From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Canterbury Cathedral

51° 16' 46.9" N, 1° 4' 59." E

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Canterbury Cathedral is located in the city of Canterbury in Kent. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the leader of the Church of England.

The cathedral was founded in 602 by Augustine after he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great as a missionary in 597. St Augustine, as he became known, was the first archbishop at the cathedral. He was the abbot of St. Andrews, a benedictine abbey in Rome. The foundations were partly built over a Roman road.

Augustine also founded the Abbey at Canterbury, just outside the city walls. First known as the Abbey of St Peter and Paul it was rededicated to St Augustine and became the burial place of the archbishops.

The cathedral was enlarged and added to between 740 to 997 including a baptistery and the lengthening of the nave. A Benedictine abbey named Christ Church Priory was added to the cathedral and a monastery established in 997.

During raids by the Danish in 1011 the cathedral was badly damaged, repairs were carried out soon after and more additions and improvements.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought changes to the cathedral, Lanfranc became the first Norman archbishop. He undertook an extensive rebuilding program transforming the Saxon cathedral into a more Norman design based in the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, of which he had previously been abbot.

On Tuesday 19th December 1170, in the north transept, Thomas Becket was murdered by knights of King Henry II. Thomas Becket had constant conflicts with the King, so much so, that when the King asked 'Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?' his knights took it upon themselves to dispose of Thomas. He was not the first to have been murdered at the cathedral, a total of four archbishops shared the same fate.

A fire in 1174 destroyed the eastern end of the cathedral, William Sens rebuilt the quire in an early gothic design. Later the Trinity Chapel was added as a shrine for the remains of Thomas Becket including the crown off St Thomases head which was struck off during his murder. The income from pilgrims as described in Geoffrey Chaucer's in 'The Canterbury Tales' who visited Becket's shrine, largely paid for the rebuilding of the Cathedral. This revenue included the sale of pilgrim badges depicting Becket, his martyrdom or his shrine.

The cathedral ceased to be an abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Canterbury surrendered in March 1539 and reverted to a college of secular canons.

The Norman northwest tower was demolished in the later part of the 1700's. It was thought to be unsafe but was replaced in the 1830's. This is the last of the major structural changes made at the cathedral.

The romanesque monastic dormitory ruins were replaced with a neo-gothic Library and Archives building in the 19th century. It was later destroyed by a high-explosive bomb in the Second World War, which had been aimed at the cathedral itself but fortunately missed. It was rebuilt a few years after in the same style.

Major restoration is being carried out after parts of the cathedral collapsed and work will continue until at least 2016.