Sunday, August 24, 2014

Canterbury Cathedral, England

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in England. It was the seat of the original archbishop of England, St. Augustine of Canterbury., who came to England in 597. The church was rebuilt in 1070 after the Norman Conquest. One hundred years later Thomas a Becket was murdered in the cathedral. His shrine became a popular pilgrimage destination, as commemorated in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in 1387. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries that all changed. It is still used as a church and the archbishop of Canterbury is still the top prelate in the Church of England.

The exterior has the exquisite detail of the classic Gothic churches.

Canterbury Cathedral


Queen Bertha

Inside, the nave is 188 feet long, making it one of the longest medieval churches in Europe.

The nave

Ceiling decoration

The baptismal font also impressed me with its wonderful cover and the black and white marble of the base.

Pascal candle and baptismal font

Cover of the font

The font itself

The pulpit and the rood screen (separating the nave from the sanctuary) are also impressively decorated.

The pulpit

Massive rood screen

To the left of the rood screen is an altar where the death of Thomas a Becket occurred. He was archbishop of Canterbury under King Henry II. Becket was the king's pal but when he was appointed archbishop he had a change of heart. He switched from being a champion for the king to a champion for the King of kings. Their conflict eventually led to Henry saying in front of some of his knights, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" The knights took it as a hint, went to Canterbury and killed Becket inside the church.

Becket martyrdom altar

Further back in the cathedral is Trinity Chapel where Becket's tomb was built in 1220. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, his tomb was destroyed. A candle now commemorates the spot where the tomb stood for centuries.

Candle where Becket's tomb once stood

Statue of Thomas a Becket

View from the candle back down the nave

Trinity Chapel also has many tombs, the most significant being the Black Prince's Tomb where the son of King Edward III was buried in 1376.

Highly decorated tomb

Detail of the tomb

Tomb of Henry IV and wife

Black Prince's Tomb

Bronze effigy of the Black Prince

Other tombs are scattered around the cathedral.

Tomb of Thomas Neville

War Memorial

Regiment chapel

One specific decoration is the Compass Rose. Canon Edward West from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York had the idea of using the compass rose as a symbol of the Anglican movement, so it appears in many Anglican churches worldwide.

The Compass Rose

A painting from 1480 shows the life of the second century saint named Eustace, from his early conversion (he had a vision of Christ crucified while looking at a stag's antlers) to his martyrdom.

Legend of St. Eustace

The church has a cloister with a fine Chapter House connected to it.

Cathedral cloister

Chapter house

Detail of the ceiling

Stained glass window in the front of the chapter house (click to enlarge)

Stained glass window in the back of the chapter house (click to enlarge)

View of the cathedral from the chapter house

 The cathedral also has a crypt chapel with some nice stained glass. This is where Becket was buried from his death till 1220, when his remains were moved up to Trinity Chapel.

Crypt chapel

King David and Nathan

I also found a nice relief of the Annunciation.


The cathedral is still a worthy destination for pilgrims or tourists. There's plenty of faith and history there.

No comments:

Post a Comment