Canterbury Cathedral

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
Canterbury Cathedral

The Cathedral and Metropolitical
Church of Christ at Canterbury

Canterbury, Kent

Status: Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral - Portal Nave Cross-spire.jpeg
Cathedral from the city entrance
Church of England
Diocese of Canterbury
Location: 51°16’47"N, 1°4’59"E
Built 1070–1834
Romanesque, Gothic

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury, commonly known as Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the premier bishop of the Church of England (though termed the "first amongst equals") and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It stands in Canterbury, Kent, and is also the cathedral of the Diocese of Canterbury, of which the Archbishop is the diocesan bishop.

One of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in Britain, it forms part of a World Heritage Site.

The first cathedral was founded in 597, at the arrival of St Augustine, the missionary bishop. The cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077 and developed in ensuring centuries: the east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the twelfth century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174, with significant eastward extensions to accommodate the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket, the archbishop who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late fourteenth century, when they were demolished to make way for the present structures.


The archiepiscopal throne in Canterbury Cathedral

Anglo-Saxon foundations

In 595 Augustine, a bishop from Gaul, landed in Kent to begin the conversion of the English people to Christianity. Well received by the yet pagan King of Kent, Augustine founded a church, which served as his cathedral church, in 597, and he dedicated it to Jesus Christ, the Holy Saviour.[1] Bede records that Augustine reused the ruins of a Roman church, which must have lain abandoned for almost two centuries by Augustine's time.

Augustine also founded the Abbey of St Peter and Paul outside the city walls. This was later rededicated to St Augustine himself and was for many centuries the burial place of the successive archbishops. The ruins of St Augustine's Abbey are part of the World Heritage Site of Canterbury, along with the cathedral and the ancient Church of St Martin.[2]

The oldest remains found during excavations beneath the present nave in 1993 were parts of the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon building, which had been constructed across a Roman road,[3][4] indicating that the original church consisted of a nave, possibly with a narthex, and side-chapels to the north and south. A smaller subsidiary building was found to the south-west of these foundations.[4] During the ninth or tenth century this church was replaced by a larger structure with a squared west end. It appears to have had a square central tower.[4] The eleventh century chronicler Eadmer, who had known the Saxon cathedral as a boy, wrote that, in its arrangement, it resembled St Peter's in Rome, indicating that it was of basilican form, with an eastern apse.[5]

During the reforms of Dunstan, archbishop from 960 until his death in 988,[6] a Benedictine abbey named Christ Church Priory was added to the cathedral, which only became fully monastic from Lanfranc's time onwards. Dunstan was buried on the south side of the high altar. In 1011 however Dnish raiders struck and badly damaged the cathedral: Archbishop, Ælfheah (Alphege), was seized and murdered at Greenwich the next year (the first of Canterbury's five martyred archbishops).

A western apse was added as an oratory of St. Mary, probably during the archbishopric of Lyfing (1013–1020) or Aethelnoth (1020–1038) and housing the Archbishop’s throne: the 1993 excavations showed it was polygonal, and flanked by hexagonal towers.


The cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1067, a year after the Norman Conquest. Rebuilding began in 1070 under the first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc (1070–77). He cleared the ruins and reconstructed the cathedral to a design based closely on that of the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, where he had previously been abbot, using stone brought from France.[7] The new church, its central axis about 15 feet south of that of its predecessor,[4] was a cruciform building, with an aisled nave of nine bays, a pair of towers at the west end, aiseless transepts with apsidal chapels, a low crossing tower, and a short choir ending in three apses. It was dedicated in 1077.[8]

Prior doubled the length of the cathedral and raised the new work above a large crypt. The new choir took the form of a complete church in itself, with its own transepts; the east end was semicircular in plan, with three chapels opening off an ambulatory.[9] A free standing campanile was built on a mound in the cathedral precinct in about 1160.[10]

As with many Romanesque church buildings, the interior of the choir was richly embellished.[11] William of Malmesbury wrote: "Nothing like it could be seen in England either for the light of its glass windows, the gleaming of its marble pavements, or the many-coloured paintings which led the eyes to the panelled ceiling above."[11]

The Chair of St Augustine, the ceremonial enthronement chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury, may date from the Norman period. Its first recorded use is in 1205.

