and established a convent here in Castor in the Celtic tradition but possibly on the site where Romano-British people worshipped to the Roman tradition. (Right: Saxon carving likely to be from Kyneswitha’s tomb)
With its unique dedication to St Kyneburgha, it is considered by many to be among the finest 100 churches in England. Following the Saxon church’s sacking by the Vikings in the 9C, it was rebuilt in Norman style and dedicated by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1124. Outside above the priest’s door in the south wall of the chancel, is a rare inscription commemorating the event. The tower is the church’s crowning glory built in three tiers. The lower tier with three bell arches is headed by very fine fish-scale pattern – all of which is magnificent work and nearly 1000 years old. The spire and north aisle were added between 1310 and 1330. The nave’s magnificent angel roof was added about 1450.