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Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury, Kent

Location Guide

"A World Heritage Site"

Canterbury Cathedral is the base of the  Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its formal title is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury. The role of Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the UK Prime Minster and approved by the Queen. Technically he's said to be elected by the greater chapter of the cathedral but this is play acting, as they have only one candidate.

Its history goes back to an Anglo Saxon cathedral and before.  Its said to be the oldest catholic structure in England, but what we see now is far later. Canterbury Cathedral's first Archbishop was St. Augustine of Canterbury, previously abbot of St. Andrew's Benedictine Abbey in Rome. He was sent by Pope Gregory the Great in AD 597 as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons. The cathedral was founded by Augustine in 602 AD and dedicated to St. Saviour. St Savour as far as I can determine was not a specific saint, but a generalisation, in some cases its a dedication to Jesus as the first Christian saint. 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.

Photo by Hans Musil

Click image to see a larger version

Augustine also founded a Benedictine 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.

A Benedictine Abbey named Christ Church Priory was added to the cathedral in the mid 900's, the formal establishment as a monastery is said to have been in 997. The Saxon cathedral was badly damaged during Danish raids on Canterbury in 1011.

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 strongly 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.

The murder of Thomas Becket in the north-east transept on Tuesday 29 December 1170 by knights of King Henry II was a major event in the history of the cathedral. 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 quire 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 IV.

The income from pilgrims (of whose journeys are famously described in Geoffrey Chaucer's in "The 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. Today the tourists still add to the income.

The cathedral ceased to be an abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the time of Henry VIII, Canterbury surrendered in March 1539, and reverted to its previous status of 'a college of secular canons'.

The original Norman northwest tower was demolished in the late 1700s 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.

Most of what you can see now is later period, the earliest part is the crypt, but you can't take photographs of this part for some reason. None of the plans or photos appear to show more than the cathedral itself, and its many years since I visited, and I can't remember what was there, and if any other parts or remains exist. I can recall it was in a close,

See Larger Image

The crypt, that you are not allowed to photograph
 for some reason, image off flicker.

Click image to see a larger version

accessible by many gates, and that at the time getting back far enough within the close to get a good photo was difficult.

From the aerial photo we can see structures that appear to be in the part of the position that the cloisters and some other abbey parts would be, their cloisters were to the North, but these are not mentioned on their website so are probably reused or rebuilt. 

A longer version of the history on the cathedral and is occupants can be seen on Wikipedia, and a description of what you can see when visiting is on sacred destinations, both links are below.

Location:  Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

Grid Reference: TR150579 Ceremonial County: Kent

Map Link: Multimap close in
Further out, with marker - Multimap

PDF map of Canterbury showing cathedral, gateways and car parks.

Aerial photo:  Multimap

Getting there:

Access: By foot, parking in Canterbury general car parks.
Website: Own PDF brochure
Other Useful Websites: wiki   Sacred Destinations  BHO BHO2
Email: enquiries@canterbury-cathedral.org
Address: Cathedral House, 11 The Precincts, Canterbury, Kent
Postcode: CT1 2EH Telephone: +44 (0) 1227 762862

Opening Times: Sundays 12.30-2.30pm only (including crypt).
Other days. Summer 9am-5.30pm, Winter 9am-5pm, Crypt open 10am-5.30pm.

The east end of the cathedral, including the quire closes each day in preparation for evensong, 2:30pm Sat and Sun, 4:30pm on other days. Some parts may be available in addition to the general times, but you need to enquire of you want to find out about these.

Also check the events and closure page off their website.

Charges: Adults 7.50, Children and Concessions 6.50. No charge to attend services.

Also part of Canterbury Attractions Passport (valid for 2 months) Adults 18.50, Child 15.25.

Nearby Locations: St Augustine's Abbey      St Martin's Church

Other Relevant Pages:

List of all Anglican cathedrals and other major Anglican churches in the UK

Abbey section, including all major Christian buildings, regions orders, normal layouts and history.

World Heritage Sites      World Heritage Sites - Further Information

World Heritage Sites in the UK

Notes: No cost for taking photos for your own use. No photography allowed in the crypt.


Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Grid(s) or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

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By: Keith Park Section: Abbey and Religious Building Section Key:
Page Ref: Canterbury_Cathedral Topic: Abbeys Last Updated: 07/2009

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