Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Learn the history of Canterbury Cathedral

The spectacular Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site, where visitors are treated to stunning architecture and history in abundance.

Highlights

  • Visit the tomb of Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of King Edward III, whose role in the Battle of Crecy aged just 16 helped forge his military reputation.
  • Admire the Adam Delving stained glass window, a depiction of a medieval farmer dating back to the 12th century.
  • Take in the magnificent choir, a stunning stone work depicting the crowned figures of six English monarchs.

What to See and Do

The Martyrdom

In 1170 Canterbury Cathedral’s most famous Archbishop was murdered by four knights. Thomas Beckett was in dispute with King Henry II and the knights attacked and killed the Archbishop believing they were following the King’s wishes. 

The area known as the Martyrdom in the Northwest transept is one of the oldest parts of the building and it is here where Thomas Becket was murdered in one of the most infamous moments in British history.

The Miracle Windows

Dating from the late 12th and 13th centuries the stunning Miracle Windows depict the miracles reported in the aftermath of Thomas Becket’s murder. These beautiful stained glass windows would have conveyed the story of Thomas Becket to visiting pilgrims of the time as many would not have been able to read.

Trinity Chapel

This chapel houses St Augustine’s Chair, which dates back to the 13th century. This is the ceremonial chair used when enthroning an Archbishop. Trinity Chapel was originally the site of the shrine of Thomas Becket until it was destroyed in 1538, a candle marking where the shrine once stood. Visitors to this chapel can also see the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, one of England’s most famed military leaders.

Tombs

Canterbury Cathedral contains many impressive tombs besides that of the Black Prince. These include the colourful tomb of Archbishop Henry Chichele and the more sober but equally impressive tomb of Cardinal Thomas Bourchier.

St Gabriel’s Crypt

Take a trip to the Norman crypt, the oldest part of the building. Here you will find wall paintings dating back to the 12th century, the oldest Christian murals in the country. The crypt also contains some lovely stone carvings to admire.

The Cathedral Grounds

A stroll around the perimeter grounds of Canterbury Cathedral is not only extremely pleasant, it also allows you to see the Cathedral and its architecture in all its glory from the outside. So many famous names from history would have walked these paths and it is a fine way to either begin or finish your visit to the cathedral.

Interesting Facts About Canterbury Cathedral

  1. Canterbury Cathedral was home to one of medieval England’s first running water systems. Prior Wilbert was the brain behind the scheme, introducing it to the cathedral around 1165, to the extent it is reported it could flush the monks’ loos.
  2. Cathedral archives record Archbishop Alphege being taken captive by Viking invaders. When the Archbishop refused to pay the ransom for his freedom he was beaten to death using ox bones.
  3. The archives also contain a document called the ‘Accord of Winchester’ which was signed by William the Conqueror in 1072. The accord gave primacy to the Archbishop of Canterbury over the Archbishop of York, yet the King’s signature is represented by the mark of an ‘X’. This has led some to believe William the Conqueror was unable to read or write, though evidence elsewhere may refute this.
  4. Following the murder of Thomas Becket, King Henry II came to the cathedral barefoot to do penance. On his arrival he was whipped by monks in front of Becket’s tomb.
  5. During World War II fire-watchers risked their lives to sit on the cathedral roof, primed to remove any incendiary devices and prevent a fire. Their efforts were successful and the Cathedral remained largely unscathed.

History

  • 597 – Cathedral established by St Augustine.
  • 1070 – Following a fire work begins to rebuild the cathedral.
  • 1170 – Murder of the Archbishop, Thomas Beckett.
  • 1174 – Penance of King Henry II.
  • 1184 – Work on Trinity Chapel, the Corona and the Eastern crypt completed.
  • 1498 – Cathedral now largely as seen today with completion of the Bell Harry tower.
  • 1538 – Thomas Becket’s shrine destroyed on orders of King Henry VIII.
  • 1660 – 1704 – Repairs carried out to Cathedral from Puritan damage suffered during English civil war.
  • 1834 – North West tower rebuilt, copying the medieval South West tower.
  • 1986 – Altar of the Sword’s Point is restored.

Facilities and Accessibility

While wheelchairs are welcome, some areas of the cathedral remain inaccessible to wheelchair users. This includes Trinity Chapel where a touch screen is available containing information and images of the chapel. In other parts of the cathedral ramps, a lift and a mobilift provide access. Entry is via Christ Church gate with many of the routes approaching the cathedral cobbled but flat. There is an accessible toilet at the South East end of the Cathedral.

The ‘Facilities for Visitors with Disabilities’ leaflet displays all the relevant access information for the cathedral. Assistance dogs are welcome and a hearing loop is installed in areas of the cathedral for use during services. Large print copies of hymns and Orders of Service are also normally available.

The cathedral shop sells a large range of items, with all purchases helping to support the cathedral. It is located in the centre of Canterbury and stocks books, guide books, CDs, replica artefacts and quality gifts. Within the grounds of the cathedral is Canterbury Cathedral Lodge offering accommodation and conference facilities.