As soon as you think of Canterbury you think of its famous medieval Cathedral and the infamous murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett in 1170. The tallest tower can be seen along the skyline from nearly anywhere in the city. I’m incredibly lucky that living on a hill I can see its lofty gothic pillars from my house. Sam did tell me that there is a law in Canterbury that no building can be taller than the Cathedral. Unfortunately I went to see it at a time where it is being cleaned and restored so it is surrounded by scaffolding but this does not deter from its medieval majesty. All historic buildings need looking after and the Cathedral itself is more than 1,400 years old so its earned a good clean!
It was Sam’s turn at ‘Date Day/Night’ and I think he chose well by taking me to visit the Cathedral for some local history.
I certainly enjoyed myself as I love history and learning about events that have happened.
It really blows my mind to think of the millions of people that have walked through these halls before. I’m stepping where they stepped and looking at things they have seen.
I looked at the tombs surrounding the walls and even the floor and I found myself wondering about the lives those people lived. You have to be special to be enshrined in a Cathedral as famous as this one. Although I get a bit of a sinister vibe from this epitaph.
There is something magical and majestic about Cathedrals and Churches too – they always have a certain stillness and quietness about them.
Its kind of like time stops moving if you know what I mean. Everything just feels very still.
The light is soft as its diffused through stained glass windows and creates a real spiritual atmosphere. Almost a little eerie. Time seems to just stop. Know what I mean or is it just me?
The architecture and masonry in the Cathedral is simply stunning. There are towers, bricks, carefully carved quatrefoils, gothic archways and beautifully decorated ceilings.
Everywhere you look there is something beautiful and ancient to be discovered.
The walls just never seemed to end and the pillars arched into points creating what seemed to be like an endless height. Ceilings were decorated with coats of arms and family shields and flowers. I even spied a fair few Tudor roses!
I found a wall plaque to the left side of the main chamber with three panels which list the names of every single Archbishop of Canterbury since it was built in the year 597 AD. Including the famous Thomas Becket who became Archbishop in 1162 and was murdered by knights of King Henry II in 1170.
I spent a good ten minutes or so reading all of the names and looking at the dates. I noticed that the names became more modern sounding around 1100 AD. Sam and I couldn’t pronounce earlier ones – Cuthbert and Ethelred I can pronounce (thanks to the Last Kingdom!) Old Anglo-Saxon names. I wonder what they will do when they run out of space! You can also notice from the dates that there are larger gaps of time between Archbishops. Feologild for example was only Archbishop for 1 year from 832 to 833. John Whitgift was Archbishop for 21 years from 1583-1604.
Was this simply because people were living longer due to improved hygiene and knowledge or that there was just less fighting and wars as time moved forward?
That Infamous Murder
Perhaps the shadiest bit of the Cathedral’s history is that infamous murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett in 1170. The story goes that he often had arguments with King Henry II and they had a fairly stormy relationship. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the highest seat of Christian power in the medieval world – even the King had to answer to God. There are several stories and several reports of what the King said to his knights but either way it was interpreted by the Knights as a direct instruction for murder. I think the most common story is “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
Beckett’s name has been carved into the floor where he was killed. This part of the building is called the Martyrdom. When Sam and I came about to this part of the Cathedral there was a lady praying so we waited till she had finished before taking any photographs. But it just shows that how even 847 years later people still pilgrimage here to pay their respects to Beckett.
A place full of Art
There are so many beautiful stained glass windows all around the Cathedral and they are best viewed from the inside with the light behind them. They are intricately detailed and each tells a different story. This one was decorated with coats of arms and symbols of royalty and the English Monarchy. Others include Archbishop Thomas Beckett, Famous Kings, Queens, Saints and other figureheads of Christianity.
They are just absolutely amazing. This one is decorated with coats of arms – probably from important families associated with Christianity and the Cathedral itself. You can see a beautiful yellow sun at the centre above the Royal coat of arms and crowned Tudor roses either side of the sun symbolising the end of the wars of the Roses. There are a few coats of arms, various symbols and decorations all around the cathedral. The picture below shows coats of arms decorating a ceiling in the cloisters. Careful thought has gone into the positions of the shields below. A symmetrical pattern it seems!
This was one of the most spectacular parts of the Cathedral for me. Whilst it doesn’t look like very much – its just a small and simple chapel in itself. It has only recently been opened after being blocked up. What they discovered was the original paintings from when the Cathedral was first built and decorated perfectly preserved! Most of these paintings were destroyed over the years due to changing styles of interior design and either being destroyed through wars or just lost to time. These really are something else.
Please note: the photograph above is from the Canterbury Cathedral website. Due to the delicate nature of the paintings you are not allowed to use photography in this part of the Cathedral.
As a resident of Canterbury; Sam and I can get a membership for free entry into the Cathedral. We’re both going to apply and I look forward to seeing the Cathedral without the scaffolding in all its medieval majesty.
Have you ever been to Canterbury Cathedral? What was your favourite part?