Steeped in history, Canterbury Cathedral is a wonderful place to visit.
Entering through the Cathedral precinct through the Christ Church Gate, you get a wonderful sense of the size and splendour of the cathedral. It is not hard to marvel at the amazing architecture and the attention to detail of the stonemasons – even at the highest points of the cathedral’s majestic walls – as you walk around the Cathedral Close.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the cathedral crypt. It was so atmospheric that you felt the urge to whisper. You can still see the wall paintings in parts – it’s not hard to imagine how full of colour the cathedral would have been in Medieval times, with the wall paintings re-telling bible stories for the benefit of the congregation. It was here, also, that the shrine of St Thomas a Becket first stood, though it was later moved to the Trinity Chapel, above.
From the crypt you can enter the cathedral at the actual place where Thomas a Becket, Henry II’s Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by four of Henry’s knights. There’s nothing to mark the actual spot – just a sign on the wall, saying that this is where it happened. It’s an eerie feeling.
The shrine to St Thomas occupied the Trinity Chapel from 1220 until it was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A lone, lit candle now stands where the shrine once was.
The first cathedral was built on this site by St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who arrived in Kent as a missionary of Pope Gregory the Great in AD 597. The present Archbishop, Justin Welby, is the 105th since St Augustine. The Cathedral was rebuilt by the Normans, under Archbishop Lanfranc, in the 1070s, following a catastrophic fire.
The Trinity Chapel
There are several notable tombs in the cathedral, but only one king is buried there. A viewing platform allows you to look down on the tomb effigies of Henry IV, the 1st Lancastrian king, and his 2nd wife Joanna of Navarre.
On the opposite side of the Trinity Chapel is the tomb of Edward III’s oldest and most renowned son, Edward the Black Prince, father of Richard II. Above his tomb are suspended his gauntlets and surcoat, bearing the Royal arms of England.
Other notable tombs included Cardinal John Morton, Richard III’s enemy and Henry VII’s Archbishop of Canterbury. His tomb has been badly damaged, with his nose broken off and even the supporting eagles have lost their heads. Just along from Cardinal Morton lies Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury during the minority of Richard II, he was murdered during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.
Among the magnificent tombs there was also a very plain one, which I found very intriguing. It was the tomb of Odet de Coligny, Bishop of Beauvais. He was a French Huguenot (Protestant) who fled to England to escape the Inquisition. Dying under mysterious circumstances in 1571, he was buried in Canterbury Cathedral in what was supposed to be a temporary tomb – until his body could be repatriated to France, bit it never was.
The Nave and Chapter House
Walking from the Quire into the cathedral’s nave, you walk from the dark into almost daylight. The Nave is so full of light and the perpendicular columns seem to go on forever.
The last thing we saw was the Chapter House. Unfortunately it was undergoing renovations, so we couldn’t see a lot – except the ceiling, which is a wonderful, magnificent work-of-art in its own right.
I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to my good friend, author and historian, Amy Licence for spending the day showing us around Canterbury.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
Article and all photographs are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.
Source and for more information, visit http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org