Canterbury Cathedral is magnificent in and of itself, but it’s probably most famous for being the site of the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop who repeatedly butted heads with King Henry II over whether or not the Church was above the law of the land. Formerly very good friends, Henry became increasingly exasperated with Thomas and was heard to exclaim in frustration “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four of his knights (probably not the sharpest knives in the drawer) took it upon themselves to do just that, and on December 29, 1170, burst into the Cathedral and whacked off the top part of his head. Henry was apparently horrified by their actions, and indeed, Thomas’ subsequent martyrdom and canonization empowered him even more greatly in death than he had been in life.
The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury, as it is officially known, is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England.
It was founded in 597 and suffered the usual vagaries of the time, mostly fires and invasions by marauding Danes.
It was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077 – a remarkably short period of time for a cathedral of this size.
The interior detail is breathtaking, from the vaulted ceilings to the statues.
Following Thomas Becket’s murder, the cathedral was much enlarged to accommodate the flow of pilgrims to the site, whose donations funded the expansion. His remains were originally interred in the crypt, which was finished in 1184. They were not to remain in peace, however. King Henry VIII ordered the shrine destroyed in 1540 during his prolonged rampage known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This light on the floor in the Trinity Chapel marks the spot where the shrine once stood.
The stained glass is rich in colour and detail, with the oldest windows dating from 1174.
I was very taken with the Cathedral Cat, Laptop, who had his own feeding bowl and cushion in the cloisters. He looked like a ‘battle-scared old wreck”, as my Dad would have said. Given the violent history of the cathedral, I thought his scrappy appearance was very fitting.
We visited the town a bit after touring the Cathedral. It doesn’t seem to have changed much from what you would envision from Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, with its narrow streets and timbered buildings.