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My son has now been a student at Canterbury Christ Church University for over two years and has lived in Canterbury for the same amount of time. During visits to see my son and his girlfriend, he often mentions that we, his mum and dad, should visit the Cathedral. I have wanted to do this for some time but often not found the time on our visits. However, he mentioned in November that on our forthcoming December visit a large lighted Christmas tree would be in place outside the Cathedral. He believed that I would enjoy this sight. Indeed, this sold me. I thought it might help me to get into a glowing Christmas mood.
There were seven of us in our party; my son’s girlfriend’s parents were also visiting for the day. We all went out for lunch together and then one of our party left early as he wanted to attend a service in the cathedral. As it began to grow dark we decided that now would be a good time to make our way to the Cathedral. We were in Canterbury’s quaint shopping area and this is less than ten minutes from the cathedral on foot. Parking isn’t always easy in Canterbury with many spaces reserved for residents on the narrow streets. However, there are car parks which are usually well signposted. Canterbury’s sites are all rather compact and walking isn’t usually a problem in this area.
The exterior of Canterbury Cathedral looked beautiful. We arrived to see the lovely Christmas tree lit up and a large nativity scene very close by. The stable scene attracted many admiring visitors, ourselves included.
A service had just finished and this seemed a good time to walk around the building
As we entered the Nave I immediately thought that this was a place worth seeing. Apparently I wasn’t alone in this as, although not crowded, there were quite a lot of visitors. Many appeared to be overseas tourists and they were happily taking photographs and some even videoing their visit. There are some areas where photography is not allowed. One of these is the treasury. I was impressed by the great height of the ceiling. When one thinks about the age of this building, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been built at a time when there wasn’t technology and not much in the way of labour saving devices. Everywhere one looks there is something to feast one’s eyes upon- from the ornate stone masonry to the stained glass windows. I know little about architecture so will not pretend to, but just try to explain the wonder of the sights to be seen. So in the nave, although ancient it is much used today for church services and so it doesn’t have such an ‘old’ feel to it as there are many modern wooden chairs in here and a feeling of every day usage. Literature is available here to assist with one’s tour. There are also facilities for an audio tour but we did not use this. Most points were well explained, with sign around, and my son was quite knowledgeable about this cathedral as he had, along with other students, during their first year at university, been given an extensive tour of the cathedral and grounds. He too had been impressed as I could tell by the way he had retained so much of what had been related on the tour.
We ascended several stone steps (handrails always much in evidence to assist) and entered the Quire. I could imagine a service being held in the cathedral with a full choir housed here. If there had been more time available, then I would have attended a service here. I am not much of a church goer but, I think in a place like this, if one has any religious feeling at all it will be magnified. Even to those without Christian faith, it is a wonderful cathedral, steeped in history. I was pleased that I could take photos freely in most of this building. I had thought it might not be allowed owing to religious sensitivity, or the fact that the cathedral would make money by selling postcards if visitors were banned the use of cameras. I snapped away in areas where photography was permitted.
We slowly made our way out of the
Quire and viewed the many side chapels. I was surprised at the size of this historic building. I think from the exterior one often sees a limited view of the building and cannot realise the size of it. Once inside I thought it was much larger than imagined. Others in the party agreed with this. I was awestruck by the work that must have been involved in creating this cathedral. My son said he had been told that those working on much of the stonework would not have lived long enough to see the completion of the intricate work they had begun. Everywhere was quite dark although lighting was provided by small spotlights and concealed lights, placed here and there to illuminate certain items. Although it was now dark I still noticed the many stained glass windows and, this being something I really appreciate, wished to return on a sunny day to see these windows in all their glory. There were stained glass windows displayed on walls inside at an ideal level to view closely. These were, naturally, well protected by, I imagine, extremely tough clear glass. This was a lovely way to admire the work involved in this art. I would say, probably a labour of love.
In some areas of the cathedral, such as the crypt, were signs asking for silence. It was a quiet time at our visit anyway but visitors all seemed to respect requests.
I believe the cathedral is accessible to disabled guests. I did see a wheelchair and passenger being pushed around some areas. I understand there are ramped areas and there is also a lift near to the library for the use of disabled visitors. Also a downloadable leaflet is available, providing access information for those with difficulties/disabilities. This will give detailed information as to how certain areas can be accessed, as it is worth remembering that this building is on three levels and there are many steps around.