Plantagenet Age

The 12th-century choir

A pivotal moment in the history of the cathedral was the murder of the archbishop Thomas Becket in the cathedral on 29 December 1170, by knights of King Henry II. The king had frequent conflicts with Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" The knights obliged. Thomas Becket was later canonised and a shrine was raised in the cathedral which became one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages: the pilgrims of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were travelling to Beckett’s shrine. This popularity brought wealth and the need to expand the cathedral to accommodate the new visitors.

Tomb of the Black Prince

In September 1174 the choir was severely damaged by fire, necessitating a major reconstruction,[12] the progress of which was recorded in detail by a monk named Gervase.[13] The round-headed form of their windows left unchanged[14] but everything else was replaced in the new Gothic style, with pointed arches, rib vaulting and flying buttresses. The limestone used was imported from Caen in Normandy, and Purbeck marble was used for the shafting.

Becket's crown at the far east side of the cathedral

In 1180-4, in place of the old, square-ended, eastern chapel, the present Trinity Chapel was constructed, a broad extension with an ambulatory, designed to house the shrine of St Thomas Becket.[15] A further chapel, circular in plan, was added beyond that, which housed further relics of Becket, [15] widely believed to have included the top of his skull, struck off in the course of his assassination. This latter chapel became known as the "Corona" or "Becket's Crown".[16] These new parts east of the choir transepts were raised on a higher crypt than Ernulf's choir, necessitating flights of steps between the two levels. Work on the chapel was completed in 1184, [15] but Becket's remains were not moved from his tomb in the crypt until 1220.[17] The Trinity Chapel later took burials including Edward, the Black Prince and King Henry IV.

The shrine in the Trinity Chapel was placed directly above Becket's original tomb in the crypt. A marble plinth, raised on columns, supported what an early visitor, Walter of Coventry, described as "a coffin wonderfully wrought of gold and silver, and marvellously adorned with precious gems".[18] Other accounts make clear that the gold was laid over a wooden chest, which in turn contained an iron-bound box holding Becket's remains.[19] Further votive treasures were added to the adornments of the chest over the years, while others were placed on pedestals or beams nearby, or attached to hanging drapery.[20] For much of the time the chest (or "ferotory") was kept concealed by a wooden cover, which would be theatrically raised by ropes once a crowd of pilgrims had gathered.[17][19] Erasmus, who visited in 1512–4, recorded that, once the cover was raised, "the Prior ... pointed out each jewel, telling its name in French, its value, and the name of its donor; for the principal of them were offerings sent by sovereign princes."[21]

The shrine was removed in 1538 as Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell reformed the Church of England.

Fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

Early in the fourteenth century, Prior Eastry erected a stone choir screen and rebuilt the chapter house, and his successor, Prior Oxenden inserted a large five-light window into St Anselm's chapel. [22]

The cathedral was seriously damaged by an earthquake of 1382, losing its bells and campanile.

From the late fourteenth century the nave and transepts were rebuilt, on the Norman foundations in the Perpendicular style under the direction of the noted master mason Henry Yevele.[23] In contrast to the contemporary rebuilding of the nave at Winchester Cathedral|Winchester, where much of the existing fabric was retained and remodelled, the piers were entirely removed, and replaced with less bulky Gothic ones, and the old aisle walls completely taken down except for a low "plinth" left on the south side. [24][4] More Norman fabric was retained in the transepts, especially in the east walls,[24] and the old apsidal chapels were not replaced until the mid-15th century.[22] The arches of the new nave arcade were exceptionally high in proportion to the clerestory.[22] The new transepts, aisles and nave were roofed with lierne vaults, enriched with bosses. Most of the work was done during the priorate of Thomas Chillenden (1391–1411): Chillenden also built a new choir screen at the east end of the nave, into which Eastry's existing screen was incorporated.[22] The Norman stone floor of the nave, however survived until its replacement in 1786.[4]

Perpendicular style nave

From 1396 the cloisters were repaired and remodelled by Yevele's pupil Stephen Lote who added the lierne vaulting. It was during this period that the wagon-vaulting of the chapter house was created.

