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Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent,
is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in
England and forms part of a World Heritage Site.
It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of
Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and symbolic
leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its formal title
is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at
The cathedral's first archbishop
was Augustine of Canterbury, previously abbot of St.
Andrew's Benedictine Abbey in Rome. He was sent by Pope
Gregory the Great in 597 as a missionary to the
Anglo-Saxons. Augustine founded the cathedral in 602 and
dedicated it to St. Saviour. Archaeological investigations
under the nave floor in 1993 revealed the foundations of the
original Saxon cathedral, which had been built across a
former Roman road.
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 abbey is part of the World Heritage Site of Canterbury,
along with the ancient Church of St. Martin.
Later Saxon and Viking periods
A second building, a baptistry or
mausoleum, was built on exactly the same axis as the
cathedral by Archbishop Cuthbert (740-758) and dedicated to
St. John the Baptist.
Two centuries later, Oda (941-958) renewed
the building, greatly lengthening the nave.
During the reforms of Archbishop St.
Dunstan (c.909-988), a Benedictine abbey named Christ Church
Priory was added to the cathedral. But the formal
establishment as a monastery seems to date to c.997 and the
community only became fully monastic from Lanfranc's time
onwards (with monastic constitutions addressed by him to
prior Henry). St. Dunstan was buried on the south side of
the High Altar.
The Saxon cathedral was badly damaged
during Danish raids on Canterbury in 1011. The Archbishop,
St. Alphege, was held hostage by the raiders and eventually
martyred at Greenwich on April 19, 1012, the first of
Canterbury's five martyred archbishops. Lyfing (1013–1020)
and Aethelnoth (1020–1038) added a western apse as an
oratory of St. Mary.
Priors of Christ Church Priory included
John of Sittingbourne (elected 1222, previously a monk of
the priory) and William Chillenden, (elected 1264,
previously monk and treasurer of the priory). The monastery
was granted the right to elect their own prior if the seat
was vacant by the pope, and — from Gregory IX onwards — the
right to a free election (though with the archbishop
overseeing their choice). Monks of the priory have included
Æthelric I, Æthelric II, Walter d'Eynsham, Reginald fitz
Jocelin (admitted as a confrater shortly before his death),
Nigel de Longchamps and Ernulf. The monks often put forward
candidates for Archbishop of Canterbury, either from among
their number or outside, since the archbishop was nominally
their abbot, but this could lead to clashes with the king
and/or pope should they put forward a different man —
examples are the elections of Baldwin of Exeter and Thomas
After the Norman Conquest in 1066,
Lanfranc (1070–1077) became the first Norman archbishop. He
thoroughly rebuilt the ruined Saxon cathedral in a Norman
design based heavily on the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, of
which he had previously been abbot. The new cathedral was
dedicated in 1077.
Archbishop St. Anselm (1093–1109) greatly
extended the quire to the east to give sufficient space for
the monks of the greatly revived monastery. Beneath it he
built the large and elaborately decorated crypt, which is
the largest of its kind in England.
Though named for the 7th century founding
archbishop, The Chair of St. Augustine may date from the
Norman period. Its first recorded use is in 1205.
Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
A pivotal moment in the history of
Canterbury Cathedral was the murder of Thomas Becket in the
north-east transept on Tuesday 29 December 1170 by knights
of King Henry II. The king had frequent conflicts with the
strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in
frustration, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" The
knights took it literally and murdered Becket in his own
cathedral. Becket was the second of four Archbishops of
Canterbury who were murdered.
Following a disastrous fire of 1174 which
destroyed the entire eastern end, William of Sens rebuilt
the choir with an important early example of the Early
English Gothic design, including high pointed arches, flying
buttresses, and rib vaulting. Later, William the Englishman
added the Trinity Chapel as a shrine for the relics of St.
Thomas the Martyr. The Corona ('crown') Tower was built at
the eastern end to contain the relic of the crown of St.
Thomas's head which was struck off during his murder. Over
time other significant burials took place in this area such
as Edward Plantagenet (The 'Black Prince') and King Henry
The income from pilgrims (some of whose
journeys are famously described in Geoffrey Chaucer's
"Canterbury Tales") who visited Becket's shrine, which was
regarded as a place of healing, largely paid for the
subsequent rebuilding of the Cathedral and its associated
buildings. This revenue included the sale of pilgrim badges
depicting Becket, his martyrdom, or his shrine.
