For at least fourteen hundred years the worship of God has been offered on the site of this Cathedral, and through the prayers of the Church his power and grace have shaped human lives. Ever since the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the Cathedral in 1170, Canterbury has attracted thousands of pilgrims. This tradition continues to this day, and a large team of Welcomers, Guides, Cathedral Assistants and Chaplains are there to give all visitors a warm welcome.
The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ Canterbury is a holy place of pilgrimage, founded by St Augustine for the worship of Almighty God and the honour of Christ our Saviour.
It is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England and President of the worldwide Anglican Communion of Churches.
The first Archbishop of Canterbury was St Augustine who arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England in 597 AD. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great.
The story goes that Gregory had seen Angle slaves for sale in the city market and struck by their beauty, had remarked not Angles but Angels. Such a people he was convinced should be converted to Christianity, and ordered Augustine and a group of monks to set out for England.
On his arrival Augustine was given a church at Canterbury by the local King Ethelbert whose Queen, Bertha, was already a Christian. This building had been a place of worship during the Roman occupation of Britain.
Soon consecrated Bishop, Augustine established his seat (or cathedra) in this place as the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The present archbishop, George Carey, is 103rd in the line of succession.
Until the 10th century the Cathedral community was a family of clergy, living a regulated life as the household of the Archbishop. Not until 998 do we find evidence that they were living by the Rule of St. Benedict as a formal monastic community. The Benedictine community of monks continued until the monastery was dissolved in 1540.
The next year a new Foundation, called the Dean and Chapter, was constituted by Royal Charter. Today there is a Dean and four Residentiary Canons in the Chapter, who, with the Precentor, make up the establishment of full-time clergy.
Canterbury Cathedral is linked to the lives of many great ecclesiastical and national figures. Among the former are the Saints of Canterbury – Augustine, Theodore, Odo, Dunstan, Alphege, Anselm, Thomas and Edmund – all of whom were Archbishops of Canterbury and held in universal respect.
The one who became most famous of all was Thomas Becket, who was murdered in his cathedral on 29 December 1170. Appointed by his King and friend, Henry II, to bring the Church to the heel of the monarchy, he did the reverse. He espoused its rights in the face of the King’s desire to control them.
Four knights, with their own agendas of complaint, thinking to ingratiate themselves with the King, came to Canterbury and killed the Archbishop in his own Cathedral.
In the Reformation period Canterbury had a series of distinguished Archbishops, among them Thomas Cranmer, who compiled the first two Prayer Books and established what was to become the liturgical tradition of the Church of England and Anglican Churches the world over.
Cardinal Pole was Archbishop during the reign of Mary I, the period of the Catholic Restoration, and Matthew Parker and John Whitgift were the greatest of Elizabeth I’s Archbishops.
With the Civil War, the Cathedral was sacked by the Puritans (1642), the Cathedral Chapter was dissolved, and it was not until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 that the Church of England was re-established and life returned to the Cathedral. The fabric was repaired, the daily services were resumed and Chapter re-established.
Few changes occurred until the middle of the nineteenth century, when a series of energetic Archbishops and equally vigorous Deans, began a transformation of the life of the Cathedral.
The twentieth century has seen a major restoration of the Cathedral fabric, the revival of pilgrimage (now on ecumenical lines), a re-ordering of liturgical services and a great renaissance of the Cathedral’s music. Outstanding among Archbishops has been William Temple, and Deans with international reputations have been George Bell, Dick Sheppard and Hewlett Johnson (the Red Dean).
In 1982 Pope John Paul II visited Canterbury and with Archbishop Robert Runcie prayed at the site of S. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom.
The Great Cloister
When Canterbury was a Benedictine monastery, the Cloister was the centre of the administration of its daily life. Around the square, and in buildings off on each side, the young monks were trained, the domestic arrangements were made and the Community met. The Cloister was laid out by Archbishop Lanfranc in the 11th century and its dimensions have remained unchanged. Remains of the renovation undertaken in the 13th century are to be seen and the present Cloister was finished in 1414.
