Barfreston St Nicholas Su Westerman

St Nicholas

Kent's finest Norman church, with some of the best Norman decorative stonework in Britain.

Barfreston, Kent

Opening times

Open daily dawn to dusk.


CT15 7JQ

It was clearly an important building, since although the lower half of the church is made of flint, the entire upper half and the doorways is built of Caen stone, exported at considerable expense from Normandy.

It's best to do a thorough exploration of the outside of the church before going inside. The main door is on the south side, and has wonderful carved decorations with Christ at the centre surrounded by complex carvings with dozens of tiny individual characters, including, on the outside part of the frieze, knights, ladies and tradespeople.

Further in are animals both real and imaginary; some seem to be clothed, and some seem as big as the humans next to which some of them stand. Further along the wall is a blocked priest's door, also with elaborate decorative work, and close to that is a niche with reassembled fragments that include the tail of an enormous fish.

Above all of this extraordinary work is a line of corbels, each one carved; some with human faces, some with monsters.

The east end of church has a magnificent and very unusual wheel window above arcading and corbels, with niches on either side of window, in one of which is a mounted rider. The wheel window itself is surrounded by complex carving, and the spokes of the wheel are being swallowed by faces with huge teeth, bulging eyes and foliage for hair.

The interior looks, at first sight, to be altogether more restrained and formal, especially with the arrangement of chancel arch flanked by blank arches that once contained altars. But it soon becomes clear that there is almost as much carving to wonder at inside.

Whether real or imaginary, each carving had significance and meaning. The church has no tower, but it has a bell, hung from a yew tree, connected to the church by an ingenious rope system.

  • Captivating architecture

  • Fascinating churchyard

  • Glorious furnishings

  • Accessible toilets nearby

  • Dog friendly

  • Level access to the main areas

  • On street parking at church

  • Parking within 250m

  • Space to secure your bike

  • Walkers & cyclists welcome

  • Church of England

Contact information

Other nearby churches

St Mary

Wingham, Kent

In the late 1200s the Archbishop of Canterbury established a college here for a master and six canons (priests), which accounts for the large size of this church, and also accounts for the timber framed houses opposite, which were where the master and his canons lived.