One of my favourite road trips this year was our trip to Canterbury. I have always wanted to visit this beautiful city, primarily for one reason: Canterbury Cathedral. I must say I was not one bit disappointed with our visit to this magnificent place and I’d love to share our visit with you all.
A Brief History of Canterbury Cathedral
It’s astonishing to think that a cathedral has existed on the current site since 600 AD when St Augustine founded the cathedral in Canterbury. St Augustine then became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. His mission was to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, and his cathedral was a testament to his mission.
The building we see now is largely an 11th and 12th-century creation as the old Saxon cathedral was replaced by a Norman construction. It is during the 12th century that the cathedral’s most infamous incident took place.
St Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket was in 1170 Archbishop of Canterbury. He came into conflict with his former friend, King Henry II of England over matters of the Church. The king is famously quoted as exclaiming: “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”. Four of Henry’s knights took this as a request to execute Thomas and made haste for Canterbury. Inside Canterbury Cathedral, Thomas refused pleas to flee by the Canterbury monks and instead chose to stay and await his fate. The Knights killed Thomas on the stone cold floors of the Cathedral.
Following his death, miracles were said to have occurred around Thomas’ tomb, prompting requests for the canonisation of this Catholic martyr. By 1173, Thomas was declared St Thomas Becket and pilgrims flocked to Canterbury to visit the shrine of the martyred saint. Consequently, Canterbury became the most popular pilgrimage destination in England.
Canterbury Cathedral and a pilgrimage thereto was the subject of Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century work, The Canterbury Tales. (A novel still widely read today). The book tells of a group of pilgrims who set out to the Cathedral. The Canterbury Tales highlights the incredible lure of the cathedral to those of all classes in the medieval period.
Additions and rebuildings of the cathedral have continued consistently for the past 900 years, despite its turbulent history. Thomas Becket’s tomb was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538 during the Reformation. During the Second World War, the cathedral’s library was destroyed as a result of bombing. The entire cathedral was rescued from succumbing to the same fate by the efforts of locals who speedily doused the flames.
Canterbury Cathedral Today
Canterbury Cathedral remains an iconic building of English history and for this reason, every effort to maintain it is made. A massive 300 staff make every effort to ensure that this beautiful building is cared for and properly preserved. The cathedral requires a staggering £18,000 per day to maintain! The cathedral welcomes over a million visitors per year and their entry fees contribute towards the upkeep of this majestic building.
It’s a wonderful thing that Canterbury Cathedral is still functional today. It is still a working church and the episcopal seat of today’s Archbishop of Canterbury. When visiting the cathedral, every hour visitors are encouraged to remain still, take a seat and take part in the hourly prayers, whatever religion you may or may not practice. It is a beautiful moment when the cathedral falls silent and visitors sit and listen, only for a few minutes, to the prayers made by the priest.
A chaplain is always available to chat and answer any spiritual questions you may have. Just to re-iterate, visitors to Canterbury cathedral are welcomed regardless of faith, denomination or spiritual beliefs (or absence of). (Indeed we saw one chap mediating in one of the pews). If you do not wish to take part in these quiet moments, you are not forced to do so. However, one must remember that the cathedral is and has been for over a thousand years, a place of worship and this ought to be respected.
Our Visit to Canterbury Cathedral
I would recommend spending at least half a day at Canterbury Cathedral in order to properly explore the full property. It is vast and the enormity of the site can only be fully appreciated when you visit.
This area has been transformed into a shrine for the martyred saint. Beneath these swords marks the spot where Thomas was murdered.
A candle marks the spot where Thomas’ remain were laid to rest in the medieval period and thus the focal point of the pilgrims’ devotions. The tomb was sadly destroyed by Henry VIII during the Reformation.
As one would expect, Canterbury Cathedral is filled with art from throughout the ages. Some of the stained glass windows have adorned the cathedral since the 13th century!
Some of the paintings date back to the 16th century and still retain their colour!
The Cathedral is also filled with modern art, putting the 21st-century stamp firmly on the building.
Not all art is a convention! A simple glance at the columns throughout the cathedral will reveal graffiti from centuries ago. Just think, ‘SH’ may have imagined that in the 21st century, we would be reading his initials, pondering his identity! And more importantly, did he or she get caught in the act of carving this graffiti!!!
A huge number of notable people are buried within the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral. The ornate tombs of these many individuals are beautifully designed. These people certainly wanted their wealth to be displayed even after death. The tomb of Edward the Black Prince lies here with golden coverings.
The Cathedral is open throughout the year.
Monday to Saturday:
Summer – 9 am – 5.30 pm
Winter – 9 am – 5.00 pm
12.30 pm – 2.30 pm.
Please note that the opening times for the crypt vary slightly.
|Adults – 18-65 years||£12.50|
|Adults – 65 years and over||£11.50|
|Children (6 to 18 yrs – 5 yrs and under free)||£8.50|
|Family ticket (2 adults, up to 3 children)||£33.00|
|Family ticket (1 adult, 2 children)||£23.00|
Current opening times and entry fees can be found here.
You can book a tour with an informative tour guide for a reasonable charge. Books can also be purchased which provide an insight into all aspects of the building.
After a stroll around the cathedral and the beautiful streets of the city, we found a wonderful little cafe. The Veg Box serves Vegan and Vegetarian food from locally sourced produce.
The food is delicious and the staff are extremely friendly and welcoming. After spending days on the road, (and of course reduce waste) it was lovely to drink coffee from a proper cup!
We look forward to a return visit to Canterbury, its Cathedral and its wonderful streets!