A notable feature is the heraldry – arguably the finest catalogue of medieval coats of arms to be found.
The Nave, built in the Perpendicular style, was completed in 1405, replacing an earlier Romanesque Nave built by Archbishop Lanfranc some 330 years earlier.
Its soaring arches draw the eye upward towards the central crossing at its Eastern end, and the steps leading up to the Pulpitum.
The Pulpitum Screen separates the Nave from the Quire. Delicately carved statues of six Kings stand on either side of the archway into the Quire.
From the left they are Richard II, Henry V, Ethelbert, Edward the Confessor, Henry IV and Henry VI.
Here on 29 December 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered by 4 knights of King Henry II. A small altar, the Altar of the Sword’s Point, marks the spot. It is so-called because on the altar of that time was preserved the tip of the sword of Richard de Brito which broke on the pavement as he hacked at the Archbishop. A rugged sculpture of the Cross is above.
On his historic visit to Canterbury in May 1982, Pope John Paul II knelt in prayer with Archbishop Robert Runcie in this place.
Chapel of Our Lady Undercroft
Surrounded by the simplicity of the early 12th century Western Crypt, with its round Romanesque arches, elaborately carved capitals, and mysterious dark spaces, the pilgrim sees the distant sanctuary of Our Lady Undercroft. The Romanesque sanctuary was enclosed in the 14th century with a delicately contrived screen by the Black Prince. It was a thank-offering for the dispensation he was granted to marry his cousin, who became known as the Fair Maid of Kent. It is a focus for quiet prayer and meditation. A closer view.
Another immense vista greets the pilgrim entering the Quire, the longest of any English cathedral.
It was built to the new Gothic style by William of Sens, and is notable for the splendour of its length and height, culminating in the Trinity Chapel at the East, 20 feet above the ground level of the Nave. All was finished in 1184, replacing the earlier eastern arm which had been gutted by fire in 1174.
St Michael’s Chapel
This is often called the Warriors’ Chapel and here are laid up the colours of the local Regiment, now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
Daily, a page of the Memorial Book of Names is turned. It is a simple ceremony of commemoration of those who have died in battle, and a regular moment of Prayer for Peace.
St Anselm’s Chapel
This small Chapel, dedicated to the scholar Archbishop Anselm, remains from the 12th century Quire.
An icon stands here to symbolise the friendship between the Cathedral and the Abbey of Bec in Normandy where Anselm was abbot when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. High up on the Chapel wall is a 12th century painting of St Paul at Melita.
St Augustine’s Chair
This 13th century marble throne was originally part of the furnishings of the Shrine of Thomas in the then new Trinity Chapel. It is the Seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury from which he presides over the world-wide Anglican Communion, which has developed from the Church of England.
The present Archbishop of Canterbury is George Carey, who was enthroned in 1991 as the 103rd Incumbent. The first was St Augustine who came in 597. See the Main Altar. List of Archbishops
The Trinity Chapel once housed the Shrine of Thomas Becket which was removed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1538. The Chapel now stands empty with a solitary candle marking the spot where medieval pilgrims came to pray.
Around the place of the Shrine are some of the Cathedral’s finest tombs, including Edward the Black Prince (d. 1376) and Henry IV (d. 1413).
Tomb of the Black Prince
The splendid tomb of Edward, Prince of Wales (1330-1376), known as The Black Prince, is one of the Cathedral’s finest. Above it hang replicas of his achievements – his helmet, jupon, shield and gauntlets. The originals can be seen preserved in a glass case in the South Quire Aisle.
This little Chapel, at the eastern extremity of the Cathedral, is now dedicated to the Saints and Martyrs of Our Time. Originally it contained a relic of the part of Thomas’ skull which was cut off when he was martyred.
Looking West from this point the visitor can see the full length of the Cathedral and the great window at the West end of the Nave.
