The Canterbury Cathedral 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 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. Pulpitum Screen 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. Martyrdom 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. Quire 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 Trinity Chapel 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. Corona 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 un …