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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury, better known as Canterbury Cathedral, is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the leader of the Church of England as well as the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. This iconic monument is a World Heritage Site and remains a popular tourist destination for many pilgrims from all over the world. The city of Canterbury is the capital of County Kent and is around an hour's travel by train southeast of the British capital, London, and approximately 48 kilometers west of the English Channel and the White Cliffs of Dover.
Early Papal InfluencesIt all started with St. Augustine, who, as a missionary, arrived in England at the behest of Catholic Pope Gregory. The visit was an attempt to convert the heathen Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. It appears the mission succeeded because in 597 AD, Augustine baptized King Ethelbert of Kent. Five years later, Augustine re-dedicated an existing church on the site in the name of Christ the Savior. This, in turn, became Canterbury Cathedral.
By 750 AD, the first monastery was established under the leadership of Archbishop Cuthbert, but nothing of this survives. In the early 11th century (around 1011), Canterbury was one of the many towns in southeast England to be overrun by the marauding Danes who navigated the local river systems in their long boats on pillaging missions. Canterbury was destroyed and the cathedral was set alight.
Held as a hostage, Archbishop Alphege refused to let the parishioners pay the ransom for his release. He was beaten to death with clubs made from simple ox bones at a camp in Greenwich held by the invaders. Alphege became the first martyr and saint to be included on one of the medieval stained glass windows in the cathedral attests.
Another Fire in 1067The re-built cathedral suffered a devastating fire in 1067, destroying what remained of the Saxon cathedral. Now under Norman rule, the new Archbishop, Lanfranc, was consecrated in 1070, although there was no church in which to perform the ritual. Lanfranc was a determined individual who motivated the reorganization of the monastery and pushed for the church of Canterbury to take preference over York Minister, which enabled the rebuilding of the cathedral to commence the construction of Lanfranc’s new Norman cathedral which quickly took shape.
Fast forward to 1093, when Archbishop Anselm was introduced to Canterbury Cathedral. He was an academic and was highly regarded for his piety and wisdom. It was mainly thanks to Anselm that much of the Romanesque architecture that survives to this day was included in the design. Most prominent, Anselm saw to the building of the massive east end crypt that is still intact. By the year 1130, a huge choir and ambulatory took shape over the crypt.
Brutal Business in the CathedralThe dastardly deed for which Canterbury Cathedral became most infamous was the murder of Thomas Becket on the 29th December 1170, by the order of King Henry II – the king later attempted to atone for his sins through serving penance in 1174. As if to reject the king’s remorse, the magnificent Romanesque choir area was devastated by fire in September 1174. Pilgrims visiting the Shrine of St. Thomas – already acclaimed for its miraculous healings - provided the funding for the restorative work to the cathedral.
Rising from the AshesWork started on rebuilding the choir area under talented William of Sens in 1175. Tragically, William fell to his death through faulty scaffolding in 1178 – the early English Gothic style that was so characteristic of many of England’s cathedrals was ascribed to William of Sens. William was succeeded by William the Englishman, who contributed to the addition of Trinity Chapel and the Corona at the east end in 1184.
Finally the Finishing TouchesSeveral master craftsmen, probably of French origin, were focused on the beautiful stained glass windows. In 1175, the scene of “Adam Delving” was the first to go in and was followed by more than 80 of Christ’s ancestors in the clerestory windows. This creative period ended abruptly when, in 1207, the archbishop and the monks were all exiled by King John. Six years later, work resumed upon the return of the faithful cathedral clergy, and in the year 1220, the body of St. Thomas was moved to a new crypt in Trinity Chapel.
His Master’s VoiceThe medieval significance of the monastery and cathedral at Canterbury ended in 1538. Self-acclaimed head of the Church of England, King Henry VIII ordered the Shrine of St. Thomas to be destroyed, and many of the accumulated treasures in the cathedral were appropriated by Henry. During the turbulent years under Henry’s rule, Canterbury ceased to function as an abbey. By March 1539, the cathedral and monastery were downgraded to mere college status.
In time, Canterbury regained its important position as head of the Church of England. It went on to face threats of a different nature during World War II. Large parts of the city of Canterbury were destroyed during countless bombing raids from Hitler’s Luftwaffe, but fortunately, the beautiful stained glass windows were removed as a precautionary measure. The cathedral library took a direct hit during a raid but the main body of this magnificent Gothic Masterpiece remained intact.
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Author: robric. Last updated: Mar 04, 2016