The Marlowe Society

Marlowe's Birth

Marlowe's Birth

1. Baptism at St. George the Martyr

Christopher Marlowe was baptised at the church of St. George the Martyr, Canterbury, on Saturday 26 February, 1564. His exact date of birth is not recorded, but Elizabethan children were commonly baptised very shortly after birth to ensure entry into heaven in the event of an early death - not uncommon, given the infant mortality rates of the time. Indeed, Christopher may have been lucky to survive himself, for Canterbury experienced high rates of mortality due to a concerted outbreak of plague between 1563 and 15651.

Canterbury was a small city at the time of Marlowe's birth, dominated as it is today by the cathedral. A survey in 1563 recorded 700 households, whilst a similar exercise five years later extrapolates to approximately 900 households and a population of 2,341 people above adolescent age2. St. George's church was situated near to St. George's Gate (or Newingate) on the east side of the walled city. The church housed the great waking bell for the whole city, which was rung at 4am each morning. By 1569, the parish of St. George contained 208 communicants3.

Opposite the church on the other side of St. George's Street, the house that was located on the corner of St. George's Lane is thought to be that inhabited by the Marlowe family when Christopher was born. Marlowe's father, John, was a shoemaker by trade and his shop was also located in the parish. The house was unfortunately destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the Second World War, and the site is now occupied by Fenwick's department store. The Marlowe Society is currently trying to organise some kind of memorial to mark the site, and is in discussion with Fenwick's owners.

St. George's Church fared only a little better against the German air bombardment, and was largely destroyed by fire during the same air-raid on 01 June 1942. The clock stopped at 02:18 am4, and the bells (dating from the 17th century, and at least one that had survived from Marlowe's time) fell to the ground and subsequently 'disappeared'. Much of the church building was demolished, but although the spire had been lost, the surviving church tower was protected with scaffolding and eventually restored after the war.

St. George's Church Tower, Canterbury, 2002.

The clock tower of St. George's Church, Canterbury where Marlowe was baptised is all that survived a German air raid in 1942. The original clock dials (dating from 1825) were restored in 1955. The picture on the following page shows the church as it was before being bombed.