Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury

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 Canterbury.

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 596 as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine founded the cathedral in 597 and dedicated it to Jesus Christ, the Holy 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.[2]

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.

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 (c909-988), 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 19 April 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).[3] 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 Forde and Thomas Cobham.

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.[4] 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.

A pivotal moment in the history of Canterbury Cathedral was the murder of Thomas Becket in the north-west transept (also known as the Martydom) 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 (see also Alphege).

Following a disastrous fire of 1174 which destroyed the entire eastern end, William of Sens rebuilt the choir (Quire as it is spelt today) 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 (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.

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’ hospitium.

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 monks.

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 end.

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.

The Norman north west tower prior to demolition (coloured from an engraving, 1821).

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.[5]

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.

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.

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