When the earlier Anglo Saxon episcopal church burned down in 1067, the first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc (1070-77), built a replacement modeled on the Abbey of St Etienne in his home town of Caen. Lanfranc's cathedral quickly proved too small and St Anselm (Archbishop from 1093-1109) embarked upon the enlargement of the choir. This work continued under Priors Ernulf and Conrad, the new church being finally consecrated in 1130.
Canterbury Cathedral Map
Official site: www.canterbury-cathedral.org
Address: Christ Church Gate, Canterbury CT1 2EE, England
Opening hours: May 1 to Sep 30: 9am-5:30pm; Sun: 12:30pm-4:30pm
Oct 1 to Apr 30: 9am-5pm; Sun: 12:30pm-4:30pm
Oct 1 to Apr 30: 9am-5pm; Sun: 12:30pm-4:30pm
Always closed on: Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in GBP: Adult £7.00, Concession or reduced rate £5.50
Useful tips: Closed during services.
Guides: Guided tour available as optional extra.
Canterbury Cathedral Highlights
Entering Canterbury Cathedral via the southwest porch (restored in 1862), the tall, light nave and aisles are revealed, with their cluster pillars, Gothic tracery windows and ornate ribbed vaulting. Note in particular the west window with its extraordinary tracery and 15th century stained glass.
The line of pillars on the north side of the nave leads past the font (1639, restored) and pulpit (1898) towards the choir screen (1411-30), its magnificent stone work decorated with angels carrying shields and the crowned figures of six monarchs (from left to right) Henry V, Richard II, Ethelbert of Kent, Edward the Confessor, Henry IV and Henry VI.
Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
The northwest transept to the left of the choir screen is the site of The Martyrdom, scene of Thomas Becket's murder on December 29th 1170; also of the Altar of the Sword's Point (the blade of the sword which killed Becket was broken by the force of the blow). The fine stained glass northwest window (1482) depicts Edward IV and his family at prayer.
Continue up the steps into the ambulatory. Here sections of the Norman walls still survive and much of the glass in the windows is medieval in origin. A faded fresco, relic of the colorful murals with which the cathedral was once adorned, recounts the story of St Eustace. The choir stalls were made in 1682, the archbishop's throne in 1840. The so called St Augustine's Chair, upon which the Archbishops of Canterbury are traditionally enthroned, is thought to date in fact from the beginning of the 13th century.
Opposite the opening of the northeast transept - the triforium of which is formed by a Norman clerestory (pre 1174) - stands the magnificent tomb of Archbishop Henry Chichele, founder of All Souls College, Oxford. The Archbishop is represented twice in effigy, first in the full splendor of his archiepiscopal robes and then again as a naked corpse - a poignant symbol of the transience of earthly goods. A few paces away is the marble tomb of Cardinal Thomas Bourchier (died 1486), staunch supporter of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. St Andrew's Chapel, diagonally opposite on the left, is particularly noteworthy for its Norman architecture, here preserved almost intact.
Near St Andrew's Chapel are steps leading, on the right, to Trinity Chapel where, from 1220 until its destruction in 1538, stood St Thomas Becket's golden shrine. Once or twice a day the heavy lid of the shrine would be raised with the aid of a block and tackle, to allow suitably awestruck and reverential pilgrims a glimpse of the gem-encrusted casket containing Becket's remains.Note the elegant sobriety of the Early Gothic choir (1184), the first example of the style to be seen in England. The columns of dark Purbeck marble contrast handsomely with the much lighter arcades below the colonnaded triforium, above which fine articulated ribs support the vaulting.In the north (left hand) ambulatory of the Chapel are the alabaster tomb of Henry IV (died 1413) and his wife Joan of Navarre (died 1437) and, near by, the Renaissance tomb (1567) of the first post Reformation Dean of Canterbury, Nicholas Wotton, who is shown at prayer.
Stained Glass Windows
The walls of the choir on both sides of the Corona (the circular chapel at the far east end) are embellished with superb late 12th and 13th century stained glass windows. Known as the Miracle Windows they depict scenes from Becket's life and works.The Miracle Windows are a part of the larger series which includes Old and New Testament subjects. This is the most important medieval stained glass series in England.
The Corona itself ("Becket's Crown"), with its early 13th century biblical window, once housed a reliquary containing the severed fragment of the saint's skull. On the left inside the chapel is the tomb of Cardinal Reginald Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, who was appointed at the time of the short lived English Counter Reformation under Queen Mary I (1553-58).
St Michael's Chapel
In the southwest transept of Canterbury Cathedral the lovely south window has late 12th century stained glass which originally graced the choir. St Michael's Chapel adjoining has very fine tombs (15th-17th century) with reclining effigies, including those of Lady Margaret Holland (1437) with the Earl of Somerset and Duke of Clarence at her side, and Thomas Thornhurst (1627).
Between the piers of the south ambulatory of Trinity Chapel is the tomb of Cardinal Odet de Coligny, Huguenot Archbishop of Toulouse who was reputedly poisoned by a Catholic servant during a visit to England in 1571. Opposite lies Archbishop Hubert Walter (died 1205), on whose shoulders much political responsibility rested in the days of Richard the Lionheart and King John.
Tomb of the Black Prince
In Trinity Chapel itself, near to where Becket's shrine once stood, is the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III and a true knight, famous for his courageous pursuit of the English cause during the Hundred Year's War. He died in 1376 at the age of 46, becoming familiar to posterity from his brass effigy and his armor (shield, gauntlets etc.) which hangs above the tomb.
St Anselm's Chapel
Steps worn by pilgrims' knees lead down into the south choir aisle where, on the left, stands St Anselm's Chapel, dedicated to Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Archbishop from 1094 until his death and a famous Scholastic philosopher and mystic. His support for the papacy during the Investiture controversy brought him into conflict with the English crown. The fresco of St Paul and the serpent (about 1160) high up in the apse is a superlative example of Romanesque wall painting.
On the way to the entrance to the crypt (northwest transept), pause at the crossing to admire the elaborate early 16th century fan vaulting beneath Bell Harry, Canterbury Cathedral's magnificent central tower.
The large Norman crypt (built about 1100, enlarged after 1174) is the oldest part of the cathedral. In addition to traces of Romanesque wall paintings (ca. 1130) note, in St Gabriel's Chapel in particular, the pillars with their splendidly carved Norman capitals (pre 1130) and decorated shafts. The striking variety of motifs (animals, plant ornamentation, demons) reveals influences from as far afield as Lombardy, Byzantium and the Islamic middle east.
The spacious cloister, a good example of the Perpendicular style (1397-1411), has elaborate vaulting, the more than 800 bosses being brightly painted with faces and coats of arms.
The early 15th century Chapter House, with its beautiful barrel vaulting of Irish bog oak, was the original setting for T. S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral" when first performed in 1935.
More Canterbury Cathedral Pictures