A historic feel
When Pope Gregory sent Augustine from Rome to reintroduce Christianity to England in AD597, the original plan was to press on to London. But Augustine and his missionary monks were favourably received by King Ethelbert of Kent and London seemed dangerous, so they settled for Canterbury, which by accident rather than design became the centre of Christianity in England. Pilgrims and visitors have made their way here since the Middle Ages. The Archbishop of Canterbury remains the symbolic leader of the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Every stone has a story to tell
Even for non-believers this majestic building is filled with exciting stories, ones British children learn in school and foreigners might recognise from films and TV shows. For example, the notorious murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 by knights of Henry II. A plaque near the altar marks what is believed to the be the exact spot of his savage demise; the Trinity Chapel contains the site of the original shrine, plus the tombs of Henry IV and the Black Prince. Those names alone will have you wanting to know more.
This is a place of kings and history and don’t forget, a pilgrimage to Becket’s tomb was the focus of one of the earliest and finest long poems in all English literature, Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ written in the 14th-century.
World Heritage Site
When you go inside you can see why admission is not free, as it must cost a fortune to maintain and its rich heritage must never be lost. Looking up, the Cathedral’s magnificent ceilings may be admired featuring stunning fan-vaulted designs and colourful detailing.
Outside the cloisters may be explored, as well as the Cathedral’s picturesque gardens. Walking the length of the building not only provides perspective in terms of its vast size, it’s also an opportunity to check out its many different architectural styles, including its Norman arches, Late Gothic nave, and stunning towers. You might even be lucky enough to spot the peregrine falcons that sometimes make the Cathedral their home.
Oldest stained glass
Canterbury Cathedral contains over 1,200 square metres of stained glass. New research indicates that some of the glass may be among the oldest in the world. Sadly, over the years, many original windows have been destroyed through reformations and wars – yet the oldest glass has lasted over 840 years, continuing to tell stories even today.
Four of the Ancestor Windows were even present at the time of murder of mentioned above Thomas Becket. The Cathedral has its own stained glass studio and employ eight stained glass conservators, whose main job is to restore and preserve previous windows from the 12th Century to the 20th Century.
There are some famous stained glass which some say are a little ‘Disney like’, and therefore very popular with young visitors. These were however designed and created in 1960 by Hungarian refugee Ervin Bossanyi to replace the Victorian glass destroyed by bombing in 1942.
Bossanyi used to work for Disney which could explain slight resemblance, although his artwork for Canterbury Cathedral is full of symbolism; one of the windows, ‘Salvation’, shows a man freed by an angel to join a universal family above. Another window, ‘Peace’, depicts Christ in Glory, welcoming the children of all nations to his bosom. There are guided tours for those interested in uncovering every intricate detail of the Cathedra’s stained glass windows.
Paws in pews
Good news for dog lovers. A month ago Canterbury Cathedral joined an initiative that allows dogs to enter the building for the first time. The move hopes to make the historic attraction more accessible and encourage more visitors. “The dog is an ice-breaker for a lot of people, and other dog owners love meeting other dog owners as well, so that creates more sense of connection, of community,” Dr David Monteith, the Dean of Canterbury, told BBC Kent. “You’re not just visiting a place, but you’re actually making contact with people.”
Whether marvelling at carved tombs, exploring Canterbury Cathedral’s stunning green spaces or taking a photo of your beloved for-legged friend in front of the medieval stained glass windows, there’s plenty to do and learn within its large and ancient precincts.