Situtuated astride the dormitory of the medieval cathedral monastery, within yards of the ancient records store, the present Archives maintains a record-keeping function that dates back at least 1300 years. It is the historic archive of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury. N.B. The archives of the Archbishops of Canterbury are held at Lambeth Palace Library
Canterbury Cathedral Archives is administered under the terms of partnership agreements between the Cathedral, Kent County Council
It is both a department of Canterbury Cathedral and an office of the Kent Archives Service of the Arts and Libraries department of KCC. It houses the records of the Cathedral, Canterbury Diocese, parishes in the Canterbury Archdeaconry, Canterbury City Council and its predecessors, and other organisations, businesses, administrations and individuals in the Canterbury area. These records are all accessible to the public in a searchroom (run jointly with the Cathedral Library) adjacent to the Cathedral.
The Water Tower
The water supply of the Monastery was established in the 12th century, the supply being piped in (the original pipes are still in place) from springs nearly a mile away.
There were several water towers in the Precincts, which acted as storage cisterns from which more pipes distributed the water to where it was needed.
It is said that because of its own water supply the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, escaped many of the usual depredations of plague and infection.
The Chapter House
Each day the Benedictine monks met in the Chapter House, first to hear a Chapter of the Rule of St Benedict read to them (hence its name), and then to transact the Community’s business.
The Chapter House had previously been extended from its 11th century length in the 13th century. The Prior’s Stall remains and a lovely feature is the roof vault, inserted in 1405 and made of Irish oak.
Two events occurring in 1170 and 1174 laid the foundations of what today is regarded as one of the most important stained glass collections of the late 12th century in the world. The murder of Thomas Becket, as despicable as it was, provided the Cathedral with a powerful attraction to pilgrims, who came to Canterbury in enormous numbers to make offerings. When disaster struck again with the destruction by fire of the Romanesque Quire in September 1174, it was the proceeds from this lucrative pilgrim trade that enabled the monks to build the new Quire and the Trinity Chapel and to fill it with stained glass of outstanding splendour.
The fact that, unusually, the Canterbury monks did have a steady income at their disposal resulted in the creation of a building of unprecedented scale and complexity which was completed in a remarkably short period of time. The glazing scheme was conceived in close co-operation between the master builder, glazier and the monks. By 1176, the complete programme was determined and brought to life within 44 years by workshops of English and French craftsmen. The scheme is thus unusually homogenous in its planning and execution, reflecting also its close integration in the overall concept of the eastern arm of the church which was to serve two distinct categories of worshipper, the monks and the pilgrims. The mediaeval cathedral was part of a priory, and in the body of the Quire the monks observed the daily routine in the monastic office. The windows of this part are therefore of a very different character from those in the Trinity Chapel which served the pilgrims for their devotions at St. Thomas’ shrine.
Besides numerous windows in side chapels, the glazing scheme for this reason consists of three major series, one for the Quire and one for the Trinity Chapel respectively, and the third on clerestory level linking both parts of the building together again. In the Quire aisles, a biblical emphasis prevailed. Here the mediaeval monks could study the twelve windows from both Old and New Testaments, arranged to demonstrate the way in which events of the Old Testament were thought to prefigure events in the New.
This typological interpretation is based on one of the most popular mediaeval books, the Biblia Pauperum or ‘Poor Man’s Bible’.
The two surviving windows of this series in the north Quire aisle give a striking insight in the mediaeval way of interpreting the world.
For the pilgrims visiting St. Thomas’ shrine, a different subject matter was requested. The twelve windows of the Trinity Chapel therefore illustrated two detailed accounts of Becket’s life and the miracles that had taken place at his tomb between 1171 and 1173.
Called the Miracle Windows, the stories chosen show the full gamut of medieval society receiving comfort and aid from St. Thomas’ intercession. The richly coloured glass would for many pilgrims be the finest thing they would ever see, a fitting prelude to the shrine itself.
Finally, in the clerestory, the so-called Genealogical Series depicts paired figures, beginning on the north side with the Creation and Adam and culminating on the south side with the Virgin Mary and Christ.
With 86 figures taken from the gospel of Luke, this genealogy of ancestors of Christ is the largest of its kind in art. Only 48 figures, however, have survived, some now relocated in the south west transept and the west window and replaced with nineteenth century copies in their stead.
