Murder & Majesty: Canterbury Cathedral’s Top 10 Highlights

Touring sensation One of the top things to do in Kent, the “Garden of England,” is to visit Canterbury Cathedral.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination is famous for being the site of Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170, an event that continues to captivate visitors and pilgrims.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket had met King Henry II, who had commanded a group of his most trusted knights to commit the crime in a blatant abuse of power. To this day, standing in the exact spot where Becket was murdered is a terrifying experience.

Cathedral House is located at 11 The Precincts in Canterbury.

1. A Walk in the Footsteps of History: The Cathedral Grounds

There’s no better way to start your visit than by strolling around the perimeter of Canterbury Cathedral, contemplating the many historic figures who have walked here before you, including kings and queens, archbishops, and famous writers.

Walking the length of the building not only gives you perspective on its vast size, but it also allows you to see its many different architectural styles, such as its Norman arches, Late Gothic nave, and stunning towers. It’s well spent time.

2. A Magnificent Entrance

You’ll be struck by the grandeur of the cathedral’s tall, bright nave and aisles, with their cluster pillars, Gothic tracery windows, and ornate ribbed vaulting, as you enter through the beautiful Southwest Porch.

Take special note of the west window, which features exquisite tracery and 15th-century stained glass.

3. The Chorus

The north side of the nave’s pillar line leads past the font (17th century) and pulpit to the choir screen, which dates from 1411.

 Angels carrying shields and crowned figures of six monarchs adorn the magnificent stone work: Henry V, Richard II, Ethelbert of Kent, Edward the Confessor, Henry IV, and Henry VI.

4. Thomas Becket’s Martyrdom

The Martyrdom, the site of Thomas Becket’s murder on December 29th, 1170, is located in the Northwest Transept. It’s also the location of the Altar of the Sword’s Point, which is named after the blade of the sword used to kill Becket, which broke due to the force of the blow.

Edward IV and his family are depicted in prayer in the fine stained-glass northwest window, which dates from 1482.

5. The Ambulatory, where Archbishops are Enthroned

Sections of the original Norman walls, as well as some of the original mediaeval glass windows, can be found inside the Ambulatory.

A faded fresco tells the story of St. Eustace, a relic of the colourful murals that once adorned the cathedral. The Choir Stalls were built in 1682, and the Archbishop’s Throne was built in 1840.

 The St. Augustine’s Chair, on which the Archbishops of Canterbury are traditionally seated, was built in the 13th century.

6.Sixth, the Cathedral Tombs

Canterbury Cathedral is home to a magnificent collection of Tombs. One of the best is that of Archbishop Henry Chichele, the founder of Oxford’s All Souls College.

The Archbishop is depicted in effigy twice: once in full splendour of his robes, and once as a naked corpse, a symbol of the transience of earthly possessions.

The marble tomb of Cardinal Thomas Bourchier (died 1486), a staunch supporter of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, is just a few paces away.

7. Trinity Chapel’s Black Prince

St. Thomas Becket’s golden shrine (1220-1538) stood in Trinity Chapel, its heavy lid raised to allow pilgrims a glimpse of the gem-encrusted casket containing his remains.

The chapel now houses Henry IV’s (died 1413) and Joan of Navarre’s alabaster tomb (died 1437).

Another well-known tomb is that of the Black Prince, aka Edward of Woodstock, King Edward III’s eldest son. The Black Prince, a true knight, was famous for his pursuit of the English cause during the Hundred Years’ War.

8. Stained Glass Windows and Miracles

The Choir walls on both sides of the Corona (the circular chapel at the far east end) are adorned with magnificent late 12th and 13th-century stained glass windows.

The Miracle Windows depict scenes from Thomas Becket’s life and are part of a larger series that includes Old and New Testament subjects (they are also regarded as England’s most important mediaeval stained glass series).

The Corona (also known as “Becket’s Crown”) used to house a reliquary containing a severed fragment of the saint’s skull.

9.St. Michael’s Chapel and the Tombs of the Archbishops

Many tombs from the 15th to the 17th centuries can be found in St. Michael’s Chapel, including those of Lady Margaret Holland (1437), who was accompanied by the Earl of Somerset and Duke of Clarence, and Thomas Thornhurst (1627).

It is also the location of Cardinal Odet de Coligny’s tomb, the Huguenot Archbishop of Toulouse who was poisoned by a Catholic servant during a visit to England in 1571.

Archbishop Hubert Walter (died 1205) stands opposite, on whose shoulders much political responsibility fell during the reigns of Richard the Lionheart and King John.

10.Tales from the Crypt

The cathedral’s oldest section is the large 12th-century Norman Crypt. The pillars, with their magnificently carved Norman capitals and decorated shafts, are also noteworthy, in addition to traces of Romanesque wall paintings.

The striking variety of motifs, which includes animals, plant ornamentation, and demons, reveals influences from Lombardy, Byzantium, and the Middle East.

After that, take a look inside the early 15th-century Chapter House, which features beautiful barrel vaulting of Irish bog oak and was the original setting for T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral in 1935.

The main cathedral tour lasts 40 minutes, with an additional 20-minute optional section covering the Great Cloister and Chapter House. For a small fee, audio tours are available from the nave’s kiosk.

Daily guided tours are also available; tickets can be purchased at the Welcome Centre.

Those travelling from London may be interested in a great full-day tour package that includes Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Dover, and Greenwich.

Your luxury coach departs London at 8:30 a.m. for a tour of Leeds Castle in the heart of the Kentish countryside, followed by a visit to Canterbury Cathedral.

After lunch, it’s a short drive to the famous Dover White Cliffs before returning to London. After learning about Britain’s rich maritime history in Greenwich, you’ll be whisked along the Thames past famous landmarks like St.

Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. This comprehensive tour includes admission to attractions, transportation (including the boat ride), a professional guide, and even a packed lunch.

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