A shortage of money, and the priority given to the rebuilding of the cloisters and chapter-house meant that the rebuilding of the west towers was neglected. The south-west tower was not replaced until 1458, and the Norman north-west tower survived until 1834, when it was replaced by a replica of its Perpendicular companion.[22] In about 1430 the south transept apse was removed to make way for a chapel, founded by Lady Margaret Holland and dedicated to St Michael and All Angels. The north transept apse was replaced by a Lady Chapel, built in 1448–55.[22]

The crossing tower, of 235 feet, was begun in 1433, although preparations had already been made during Chillenden's priorate, when the piers had been reinforced. Further strengthening was found necessary around the beginning of the sixteenth century, when buttressing arches were added under the southern and western tower arches. The tower is often known as the "Angel Steeple", after a gilded angel that once stood on one of its pinnacles.[22]

Modern Age

The decorative font in the nave

Modernity reached Canterbury under King Henry VIII. The Dissolution of the Monasteries removed the abbey from the cathedral: Canterbury surrendered in March 1539, and reverted to its previous status of 'a college of secular canons'. The shrine of Thomas Beckett was destroyed and the bones disposed of. (It is said that King Henry VIII summoned the dead saint to court to face charges of treason: having failed to appear, he was found guilty in his absence and the treasures of his shrine were confiscated, carried away in two coffers and twenty-six carts.[25])

The New Foundation came into being on 8 April 1541.[26]

In 1688, the joiner Roger Davis, citizen of London, removed the 13th century misericords and replaced them with two rows of his own work on each side of the choir. Some of Davis's misericords have a distinctly mediæval flavour and he may have copied some of the original designs. When Sir George Gilbert Scott carried out renovations in the 19th century, he replaced the front row of Davis' misericords, with new ones of his own design, which seem to include many copies of those at Gloucester Cathedral, Worcester Cathedral and New College, Oxford.

The west front in 1821

The original Norman northwest tower, which had a lead spire until 1705,[27] was demolished in 1834 owing to structural concerns.[22] It was replaced with a Perpendicular-style twin of the southwest tower, now known as the "Arundel Tower"'. This was the last major structural alteration to the cathedral to be made.

In September 1872 a large portion of the Trinity Chapel roof was completely destroyed by fire. There was no significant damage to the stonework or interior and the damage was quickly repaired.[28]

Regimental church

The cathedral is the Regimental Church of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.


Much of the stonework at Canterbury Cathedral is damaged and crumbling, the roofs are leaking and much of the stained glass is badly corroded. The last quinquennial structural review[29] revealed that a combination of centuries of weathering, pollution and constant use had taken its toll on the ancient building and some serious problems were in need of urgent action.

The single biggest challenge is the roof. The cathedral is covered by a huge expanse of lead and whilst the majority of the wooden framework remains sound, much of the lead itself needs replacing. In addition, a large amount of concrete encasing the bottom of the roof beams needs to be removed and replaced with traditional wooden footers.

Conservation of the external masonry, particularly on the northern side of the building, is equally important. The cathedral is in part built of Caen stone. Detailed archaeological studies are undertaken to identify exactly which stones need to be replaced or repaired. In addition, specialist cleaning techniques are used to remove accumulated chemical deposits which are very damaging to the building. As regards the interior, priorities include decoration of the vaults of the Trinity Chapel, major improvements to the Treasury building which contains, amongst other things, the choir practice rooms, and conservation work in several other chapels.

The earliest coloured glass windows in the cathedral date from the late 12th century, whilst others are as new as the four Ervin Bossányi windows in the south east transept (1957). Many have already been conserved and protected by the team of stained glass conservators led by Leonie Seliger. However, much conservation work remains to be done, notably on the Oculus window in the south east transept – a late 12th century round window.


The Foundation is the authorised staffing establishment of the cathedral, few of whom are clergy. The head of the cathedral is the dean, who is assisted by a chapter of 30 canons, four of whom are residentiary, the others being honorary appointments of senior clergy in the diocese. There are also a number of lay canons who altogether form the greater chapter which has the legal responsibility both for the cathedral itself and also for the formal election of an archbishop when there is a vacancy-in-see. By law and custom they may only elect the person who has been nominated by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Foundation also includes the choristers, lay clerks, organists, King's Scholars, the Six Preachers and a range of other officers; some of these posts are moribund, such as that of the cathedral barber. The cathedral has a work force of over 300 (many of whom work part-time), and approximately 800 volunteers.



