The most famous Christian structure in Southern England, the Canterbury Cathedral has a distinct place for itself in history. The construction of the cathedral started in the 7th century and ever since then, it has been torn down, rebuilt, refurbished and modified over a course of 1300 years. Needless to say, the Canterbury Cathedral is unique in its own way. The rich historic legacy that penetrates every nook and corner of the building whispers to the visitors.The skyline of Canterbury is majorly dominated by the myriad towers and spires of the Cathedral. The imposing structure is immense, and hence you can spend hours at the cathedral, mesmerized by its grandeur. The stained glass windows, the tombs and crypts, the immense bell towers and the ambient scenic beauty come together to create such a spiritual environment that the visitors are unfailingly affected by it.
Located in Canterbury, Kent, it is the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England. Canterbury is well connected by railways and you can take a train to Canterbury quite easily from any major rail station in England. The docents of the cathedral are very hospitable and love pointing out the different facets of the building and share historic anecdotes with the visitors. Various accommodation options like lodges, inns and hotels are easily available making your stay at Canterbury as comfortable as possible. While at Canterbury you can also consider paying a visit too the Roman Museum located nearby.
Though at present centuries of weathering, pollution and corrosion have taken their toll in the state of the Cathedral, restoration efforts show a beacon of hope. The metal scaffolding has undergone immense damage due to weather change, the stained glass windows have been corroded and the stone work is crumbling at many places.
The Cathedral was built in 597 AD and ever since has been witnessing a flurry of rebuilding activities. Following the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 AD, the influx of pilgrims coming to visit his shrine increased necessitating the expansion of the Eastern Wing. Following a fie in 1174 AD a large part of the building had been rebuilt in the Gothic style of architecture. In the fourteenth century another period of rebuilding paved the way for the present day structures to stand tall on the grounds.
The Shrine of Thomas Kent
One defining moment in the history of the cathedral was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Kent by the knights of King Henry II. The King had been in frequent dissension with the priest and had allegedly remarked “who shall rid me of this turbulent priest?” His knights took the statement quite literally and Archbishop Becket became the second of four Archbishops of the Canterbury Cathedral to be martyred in the Cathedral itself. Following his assassination and posthumous veneration, his shrine became a pilgrimage for many ardent followers. Even today many flock to see the ‘scene of the crime’ (or ‘martyrdom’ as suggested in the official map of the Canterbury Cathedral). The murder was carried out in the north west transept.
The Shrine had been constructed in the Trinity Chapel and placed directly above the original tomb in the crypt. It was studded with gold work and precious stones (many of which were gifts from princes of sovereign states) and was indeed a sight to marvel at. Various votive treasures were also added over the subsequent years, some on the shrine, some in surrounding pillars and tapestry. The influx of pilgrims generated wealth and income for the church and the revenue thus generated had been greatly used to carry out reconstructions of the various facets of the Cathedral. However the Shrine was removed in 1538 when King Henry VIII summoned the dead Saint to appear in front of the Court for charges of Treason against the Crown. Since the Summoned failed to show up, he was pronounced guilty and the treasures of his Shrine were carried away.
The Bells of Canterbury
The Bells of Canterbury Cathedral have a separate history for themselves. Their sweet chiming sounds have undergone sea changes over the years. Bells have been destroyed in earthquakes, re hung and remade. In 1981 ultimately the present day bells were restored and rehung in frames in the Cathedral. today there are a total of twenty one bells in the three towers of the Canterbury Cathedral.
The oldest of the lot is Bell Harry which is hung in a cage atop the central tower (Bell Harry Tower). It was cast in 1635, and is struck at 8am and 9pm every day to mark the opening and closing of the Canterbury Cathedral and also occasionally for services as a Sanctus bell.
The Library of the Canterbury Cathedral is a treasure trove in itself. It is rich in manuscripts of old theology, British History, Local History, traditions, Medicine, Science and records of the anti Slavery movement. The library holds a collection of over thirty thousand books and pamphlets printed before the twentieth century and around twenty thousand books from the later period. The Collection is included in the online Catalog of the University of Kent.
A trip around the Canterbury Cathedral is definitely well worth the effort and time.