Whether one is religious or interested in the history of the cathedral, it really is worth visiting. The historic atmosphere felt here, by myself at least, is immense. Around the building were many tombs going back to ancient times. We saw the tomb of The Black Prince, and those of many former archbishops.
I enjoyed looking at the ceilings, in the area that I would call the basement of the building, where some of the chapels had ornately decorated ceilings, painstakingly painted by monks but, in places these ceilings were plain. According to my son this variation was due to the fact that fires had been started in attempts to burn down the chapels in protest against its ornateness, as this wasn’t in keeping with the views held by Puritans.
Some Historical Facts
Of course there are many important historical facts pertaining to this cathedral and I think these are best taken from the cathedral’s website, so then they should be more accurate than from my own very limited knowledge. I feel in a review of such an important heritage s building such as Canterbury cathedral some of its history is essential for the reader.
‘St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England in 597 AD. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great. It is said that Gregory had been struck by the beauty of Angle slaves he saw for sale in the city market and despatched Augustine and some monks to convert them to Christianity. Augustine was given a church at Canterbury (St Martin's, after St Martin of Tours, still standing today) by the local King, Ethelbert whose Queen, Bertha, a French Princess,, was already a Christian. This building had been a place of worship during the Roman occupation of Britain and is the oldest church in England still in use. Augustine had been consecrated a bishop in France and was later made an archbishop by the Pope. He established his seat within the Roman city walls (the Latin word for a seat is cathedra, from which the word cathedral is derived) and built the first cathedral there, becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Since that time, there has been a community around the Cathedral offering daily prayer to God; this community is arguably the oldest organisation in the English speaking world. The present Archbishop, The Most Revd and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams, is 104th in the line of succession from Augustine. Until the 10th century the Cathedral community lived as the household of the Archbishop. During the 10th century, it became a formal community of Benedictine monks, which continued until the monastery was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1540. Augustine's original building lies beneath the floor of the nave– it was extensively rebuilt and enlarged by the Saxons, and the Cathedral was rebuilt completely by the Normans in 1070 following a major fire. There have been many additions to the building over the last nine hundred years, but parts of the quire and some of the windows and their stained glass date from the 12th century. By 1077, Archbishop Lanfranc had rebuilt it as a Norman church, described as "nearly perfect". A staircase and parts of the North Wall - in the area of the North West transept also called the Martyrdom - remain from that building. More Recent Times The work of the Cathedral as a monastery came to an end in 1540, when the monastery was closed on the orders of King Henry VIII. Its role as a place of prayer continued – as it does to this day. Once the monastery had been suppressed, responsibility for the services and upkeep was given to a group of clergy known as the Dean and Chapter. Today, the Cathedral is still governed by the Dean and four Canons, together (in recent years) with four lay people and the Archdeacon of Maidstone. During the Civil War of the 1640s, the Cathedral suffered damage at the hands of the Puritans; much of the medieval stained glass was smashed and horses were stabled in the nave. After the Restoration in 1660, several years were spent in repairing the building. In the early 19th Century, the North West tower was found to be dangerous. Although it dated from Lanfranc’s time, it was demolished in the early 1830s and replaced by a copy of the South West tower, thus giving a symmetrical appearance to the west end of the Cathedral. During the Second World War, the Precincts were heavily damaged by enemy action and the Cathedral’s Library was destroyed. Thankfully, the Cathedral itself was not seriously harmed, due to the bravery of the team of fire watchers, who patrolled the roofs and dealt with the incendiary bombs dropped by enemy bombers.
Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?
The best known event in the Cathedral's history was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. Canterbury, always on the medieval pilgrim route to Rome, became an end in itself, as thousands came to worship at Becket's tomb, especially after his canonization in 1173. Geoffrey Chaucer's pilgrims in his poem, The Canterbury Tales, were by no means unique. They represented the hundreds of thousands who travelled to the Cathedral to pray, repent or be healed at his shrine. (The word canter comes from the pace of the pilgrims' horses as they rode to the Cathedral.) Thomas' shrine was destroyed in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII; today, a simple candle marks the place where it once stood and the pink stone before it bears the imprint of thousands of pilgrims' knees.