The organ at Canterbury is of three manuals with cases in the choir gallery and the north choir aisle. It was built in 1886 by Henry Willis and subsequently rebuilt by the same firm in the mid 20th century. It was rebuilt by N.P. Mander in 1978 and reduced to three manuals at about that time. There are plans to replace the current organ and work starts in 2015.[30]


There has been a choral tradition at Canterbury Cathedral for 1400 years. The Cathedral Choir consists of 25 boy choristers and 12 lay clerks. The boys are aged eight to thirteen. They receive scholarships and attend St Edmund's School, Canterbury.[31] There are seven choral services a week with Choral Evensong at 5.30pm on Monday-Friday, with the boys alone on Thursday and Men on Wednesday. On Saturday and Sunday there is evensong at 3.15pm and Eucharist on Sunday at 11am. There are numerous extra services especially at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

The Girls' Choir of Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 2014 and their first performance at Evensong, in January, was attended by more than 600 people and widely covered by the international press.[32][33] They gave their first concert in December of that year.[34] They typically perform at Evensong twice every month, often with the Lay Clerks of the Cathedral Choir. The girls are aged twelve to eighteen. They attend local schools in Canterbury, and some further afield.[35]


Great Dunstan

The cathedral has a total of twenty one bells in the three towers:

  • The South West Tower (Oxford Tower) contains the cathedral’s main ring of bells: fourteen in total with a ring of twelve with two semi-tones, which allow for ringing on ten, eight or six bells while still remaining in tune. All of the bells were cast in 1981 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The heaviest bell of this ring weighs Error: mismatched units.
  • The North West Tower (Arundel Tower) contains the cathedral’s clock chime. The hour is struck on Great Dunstan, the largest bell in Kent Error: mismatched units, which is also swung on Sunday mornings for Matins.

In 1316 Prior Henry of Eastry gave a large bell dedicated to St Thomas, which weighed 71½ cwt. Later, in 1343, Prior Hathbrand gave bells dedicated to Jesus and St Dunstan. At this time the bells in campanile were rehung and their names recorded as "Jesus", "Dunstan", "Mary", "Crundale", "Elphy" (Alphege) and "Thomas". In the great earthquake of 1382 the campanile fell, destroying the first three named bells. Following its reconstruction, the other three bells were rehung, together with two others, of whose casting no record remains.

The oldest bell in the cathedral is Bell Harry, which hangs in a cage atop the central tower to which the bell lends its name. This bell was cast by Joseph Hatch in 1635, and is struck at 8am and 9pm every day to announce the opening and closing of the cathedral, and also occasionally for services as a Sanctus bell.[36]

The cathedral also has custody of the bell of HMS Canterbury, a First World War-era light cruiser, hung near the Buff's Chapel in the South West Transept.


The cathedral library has a collection of about 30,000 books and pamphlets printed before the 20th century and about 20,000 later books and serials. Many of the earlier books were acquired as part of donated collections. It is rich in church history, older theology, British history (including local history), travel, science and medicine, and the anti-slavery movement. The library's holdings are included in the online catalogue of the library of the University of Kent.[37]

See also

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Canterbury Cathedral)


