Canterbury Cathedral

1128 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

May, 2016

Product name

Product country

Product city

Travelled with


Reasons for trip

Not only is Canterbury Cathedral one of the oldest Christian Churches in England,it is architecturally one of the best. It has been at the heart of English Christianity for nearly fifteen centuries. It is a World Heritage site along with the nearby ruined St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church, the oldest church in England. The martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170 put Canterbury very firmly on the tourist map and the cathedral became a major centre of pilgrimage. Visitors still arrive in their thousands today.

There has probably been a Christian church here since Roman Times. King Ethelbert of Kent’s wife, Bertha was a Christian and worshiped in her private chapel of St Martin’s, just outside the city walls. St Augustine was sent from Rome in 597 and established his missionary headquarters in Canterbury around St Martin’s Church. Ethelbert was baptised in this church and granted St Augustine land to build a monastery and a cathedral, with St Augustine as the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Christianity gradually spread from here across England.

The city was sacked by the Danes and the cathedral burnt down in 1011. The Archbishop was taken hostage and killed. The cathedral was rebuilt but was destroyed in 1067 when a disastrous fire broke out in the city.

William the Conqueror appointed the Norman Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a motivated and capable leader and soon began rebuilding the cathedral in the latest Norman style of architecture. Lanfranc’s church was extended to the east by his successor, Bishop Anselm with the the north east and south east transepts, and additional chapels as well as the massive crypt under the quire. The only parts of the Norman church to survive today are the crypt, north east and south east transepts, the base of the Chapter House and chapels off the Trinity Chapel.

The history of Canterbury was drastically changed by the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, following several years of bitter rivalry between him and Edward II as to who should be in control of the Christian church. This rocked the establishment and Edward had to pay penance in the cathedral. A series of miracles followed Thomas’s death and he was canonised in 1173. This lead to a massive increase in pilgrims visiting Canterbury, bringing in vast sums of money.

The quire was destroyed by fire in 1174 and this was the opportunity to rebuild the east end of the Cathedral not only to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims and also to provide a worthy setting for Becket’s shrine. William of Sens was put in charge of the rebuilding which began in 1175 with the quire. This was built in the latest Early English style with flying buttresses on the outside and dark Purbeck marble columns which emphasised the height of the arcades, compared with the triforium and clerestory above. Fortunately the chapels of St Anselm with its C12th wall painting and St Andrew were not damaged and survive with their Norman architecture. William fell from faulty scaffolding on the east transept in 1178 and was permanently injured, dying two years later in France.

He was succeeded by William the Englishman who added the Trinity Chapel and the Corona in 1184 and extended the crypt eastwards. The north and south quire aisles acted as ambulatories, taking pilgrims to the shrine of Thomas Becket in the Trinity Chapel. The stained glass windows were made by some of the best workmen in France. A watching chamber was built so monks could keep an eye on pilgrims visiting the shrine. The Corona housed a jewelled reliquary containing the tonsure from Thomas Becket.

Burial near the shrine was thought to give great sanctity and the tombs of Edward, the Black Prince and Henry IV were built on either side of the shrine.

The east end now dwarfed the nave and there was a second great period of building and embellishment in the C14th, when the Norman nave was replaced by a magnificent early Perpendicular style nave, with tall columns rising up to delicate vaulted arches and gilt roof bosses. It is regarded as one of the best examples of Perpendicular work in England. A magnificent stone screen separated the nave and choir.

The Norman central tower was pulled down and this wasn’t rebuilt until the start of the C16th. The cloisters were rebuilt and the chapter house ceiling was replaced with a wagon vaulted roof. The transepts were also rebuilt as was the south west tower.

The monastery was dissolved in 1540 and the cathedral survived as a college of secular canons. Just over half of the monks became members of the new foundation. The rest were pensioned off. Becket’s shrine was destroyed and cart loads of treasure were appropriated by Henry VIII.

There was further damage during the Civil War and the Commonwealth when stained glass was smashed, the organ and monuments damaged and hangings torn down. The lead was stripped from the roof.

By 1660, the church was in a wretched state and major repairs were needed. There were further restorations in the mid C19th to the north west tower and the south west porch. Some of the statues were replaced.

This is still continuing with the addition of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the west door, joining Edward VI and Queen Victoria.

Sir George Gilbert Scott was responsible for restoring the quire in the C19th, incorporating as much of the original structure as possible.

The Cathedral still stands in its walled precinct and all visitors have to pay to enter this, unless they are attending a service. The ticket gives free admission for the next 12 months. Entry is through the Christ Church Gateway which was one of the last parts of the monastic buildings to be built before the Dissolution. The heraldic shields commemorate the visit of Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII to Canterbury in 1500. The statue of Christ above the archway is modern, replacing a statue damaged by Parliamentarians during the Civil War.

Canterbury is on nearly everyone’s tick list, which means that it does get very busy. It is such an important part of our Christian history that I feel it has to be given 5* although there are other cathedrals which I do prefer to Canterbury.

I last visited when I was 15 and all I remember is the tomb of the Black Prince complete with his surcoat and helmet above. These are now reproductions. Walking into the nave is impressive, although I have to admit that the Perpendicular architecture doesn’t do a lot for me. The cathedral is big and it is very easy to miss things. The introductory leaflet gives a recommended route round the cathedral which I started to follow until I kept getting distracted by other things. The stained glass around the Trinity Chapel is wonderful, as are many of the tombs. The crypt is massive and the Norman crypt has a womb like quality. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photographs in the crypt. The wall paintings in St Gabriels’ Chapel are beautiful. My camera finger was twitching in there.

I spent nearly three hours in the cathedral and even then I didn’t have chance to properly walk round the precincts or find the remains of the original monastery.

The cathedral is open daily from 9-5pm on weekdays and Saturdays. It is open 12.30-2.30 on Sundays. The quire is closed at 4.30 during the week and at 2.30 on a Saturday in preparation for evensong. There is a charge to enter the precincts and cathedral. If gift aided, this gives free entry for 12 months. If not a tax payer, ask for an Annual Ticket’ form.

There are more pictures and information “here.”:


Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.