12th century monastery
A curious bird's-eye view of
Canterbury Cathedral and its annexed conventual buildings,
taken about 1165, is preserved in the Great Psalter in the
library of Trinity College, Cambridge. As elucidated by
Professor Willis, it exhibits the plan of a great
Benedictine monastery in the 12th century, and enables us to
compare it with that of the 9th as seen at the abbey of
Saint Gall. We see in both the same general principles of
arrangement, which indeed belong to all Benedictine
monasteries, enabling us to determine with precision the
disposition of the various buildings, when little more than
fragments of the walls exist. From some local reasons,
however, the cloister and monastic buildings are placed on
the north, instead, as is far more commonly the case, on the
south of the church. There is also a separate chapter-house,
which is wanting at St Gall.
The buildings at Canterbury, as at St
Gall, form separate groups. The church forms the nucleus. In
immediate contact with this, on the north side, lie the
cloister and the group of buildings devoted to the monastic
life. Outside of these, to the west and east, are the halls
and chambers devoted to the exercise of hospitality, with
which every monastery was provided, for the purpose of
receiving as guests persons who visited it, whether clergy
or laity, travellers, pilgrims or paupers.
To the north a large open court divides
the monastic from the menial buildings, intentionally placed
as remote as possible from the conventual buildings proper,
the stables, granaries, barn, bakehouse, brewhouse,
laundries, etc., inhabited by the lay servants of the
establishment. At the greatest possible distance from the
church, beyond the precinct of the convent, is the
eleemosynary department. The almonry for the relief of the
poor, with a great hall annexed, forms the paupers'
The most important group of buildings is
naturally that devoted to monastic life. This includes two
Cloisters, the great cloister surrounded by the buildings
essentially connected with the daily life of the
monks,---the church to the south, the refectory or frater-house
here as always on the side opposite to the church, and
farthest removed from it, that no sound or smell of eating
might penetrate its sacred precincts, to the east the
dormitory, raised on a vaulted undercroft, and the
chapter-house adjacent, and the lodgings of the cellarer to
the west. To this officer was committed the provision of the
monks' daily food, as well as that of the guests. He was,
therefore, appropriately lodged in the immediate vicinity of
the refectory and kitchen, and close to the guest-hall. A
passage under the dormitory leads eastwards to the smaller
or infirmary cloister, appropriated to the sick and infirm
Eastward of this cloister extend the hall
and chapel of the infirmary, resembling in form and
arrangement the nave and chancel of an aisled church.
Beneath the dormitory, looking out into the green court or
herbarium, lies the "pisalis" or "calefactory," the common
room of the monks. At its north-east corner access was given
from the dormitory to the necessarium, a portentous edifice
in the form of a Norman hall, 145 ft (44 m) long by 25 broad
(44.2 m × 7.6 m), containing fifty-five seats. It was, in
common with all such offices in ancient monasteries,
constructed with the most careful regard to cleanliness and
health, a stream of water running through it from end to
A second smaller dormitory runs from east
to west for the accommodation of the conventual officers,
who were bound to sleep in the dormitory. Close to the
refectory, but outside the cloisters, are the domestic
offices connected with it: to the north, the kitchen, 47 ft
(14 m) square (200 m2), surmounted by a lofty pyramidal
roof, and the kitchen court; to the west, the butteries,
pantries, etc. The infirmary had a small kitchen of its own.
Opposite the refectory door in the cloister are two
lavatories, an invariable adjunct to a monastic dining-hall,
at which the monks washed before and after taking food.
The buildings devoted to hospitality were
divided into three groups. The prior's group "entered at the
south-east angle of the green court, placed near the most
sacred part of the cathedral, as befitting the distinguished
ecclesiastics or nobility who were assigned to him." The
cellarer's buildings were near the west end of the nave, in
which ordinary visitors of the middle class were hospitably
entertained. The inferior pilgrims and paupers were
relegated to the north hall or almonry, just within the
gate, as far as possible from the other two.
The cathedral was seriously
damaged by the severe earthquake of 1382, losing its bells
and campanile. Prior Thomas Chillenden (1390–1410) rebuilt
the nave in the Perpendicular style of English Gothic, but
left the Norman and Early English east end in place.
