Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ, Canterbury.
|Matins said (or sung by the King's School)||09.30|
|Huguenot Service (in French)||15.00|
|* with Sermon|
|Matins||07.30 (9.30 on Bank Holidays)|
|Holy Communion||08.00 – daily|
|and in addition|
|Major Saints Days||11.15|
|Evensong *||15.15 (Occasionally 17.30)|
|* Evensong is usually sung, but occasionally is a said service.|
Bishop, Dean & Chapter
Lay members: Prof. Michael Wright, Mrs. Caroline Spencer, Mr. William Pettit, Brig. John Meardon.
Other Key Officers
The Origins of Canterbury Cathedral
St Augustine of Canterbury, accompanied by a number of monks, arrived in the Kingdom of Kent, in the south east of England, as a missionary in 597AD. He had been sent from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great in 595-6, where he had been prior at St. Andrew’s Benedictine Abbey. Significant factors prompting this ‘Gregorian Mission’ appear to have included:
- A desire by Gregory to recover and extend provinces which had been Christian and to have those provinces acknowledge papal supremacy;
- Papal recognition that Kent held ‘imperium’ over the southern kingdoms of Britain at the time and that this could prove helpful in extending the church’s influence;
- An interest to receive a delegation as expressed by the Kentish King Ethelbert and court, likely to have been strongly encouraged by Ethelbert’s Christian Frankish Queen Bertha;
- Support from neighbouring Christian Frankish rulers who could assist the mission and who might also have had political interests in extending influence over Kent and the English kingdoms.
Augustine was given a church at Canterbury (St Martin's, named after St Martin of Tours, still standing today) by King Ethelbert. This building had been a place of worship during the Roman occupation of Britain.
Augustine had already been consecrated a bishop by the time of his mission to Kent and was later made an archbishop by the Pope. He established his seat within the Roman city walls and founded the first cathedral there dedicated to Jesus Christ, the Holy Saviour. becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Anglo-Saxon Cathedral
The oldest archaeological remains, found during excavations beneath the current cathedral’s nave in 1993, show parts of the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon construction, built over a Roman road. They suggest that the church consisted of a nave, maybe with a narthex, and side-chapels or portici to the north and south. The foundations re-used Roman stone with mortared stone and Roman bricks above. The scale and outline of the building are very much akin to the early church of St Peter and St Paul at St Augustine's Abbey (Sparks 1990, p8).
Another smaller building was discovered south-west of these foundations. It was built slightly below the contemporary ground level and it seems of uncertain use, though maybe it was crypt or mausoleum.
At some point in the ninth or tenth century the original Anglo-Saxon building was replaced by a church that was larger (49 m. by 23 m.) with a squared western wall. It also seems to have comprised a central square tower, suggested by two cross walls and a 3 m. wide foundation on the south side. The building had large foundations for the aisles and a built-in grave was found in the north aisle near the west end. Archaeologists conjecture these works may have been undertaken at the behest of Archbishop Wulfred (805-32), and a subsequent rebuild, highlighted by an offset tile course on the south wall, to Archbishop Oda (942-58).
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 It was during the reforms of Archbishop St. Dunstan (c909-988), that a Benedictine abbey named Christ Church Priory was added to the cathedral, though the formal establishment as a monastery seems to date to c.997. The community only became fully monastic from Lanfranc's time onwards (with monastic constitutions addressed by him to Prior Henry). St. Dunstan was buried on the south side of the High Altar.
Further redevelopment in the early eleventh century saw the squared western end replaced by a large polygonal apse with flanking hexagonal stair-towers, known as the Oratory of St. Mary. The Archbishop's seat may have been situated at the back of the apse, with an altar to the Virgin in front, towards the nave. Contemporaneously, the arcade walls appear to have been strengthened and towers added to the eastern corners. These works may have been instigated by Archbishops Lyfing (1013-20) or Æthelnoth (1020-38) after a Danish army, led by Thorkell the Tall and his brother Hemming, plundered and burnt the city and cathedral in 1011. The then Archbishop, Alphege, was taken hostage by the raiders and later killed at Greenwich on 19 April 1012, the first of Canterbury's five martyred archbishops. (Woodman 1981, p15). Examples of similar buildings at this time can be found in the Romanesque churches of the tenth and eleventh centuries in France, Germany and Switzerland.