  1. "Canterbury Cathedral- A Virtual Tour".æval/canterbury/canterbury.shtml. Retrieved 7 October 2008. 
  2. Labadi, Sophia (2013). UNESCO, Cultural Heritage, and Outstanding Universal Value: Value-based Analyses of the World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage Conventions. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-759-12256-7. 
  3. "AD 1000 – Canterbury Cathedral". Current Archaeology. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Canterbury Cathedral Trust
  5. Willis 1845, pp. 20–21.
  6. "St Dunstan (Biographical details)". British Museum. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  7. Cook 1949.
  8. Cook 1949, pp. 19–20.
  9. Cook 1949, p. 19.
  10. National Monuments Record: No. 464415 – Campanile mount
  11. 11.0 11.1 English Romanesque Art 1066–1200. Catalogue of an Exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery, London, 5 April-8 July 1984. London: Arts Council of Great Britain. 1984. pp. 33–4. 
  12. Cook 1949, p. 23.
  13. Willis 1845, p. xiv.
  14. Willis 1845, p. 79.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Cook 1949, pp. 22–3.
  16. Withers 1897, p. 88-9.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Withers 1897, p. 8.
  18. Blick 2005, pp. 407–8.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Blick 2005, p. 408.
  20. Blick 2005, p. 424.
  21. Blick 2005, p. 425.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 22.7 Cook 1949, pp. 43–5.
  23. Willis 1845, p. 45.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Willis 1845, p. 121.
  25. Withers, 1897, page 13
  26. Barrie Dobson, 'Canterbury in the Later Middle Ages, 1220–1540', in A History of Canterbury Cathedral, OUP 1995, p. 153.
  27. Withers 1897, p. 27.
  28. "The fire in the Canterbury Cathedral 1872". Illustrated London News. 14 September 1872. 
  29. "Spring/Summer Newsletter 2014". Canterbury Cathedral Trust. 
  30. Canterbury Cathedral Organ from the National Pipe Organ Register, retrieved 1 March 2013
  31. Canterbury Cathedral Choir, retrieved 1 March 2013
  32. Meikle, James (9 January 2014). "Schoolgirls end Canterbury Cathedral tradition of male-only choral singing". The Guardian. 
  33. "All-girl choir makes history at Canterbury". Press Association. 26 January 2014. 
  34. Furness, Hannah (28 November 2014). "First Canterbury Cathedral all-girl choir makes its Christmas concert debut". The Telegraph. 
  35. Canterbury Cathedral Girls' Choir, retrieved 9 December 2014
  36. Stahlschmidt 1887, pp. 192, 195; Love, Dickon. "Love's Guide to the Church Bells of Kent". Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  37. "History and heritage; Library". Canterbury Cathedral. 
  • Babington, Margaret (1955), The Romance of Canterbury Cathedral, Raphael Tuck 
  • Blick, Sarah (2005), "Reconstructing the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral", in Blick, Sarah and Tekippe, Rita, Art and architecture of late mediæval pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles, Leiden and Boston: Brill 
  • Collinson, Patrick; Ramsay, Nigel; Sparks, Margaret, eds. (2002) [1995], A History of Canterbury Cathedral (revised ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820051-X 
  • Cook, G. H. (1949), Portrait of Canterbury Cathedral, London: Phoenix House 
  • Dudley, Colin Joseph (2010), Canterbury Cathedral: Aspects of Its Sacramental Geometry, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 978-1-450-06022-6 
  • Frederic Iremonger (1948), William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury – his life and letters, Oxford University Press 
  • Purcell, William (1969), Fisher of Lambeth: a portrait from life, Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-02938-2 
  • Willis, Robert (1845), The Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral, London: Longman, 
  • Withers, Hartley (1897), The Cathedral Church of Canterbury, Bell's Cathedral Series (2nd revised ed.), London: George Bell 
  • Stahlschmidt, J.C.L. (1887), The Church Bells of Kent: Their Inscriptions, Founders, Uses and Traditions, Stock, OCLC 12772194 

Further reading

  • Butler, John (2011), The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson, Scala Publishing, ISBN 1857597362
  • Foyle, Jonathan (2013), The Architecture of Canterbury Cathedral, Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers, ISBN 978-1857597011
  • Guy, John (2012), Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Random House, ISBN 1400069076
  • Keates Jonathan & Hornak Angelo (2013), Canterbury Cathedral, Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers, ISBN 978-1857590272
  • Michael M A (2004), The Stained Glass of Canterbury Cathedral, Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers, ISBN 978-1857593655
  • Newman, John (2013), Pevsner's Buildings of England, Kent: North and North East, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300185065
  • Sparks Margaret (2007), Canterbury Cathedral Precincts: an historical survey, Dean & Chapter of Canterbury, ISBN 978-0950139203
  • Sparks, Margaret & Brayshaw, Karen (2011) The Library of Canterbury Cathedral. Canterbury: Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, ISBN 978-0-906211-63-2
  • Weaver, Jeffrey (2013) The Ancestors of Christ Windows at Canterbury Cathedral. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, ISBN 978-1-60606-146-6

World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom

BathBlaenavon Industrial LandscapeBlenheim PalaceCanterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey & St. Martin's ChurchCastles and Town Walls of King Edward ICornwall and West Devon Mining LandscapeDerwent Valley MillsDurham Castle & CathedralEdinburgh Old Town & New TownForth Bridge • Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Antonine Wall & Hadrian's WallGiant's CausewayIronbridge GorgeJurassic CoastKew GardensLiverpool Maritime Mercantile CityMaritime GreenwichNew LanarkHeart of Neolithic OrkneyPontcysyllte AqueductSt KildaSaltaireStonehenge, Avebury & Associated Sites • Studley Royal Park & Fountains AbbeyTower of LondonPalace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey & St Margaret's Church