Although the scheme has suffered over the centuries from many forms of destruction, the late 12th century glazing at Canterbury has today established its firm place as the most complete collection of its kind in England. The glazing of the western parts was less fortunate. The whole scheme of nave windows has been almost completely swept away, with only the two great windows in the west wall and in the north west transept surviving. Both these windows are associated with kings, Richard II and Edward IV, and although in particular the ‘Royal Window’ of 1485 in the north west transept had suffered from the notorious attack by Culmer in the 1640’s, there is a substantial amount of glass left to tell of the superb quality of 14th and 15th century draftmanship and glazing skills. Canterbury’s rich heritage of mediaeval stained glass cannot really be matched by later windows, but there are a number of important twentieth century ones that should be included in any stained glass itinerary of the Cathedral.
To name but two, the Christopher Whall window of 1906 in the west wall of the south west transept and the windows of 1957 by Erwin Bossanyi in the south east transept are both regarded as eminent representatives of their respective era.
Although they differ enormously from their mediaeval ancestors, these windows are now an integral part of the glazing of Canterbury Cathedral, contributing to its diversity and its sheer splendour. The stained glass of the Cathedral is thus justifiably recognised as one of its great treasures.
Prior to the Reformation and the Commonwealth in the Seventeenth Century, Canterbury Cathedral was rich in wallpaintings. All that remains to catch the eye of the modern visitor is a number of fine examples of the wallpainters’ art, and a great number of fragments which give a tantalising idea of what must once have been. The condition of every painting and every fragment is checked regularly by the Cathedral’s expert Wallpaintings Advisory Committee.
…St. Anselm’s Chapel
The wallpainting of St. Paul and the Viper dates from circa 1160. It is situated high in the north corner of the Eastern Apse of the chapel, with the decoration continuing on to the string courses above and below the painting and round the north window which is blocked. The painting was discovered behind a buttressing wall in 1888. The centuries spent behind the wall have ensured the survival of this vivid painting.
…St. Gabriel’s Chapel
This chapel contains two extensive Romanesque schemes of painting, plus remains of later, possibly sixteenth century decoration.
The earliest scheme in the Apse comprises apocalyptic subjects and scenes of the infancy of John the Baptist and the infancy of Christ. The Romanesque painting in the Nave of this chapel survives mainly in the two west bays. These date from about 1180.
…Our Lady Undercroft
In the chapel of Our Lady Undercroft, one forms the impression of a vivid scheme of decoration now much depleted. The Chapel retains decorative schemes from the twelfth to the sixteenth century; the most evident are the sun and stars depicted on the Eastern Vault. Both the screens and the vaults are richly decorated with expensive pigments and gilding. See statue and Screen.
…The Chapter House
The visitor will notice much decoration in the Chapter House, but little of this is contemporary with the building itself. It seems that the restoration undertaken by Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1896 is the derivation of the most of the extant painting.
The vault of the south walk, the earliest to be constructed is decorated with pre-Christian motifs such as ‘Jack in the Green’. The heraldic shields may indicate that their owners contributed to the funding of the later parts of the Cloisters.
Probably the most attractive to the visitor is the large painting depicting the legend of St. Eustace. This is a fifteenth century oil based painting illustrating scenes from the life and martyrdom of St. Eustace and is on the north wall of the North Quire Aisle, immediately west of the North East Transept. The scenes fill the blind arch, which is nineteen feet high and nearly nine feet wide. The painting was discovered under lime wash in the nineteenth century and was retouched and covered with a wax varnish early in the twentieth century. Agood deal of what the visitor now sees is relatively modern or an adaptation of the original.
…St. Andrew’s Chapel
The Chapel retains extensive remains of decorated painting from the 12th century onwards: post – 1174 masonry pattern and geometric diaper; 14th century vine scroll and ‘IHS’ monograms within crowns of thorns, and 15th and 16th century Tudor Rose imitation tapestries, fleur – de- lys and ‘IHS’ monograms.