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Quick Facts on Canterbury Cathedral

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Canterbury Cathedral Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury Christchurch Cathedral
The Precincts CanterburyCT1 2EH
Canterbury  locality
Kent  county
England  country
United Kingdom  country
Europe  continent
Main date(s)
51.279696° N, 1.082883° E
OS Grid Reference
Opening hours
Summer: Mon-Sat 9-5:30; Sun 12:30-2:30
Winter: Mon-Sat 9-5:00; Sun 12:30-2:30
£8 adults, paid at the entrance to the cathedral precinct
01227 762 862

Historical Timeline of Canterbury Cathedral

Archbishop Cuthbert builds a baptistery-mausoleum on the north side of the church.
Canterbury falls victim to marauding Danes. The city is destroyed, the cathedral is set on fire, and Archbishop Alphege is taken hostage in hope of ransom.
Lanfranc, former abbot of the Abbaye des Hommes in Caen, Normandy, is consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury. He immediately sets about reorganizing the monastery, asserting the primacy of Canterbury over York, and rebuilding the cathedral.
Consecration of a large Norman choir with ambulatory at Canterbury Cathedral.
5 September 1174
The Norman choir of Canterbury Cathedral is destroyed by a fire. Thanks to the many pilgrims to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, there is plenty of money for rebuilding.
Architect William of Sens dies after a fall from the scaffolding in Canterbury Cathedral. William the Englishman takes over as chief architect.
The relics of St. Thomas Becket are moved to their new resting place in the Trinity Chapel.

Description of Canterbury Cathedral

The exterior of Canterbury Cathedral immediately impresses by its size, but also rewards closer attention to its details. Viewed directly from the south, the abrupt change from Romanesque to Gothic is clearly evident - to the right (east) are round arches, blind arcades, and rough surfaces; to the left are the abundant pointed arches and pinnacles of the Gothic nave.

Decorating the Romanesque exterior are intertwined blind arches embellished with decoratively carved columns and figurative capitals, all of which date from Archbishop Anselm's reconstruction around 1120. Many of the capitals are weathered beyond recognition, but others still clearly display proud Green Men and other interesting medieval characters.

The main entrance is through the Gothic southwest porch, built in 1424-25 by Thomas Mapilton and 1455-59 by Richard Beke. It was restored with new statues of Canterbury's most notable archbishops by Theodore Pfyffers in 1862. There are some details to spot here, too - look for grinning faces and tiny symbols carved along the top.

The nave terminates at a great Gothic choir screen (a.k.a. pulpitum) at the top of a wide stairway. The pulpitum was built about 1455 by Richard Beke and originally had sculptures of Christ and the twelve apostles along with the shield-bearing angels and six kings that survive today.

East of the choir is the large Trinity Chapel, a level higher than the rest of the interior and surrounded by an ambulatory. It is reached by stone stairs on either side, which have been worn down from the feet (and sometimes knees) of centuries of pilgrims.

The Trinity Chapel was built specifically for the Shrine of St. Thomas, which stood here from 1220 to 1538, when it was destroyed on orders of King Henry VIII. It has been left empty and a single candle burns over the site of the shrine.

The floor of the Trinity Chapel, near the west end, has a set of interesting inlaid marble roundels representing the signs of the zodiac, months of the year, virtues and vices. These were added in the early 13th century to embellish the shrine. They are badly worn today, but many can still be identified.

The ambulatory around the Trinity Chapel is home to some of the most interesting and accomplished stained glass in Canterbury Cathedral. Most of the glass is original, ranging in date from about 1180 to 1220, but there were significant restorations (and replacements) made in the 19th century.

Circling around the ambulatory are a total of eight windows depicting the Miracles of St. Thomas Becket. The first window, in the north ambulatory, depicts some of the events leading to his martyrdom, but the rest tell stories of ordinary people who experienced miracles by praying to the saint or visiting his shrine.

The narratives depicted in these windows provide a fascinating glimpse into medieval life, particularly its most common illnesses and accidents. Many scenes take place around Thomas' tomb, which is shown in its original position in the crypt. It was only after the Trinity Chapel and its windows were completed that his relics were moved to the new shrine.

The far east end of the cathedral is occupied by an apse chapel known as the Corona ("crown"), because it once housed the relic of St. Thomas' head. Here there are two more medieval windows of interest: the Tree of Jesse and the Redemption Window. Both date from about 1200.

From the Tree of Jesse only two original panels survive, which are displayed in the far left window: King Josiah and the Virgin Mary. The entire window has been reconstructed with modern glass to its right. The Redemption Window is a typological window, showing four Old Testament "types" (foreshadowing events) for each of five scenes related to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. You can explore the Redemption Window in full illustrated detail here.

Two more typological windows, equally fascinating, survive in the north choir aisle. They are earlier than the Becket Windows, dated to about 1180. There were originally six of these windows; the surviving panels have been compiled into what are now called Typological Window 2 and Typological Window 3.

Another notable feature of the ambulatory are its many tombs of archbishops and royals. The most famous of these is the Tomb of the Black Prince (1330-76), topped with a bronze chain-mailed effigy of the knight, in the south ambulatory. It's not clear how he got his romantic nickname; his contemporaries knew him as Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales. He was the eldest son of a king (Edward III) and the father of a king (Richard II), but was never king himself because he died before his father.

The massive crypt beneath the east end of the cathedral is one of the most fascinating parts of the building (and, alas, was closed when I visited). Built under Archbishop Anselm in the early 1100s, it still has extensive Romanesque murals and exquisitely carved columns and capitals.

Holly Hayes
October 27, 2011

Listed Building Description

944 THE CATHEDRAL PRECINCTS Christchurch Cathedral TR 1557 NW 5/1 3.12.49 I

The original church on the site was one built for Roman Christians. St Augustine reconsecrated the church in 602 AD.

The present building is a mixture of building styles from the C11 to the present day. The exterior is built mainly of Caen stone. On the East side some Romanesque arcading is visible though most of the stone work dates from 1175-84, built by William of Sens and William the Englishman, or from the late C14 to mid-C15 rebuilding. The south-west tower was built in 1424-34, the north-west tower is a replica of this built in 1832-41. The central "Bell Harry" tower of brick faced with stone was built between 1494 and 1503 and is one of the first brick structures.

7 bay Nave with clerestory, built between 1378 - 1410. Choir and Corona built by William of Sens and William the Englishman. Very fine early Romanesque crypt of 10 bays and Chapel of Our Lady of the Undercroft.

Listing NGR: TR1511457922

Source: The National Heritage List for England. Reprinted under license.

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