The eleventh century Benedictine monk and chronicler Eadmer, who became the biographer of Archbishop St. Anselm and had known the Saxon cathedral as a boy, wrote that, in its plan, it resembled St Peter's in Rome. This reinforces the idea that the church took the shape of a basilica and had an eastern apse. However, the archaeological evidence suggests that by the mid eleventh century, the cathedral was in fact 'bi-polar' with apses at botgh eastern and western ends. One theory is that the eastern apse included a large ring crypt, possibly housing the remains of St Dunstan. The church at this time, therefore, would have been around 75 m. in length. This would mean the cathedral would have been among the largest in northern Europe at this period.
The Norman Cathedral
A year after the Normans conquered England, the Anglo-Saxon cathedral was destroyed by a major fire on 6th December 1067. It had suited Duke William of Normandy, now King William 'the Conqueror' to conciliate a number of the Anglo-Saxon church hierarchy in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, particularly while he was dealing with rebellions. This included the controversial Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, who had served the Danish and Anglo-Saxon royal households since Cnut, but had also been excommunicated by no fewer than five successive Popes, primarily for holding the sees of Canterbury and Winchester at the same time. In 1070, Pope Alexander II sent legates to England and at a council in Winchester at Easter 1070, Stigand was deposed.
William nominated Lanfranc, an Italian who had become a noted teacher in Normandy after 1039, notably at the Abbey of Bec from 1045, where his pupils included the future Pope, Alexander II, and Anselm, who succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury. As well as his celebrated scholarship, William appears to have owed Lanfranc for his political support in ensuring that the Papacy recognised the legitimacy of his marriage to Matilda of Flanders. Lanfranc was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th August 1070.
With regard to his Cathedral, the ruins of the fire of 1067 were cleared and the reconstruction closely followed the pattern of the Abbey of St. Étienne in Caen, where Lanfranc had been the first abbot from 1066. The building stone was brought from Normandy. The new church was a cruciform shape. At the east end was a relatively short choir ending in three apses. The choir adjoined a low tower over the crossing. To north and south were transepts with apsidal chapels. West from the crossing lay the nave, with nine aisled bays, culminating in a pair of towers at the west end. The whole was dedicated in 1077, the year of Lanfranc's death. Parts of the north wall and a staircase in the area of the north west transept – also called the Martyrdom – remain from that building.
Prior Ernulf was elected in 1096 and under his direction the east end was demolished and replaced with a 198 feet long extension from the crossing. This doubled the length of the cathedral, which incorporated a large and elaborately decorated crypt below. The work was completed in 1126 under Prior Conrad, who had succeeded Ernulf in 1107. The new choir had the form of a church in its own right, with its own transepts. The east end was apsidal in shape, with three chapels opening off an ambulatory.
The internal decoration of the choir was noted by the contemporary chronicler William of Malmesbury, who wrote in his Gesta pontificum anglorum that "Nothing like it could be seen in England either for the light of its glass windows, the gleaming of its marble pavements, or the many-coloured paintings which led the eyes to the panelled ceiling above."
The Murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket
The son of a London merchant, Thomas Becket received an education in London (possibly at St. Paul’s Cathedral Grammar School), Merton Priory in Surrey and he also spent around a year in Paris when he was about 20. After a while Becket acquired a position in the household of Theobald of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Theobald entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and also sent him to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. In 1154 Theobald made Becket Archdeacon of Canterbury and he was also granted other ecclesiastical offices (despite not being in orders or ordained) including a number of benefices, prebends at Lincoln and St Paul's Cathedrals, and the office of Provost of Beverley. His efficiency in those posts led to Theobald recommending him to the newly crowned King Henry II for the vacant post of Lord Chancellor, to which Becket was appointed in January 1155.
