Christianity in Portsmouth may be 500 years older than was first thought. A discovery at a city church may persuade historians to re-write the story of how faith spread across the south coast of England. Preliminary archaeological investigations suggest there may be a Saxon church dating from the seventh century under St Mary's Church in Fratton. Experts already knew there was a Norman church from the 12th century under the existing building - the earliest known church site in the city. This latest find suggests the site could have been the cradle for Christianity in Portsmouth 500 years earlier than that. Church leaders now hope the find will help them develop the site for use in the future. An ambitious four-year plan to provide better facilities for the community has now been unveiled, including re-developing the tower, organ and worship area. The church will be holding an open day between 10am and 2pm on 13 September to show people the archaeological findings, give them a chance to dig for themselves in a mock-archaeological display, and explain the re-development work. Visitors can also climb the tower to enjoy views of the city, and examine old marriage and other registers. Archaeologist Kate Longcliffe, a member of the St Mary's congregation, dug a trial trench at the north side of the church and then used sophisticated radar equipment to find out what was under the existing Victorian building. Studies of the archives have shown previous churches on the site. Each of these buildings has been confirmed by the ground radar equipment including a mid-Victorian one 50cm below the existing floor and a post-Norman church 90cm below the present floor level. To everyone's surprise the radar found another structure at a depth of 1.5m below the existing floor, which would indicate an earlier building on the site. Source: Anglican Communion News Service
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