A Few Important Dates Through The Centuries
597 St Augustine arrived in Kent and soon established the first Cathedral 1070-1077 Cathedral rebuilt by Archbishop Lanfranc 1098-1130 New Quire built over a Crypt (present Western Crypt) 1170 Thomas Becket murdered in the Cathedral 1175-1184 Quire rebuilt. Eastern Crypt, Trinity and Corona Chapels added (all as seen today) 1220 Becket's body placed in new Shrine in Trinity Chapel 1377-1405 Lanfranc Nave demolished and rebuilt as seen today; Cloister vaulting inserted c1450 Pulpitum Screen constructed 1498 Bell Harry Tower extended and the Cathedral largely complete
Pictures of Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury
as seen today 1538 Becket's Shrine destroyed by Henry VIII 1540 Monastery dissolved by royal command 1541 New Foundation of Dean and Chapter established 1660-1704 Repair and refurbishing after Puritan damage 1834 North West tower rebuilt 1954 Library rebuilt, repairing War damage 1986 altar of the Sword's Point (Martyrdom) restored 1988 Compass Rose placed in the Nave 2000 International Study Centre opened in the Precincts Today, the Cathedral stands as a place where prayer to God has been offered daily for over 1,400 years; nearly 2,000 services are held each year, as well as countless private prayers from individuals. The Cathedral offers a warm welcome to all visitors – its aim is to show people Jesus, which we do through the splendour of the building as well as the beauty of the worship. Canterbury Cathedral Today
Canterbury Cathedral is a place of worship for many. It holds daily Morning Prayer services, along with other church services. Weddings take place here-what a wonderful place to be married. I am looking forward to my son’s graduation service which will be held in this cathedral. I have read that the cathedral costs 12,000 per day to run and keep it maintained. Therefore, it depends heavily on donations made by visitors. The cathedral has a ‘Friends of the Cathedral Club’ who help to raise much needed funds. Canterbury Cathedral offers guided tours for visitors and schools. It sounds to me as if it is very much a part of the Canterbury area and keeps up with the times. The library has been refurbished.
•Its services for schools include supporting the schools’ Religious education syllabus and help with other subjects such as history and maths and more
•Guided tours on all subject areas including RE, History, Art, Maths, Literature.
•It has well equipped audio rooms and workshops with a qualified teacher and workshops.
•The cathedral also provides audio tours in seven languages to help to explain this amazing site of English Heritage.
It has a gift shop and an online shop to help with the raising of funds to keep the cathedral running. There are other ideas to help such as sponsoring a stone. In fact there are too many to mention in this review but I would recommend looking at the very comprehensive website: http://canterbury-cathedral.org
Opening Times and charges
As the cathedral is part of the Canterbury community offering many services this means that at times visiting certain areas will be restricted and occasionally closed. It is recommended that one contact the cathedral before visiting, to check that it will be open when you visit.
Sundays Throughout the Year, including the Crypt 12:30 - 14:30* *Last entry 1/2 hour prior to closing time Parts of the Cathedral may be open outside these hours. Contact the Visits Office for up-to-date opening details.
Entry Charge There is a charge to enter the precincts and the Cathedral unless you are attending a Service. This charge contributes towards the upkeep of the Cathedral and its activities.
• Adults £8.00 - pre-booked groups £7.00 • Concessions £7.00 - pre-booked groups £7.00 • Voucher: free child entrance
Precincts Passes You may be eligible for free entry to the precincts if you fall under any of the following categories: • Work in the old city of Canterbury • Live within 4 miles of the Bell Harry tower • Member of the Cathedral Congregation • Cathedral Volunteer • Electoral roll of a church in the diocese • Resident within the Precincts
My son says that he has free entry, as do all students studying in the Canterbury area.
We all enjoyed t visiting Canterbury Cathedral. It wasn’t the first visit for most of our group. We all agreed that there was much more to this building than we would have expected before visiting. It is a place to visit any time of year as, although we enjoyed the winter evening atmosphere to our visit, we didn’t get to see the gardens which I have been told are attractive, especially during the summer months. However, although many aspects of this cathedral are family friendly early on Sunday evening would not be suitable time for young children. I think that young children would most enjoy the cathedral as part of a school or group trip when they could be shown activities such as brass rubbings and enjoy the classroom facilities. I would recommend a tour of this cathedral.