Henry and Thomas became firm friends, their similar personalities forming a strong bond between them. As Chancellor, Becket enforced the king’s traditional sources of revenue that were exacted from all landowners, including churches and bishoprics. King Henry even sent his son ‘Young’ Henry to live in Becket's household, it being the custom then for noble children to be fostered out to other noble houses.
It seemed natural to Henry that his friend and close servant should be nominated to the highest church post when Theobald died. Henry had had disputes with Theobald over canon law and ‘benefit of clergy’ enabling clerics to escape justice in the king’s courts and had come to rely on Becket’s administrative efficiency as Chancellor in helping to underpin royal authority. Becket was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. His election was confirmed on 23 May 1162 by a royal council of bishops and noblemen. Henry hoped that Becket would continue to put the royal government first, rather than that of the church and indeed clergy and the monks at Canterbury were concerned that a secular was about to be foisted on them.
However, the famous transformation of Becket into an ascetic occurred at this time. He was ordained a priest at Canterbury on 2 June 1162, and the very next day was consecrated as archbishop by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester among others.
A rift grew between Henry and Becket as the new archbishop resigned his chancellorship and sought to recover and extend the rights of the archbishopric. This led to a series of conflicts with the king, including Becket's attempts to regain control of lands belonging to the archbishopric and his views on Henry's taxation policies. Most notable, however, was a continuation of the dispute over the jurisdiction of English secular courts over clerics. Attempts by Henry to influence the other bishops against Becket began in Westminster in October 1163, where the King sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government, he argued, in regard to the church as they had been under Henry I, before they had become weakened during The Anarchy in Stephen’s reign. Henry maintained the pressure, culminating in the Consitutions of Clarendon, where Becket was officially asked to agree to King’s rights or face political repercussions. In assemblies at Clarendon Palace in January 1164 most of the higher English clergy accepted, in sixteen clauses or constitutions, less clerical independence and a weaker connection with the Papacy. Finally, even Becket expressed his willingness to agree to the substance of the Constitutions of Clarendon, but he refused to formally sign the documents. In the following October, Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle to answer allegations of contempt of royal authority as well as charges of corruption during the period he had been Chancellor.
The argument between Henry and Becket became both increasingly personal and international in nature. Henry was stubborn and bore grudges, while Becket was vain, ambitious and overly political: neither man was willing to back down. Both sought the support of Pope Alexander III and other international leaders, arguing their positions in various forums across Europe. The situation worsened in 1164 when Becket fled to France to seek sanctuary with Henry's enemy, Louis VII. Henry harassed Becket's associates in England, and Becket excommunicated religious and secular officials who sided with the king. The pope supported Becket's case in principle but needed Henry's support in dealing with Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, so he repeatedly sought a negotiated solution; the Norman Church also intervened to try to assist Henry in finding a solution.
By 1169, however, Henry had decided to crown his son Young Henry as king of England to ensure an orderly succession. This ideally required the acquiescence of Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury, traditionally the churchman with the right to conduct the ceremony. Furthermore, the whole Becket matter had become an increasing international embarrassment to Henry. He began to take a more conciliatory tone with Becket but, when this failed, the Archbishop of York, along with the bishop of London, and the bishop of Salisbury, crowned Young Henry King at York. Becket was allowed to lay an interdict on England, forcing Henry back to negotiations. Pope Alexander sent delegates to impose a solution to the dispute. At that point, Henry offered a compromise that would allow Thomas to return to England from exile. The parties finally came to terms in July 1170 but just as the dispute seemed resolved, in November, Becket excommunicated the Archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury for breach of Canterbury's privilege of coronation. While the three clergymen fled to the king in Normandy, Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the church after he returned to England in early December, news of which also reached Henry. The king was furious, and infamously pronounced, "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk?"
Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights, Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury.
On 29 December 1170 they arrived at Canterbury. According to accounts left by the monk Gervase of Canterbury and eyewitness Edward Grim, they placed their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their mail armour under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester to give an account of his actions, but Becket refused. It was not until Becket refused their demands to submit to the king's will that they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside for the killing. Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers. The four knights, wielding drawn swords, caught up with him in a spot near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the choir of the cathedral, where the monks were chanting vespers.