Dissolution of the monasteries
The cathedral ceased to be an
abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when all
religious houses were suppressed. Canterbury surrendered in
March 1539, and reverted to its previous status of 'a
college of secular canons'. The New Foundation came into
being on 8 April 1541
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
medieval flavour and he may have copied some of the original
designs. When Sir George Gilbert Scott performed his
renovations in the 19th century, he ripped out the front row
of Davis misericords, replacing them with his own designs,
which themselves seem to contain many copies of the
misericords at Gloucester Cathedral, Worcester Cathedral and
New College, Oxford.
18th century to present
The original Norman northwest
tower was demolished in the late 18th century due to
structural concerns. It was replaced during the 1830s with a
Perpendicular style twin of the southwest tower, currently
known as the 'Arundel Tower'. This was the last major
structural alteration to the cathedral to be made.
The Romanesque monastic dormitory ruins
were replaced with a Neo-Gothic Library and Archives
building in the 19th century. This building was later
destroyed by a high-explosive bomb in the Second World War,
which had been aimed at the cathedral itself but missed by
yards, and was rebuilt in similar style several years later.
The cathedral is currently sponsoring a
major fundraising drive to raise a minimum of £50 million to
fund restoration. The cathedral is the Regimental Church of
the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.
Canterbury Cathedral Appeal
In 2006, a new fundraising appeal to raise £50 million
was launched to much media attention under the dramatic
banner Save Canterbury Cathedral.
The Canterbury Cathedral Appeal was
launched to protect and enhance Canterbury Cathedral's
future as a religious, heritage and cultural centre. Every
five years the cathedral carries out a major structural
review. The last so-called Quinquennial made it very clear
that a combination of centuries of weathering, pollution and
constant use had taken its toll on the building and there
were some serious problems at Canterbury Cathedral that
needed urgent action.
Much of the cathedral's stonework is
damaged and crumbling, the roofs are leaking and much of the
stained glass is badly corroded. It is thought that if
action is not taken now, the rate of decay and damage being
inflicted on the building will increase dramatically with
potentially disastrous results, including closure of large
sections of the cathedral in order to guarantee the safety
of the million plus worshippers, pilgrims and tourists who
visit the cathedral every year.
The closure of parts of the cathedral
would be seen as a significant loss of part of Britain's
architectural heritage, and a huge limitation on the
activities and services currently provided by the cathedral.
As well as restoring much of the historic
beauty of the cathedral, the appeal aims to fund
enhancements to visitor facilities and investment to build
on the cathedral's significant musical tradition.
By November 2008, the current appeal had
raised more than £9 million. Previous major appeals were run
in the 1950s and 1970s.
In the summer of 2009, stones in the South
West Transept were discovered to have cracked around several
iron braces surrounding the Great South Window. The cracks
are presumed to be the result of the metal expanding and
contracting in hot and cold weather, and have severely
compromised the structure of the window. The transept was
immediately closed, in case the window were to collapse,
while scaffolding was erected, and the area immediately in
front of the inside of the window was closed off and
covered, to maintain access via the south door beneath it.
This area was given restoration priority immediately after
the structural damage was discovered.
The Foundation is the authorised
staffing establishment of the cathedral, few of whom are
clergy. The head of the cathedral is the dean, currently the
Very Reverend Robert Willis, who is assisted by a chapter of
24 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 English 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
full-time work force of 300 making it one of the largest
employers in the district and in addition also has
approximately 800 volunteers.
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, hung for change
ringing in the English style. There are fourteen bells – 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 from seven bells of the old peal of twelve with new
metal added, and re-hung in a new frame. The length
(draught) of the ropes was increased by lowering the floor
of the ringing chamber to the level of the south aisle vault
at the same time. The heaviest bell of this ring weighs
34cwt (1.72 tonnes). The ringers practice on Thursday at
The North West Tower (Arundel Tower)
contains the cathedral’s clock chime. The five quarter
chimes were taken from the old peal of twelve in the Oxford
Tower (where the clock was originally), and hung from beams
in the Arundel Tower. The chimes are stuck on the eighth
Gregorian tone, which is also used at Merton College,
Oxford. The hour is struck on Great Dunstan, the largest
bell in Kent 63cwt (3.2 tonnes), which is also swung on
Sunday mornings for Matins.
In 1316 Prior Henry of Eastry, probably
the Cathedral’s greatest single benefactor, gave a large
bell dedicated to St Thomas, which weighed 71½ cwt (3.63
tonnes). 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
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
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 in 1635, and is
struck at 8am and 9pm every day to announce the opening and
closing of the cathedral respectively, and also occasionally
for services as a Sanctus bell.