Four contemporary accounts of what happened next exist; of particular note is that of Edward Grim, who was himself wounded in the attack. This is part of the account from Grim:
…The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.' But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, 'Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more”.
Following Becket's death, the monks prepared his body for burial. According to some accounts, including that of Benedict of Peterborough, Prior of Canterbury at the time, it was discovered that Becket had worn a hairshirt under his archbishop's garments—a sign of penance and one Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr, and on 21 February 1173 — little more than two years after his death — he was canonised by Pope Alexander III in St. Peter's Church in Segni. On 12 July 1174, in the midst of the revolt of 1173–1174, Henry humbled himself with public penance at Becket's tomb, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in England.
The monks were afraid that Becket's body might be stolen. To prevent this Becket's remains were placed beneath the floor of the eastern crypt of the cathedral. A stone cover was placed over the burial place with two holes where pilgrims could insert their heads and kiss the tomb; this arrangement is illustrated in the 'Miracle Windows' of the Trinity Chapel. A guard chamber (now called the Wax Chamber) had a clear view of the grave. In 1220, Becket's bones were moved to a new gold-plated and bejewelled shrine behind the high altar in the Trinity Chapel. The shrine was supported by three pairs of pillars, placed on a raised platform with three steps. This is also illustrated in one of the miracle windows. Canterbury, because of its religious history, had always seen a large number of pilgrims. However, after the death of Thomas Becket, the number of pilgrims visiting the Cathedral rose rapidly.
The shrine stood until it was destroyed in 1538, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, on orders from Henry VIII. The king also destroyed Becket's bones and ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated. The pavement where the shrine stood is today marked by a lit candle.
The saint's fame quickly spread throughout the Norman world. The first holy image of Becket is thought to be a mosaic icon still visible in Monreale Cathedral, in Sicily, created shortly after his death. Becket's cousins obtained refuge at the Sicilian court during his exile, and King William II of Sicily was married to a daughter of Henry II. The principal church of the Sicilian city of Marsala is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket. Over forty-five medieval chasse reliquaries decorated in enamel showing scenes from Becket's life survive, including the Becket Casket (now in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum).
Late 12th and 13th Centuries
Just a year after Thomas’s canonisation, in September 1174, the choir was severely damaged by fire. A major rebuilding project began, chronicled by a monk named Gervase. The crypt survived and it was also possible to retain the external walls. These were increased in height by 12 ft. (3.7m) during the reconstruction, though their round-headed Romanesque windows were unaltered. The rest of the rebuilding, though, under the direction of Frenchman Willam of Sens, believed to have been involved with the Gothic rebuilding of St. Denis near Paris, adopted the new Gothic style with pointed arches, rib vaulting and flying buttresses. The limestone used was brought from Caen in Normandy, with Purbeck marble being used for the shafting. The choir was reconsecrated by 1180 with the remains of St Dunstan and St Alphege being moved there from the crypt. Following William’s injury in a fall from the scaffolding in 1179 he was replaced by one of his former assistants, known as 'William the Englishman'
The Fourteenth to early Sixteenth Centuries
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Prior Henry of Eastry had a stone choir screen, or "pulpitum" constructed. Prior Oxenden, who succeeded Eastry, oversaw the insertion of a large five-light window into St Anselm's chapel.
Dissolution of the monastery and the Reformation
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- Babington, Margaret, The Romance of Canterbury Cathedral, Raphael Tuck,1955
- Blockley, Kevin and Bennett, Paul. Canterbury Cathedral. Canterbury Archaeological Trust, 1993
- Collinson, Patrick; Ramsay, Nigel & Sparks, Margaret, ed. A History of Canterbury Cathedral (revised ed.). OUP, 2002 .
- Cook, G. H. Portrait of Canterbury Cathedral. London: Phoenix House, 1949.
- Greenway, Diana E. ed. Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300: volume 2: Monastic cathedrals (northern and southern provinces) 1971.
- Willis, Robert, The Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral. London: Longman, 1845.
- Withers, Hartley. The Cathedral Church of Canterbury. Bell's Cathedral Series (2nd revised ed.). London: George Bell, 1897.