Tour Canterbury Cathedral
When my mind wanders to Canterbury, England, the first memory that comes to mind was attendance at Evensong in the Cathedral. Surrounded by the exquisite, centuries-old architecture, the elegant rituals of the service, and the voices of the choir combined to make an unforgettable experience. A trip to the Cathedral became a personal quest after hearing the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, speak at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, twenty years ago.
Canterbury Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is both a holy place and a World Heritage Site. But the cathedral is only one of many places in the city that have been given World Heritage Sit status, others include: a city wall founded in Roman Times and rebuilt in the 14th century; the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey, a Norman castle, and perhaps the oldest school in England.
Touring the cathedral is almost a tour of England’s history, so much is either built or incorporated into the cathedral in such a beautiful way that it makes this history lesson quite painless.
Begin at the South West Door, look at the statues on the left and right of the doors; they are of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha, who in the year of 597 AD welcomed Augustine from Rom. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Enter the Nave and find a place to sit down so that you can gaze around and upwards. This area was rebuilt in the late 24th century in a style called Perpendicular, with very tall and slender pillars.
Look behind you to the Great West Window. This contains some of the oldest stained glass in England. Even today the Cathedral affects repairs on stained glass from other churches that have been damaged. The Great West Window tells the bible story of the creation. You can find Adam in the bottom row of the windows.
Just to the right of the Great West Window is the chapel of St. Augustine, the first, Archbishop of Canterbury. In the chapel you can see the names of all of the Archbishops of Canterbury..
Walk along the North Aisle to the opposite end of the Nave, and up a short flight of stairs, you will be entering the Martyrdom.
This is the site where the martyr Archbishop Thomas Becket was killed in 1170 by four of King Henry’s IV’s men.
From here you can walk down the stairs to the Crypt, the largest Norman Crypt in England. Please keep in mind that the crypt is a quiet place for private prayer and contemplation so please walk quietly and calmly. But take time to note the Norman Arches, the oldest arches in the cathedral, candles for payers, the statue of Archbishop Thomas Becket, and the letter I (Jesus) and M (Mary) on the ceiling of the Jesus Chapel. Pillars o dark marble mark the site of Thomas Becket’s tomb from 1170 to 1220, and the colorful tomb of Archbishop Cardinal John Morton. As you leave the crypt and go up to the Quire by the short staircase take a moment to look up into the middle of Bell Harry Tower on your way, but be careful not to fall down the steps.
From here you enter the Quire, a part of the church even older than the Nave. If you arrive sufficiently early for a service such as Evensong, you may find a place to sit and observe both the service and the architecture.
To continue your tour turn left our of the Quire and then right up to the Trinity Chapel, you will go up a flight of steps known as the Pilgrims’ Steps, pious pilgrims would make this journey on their knees.
urn left out of the Quire and then right, up to the Trinity Chapel. You will go up a flight
of steps called the Pilgrims’ Steps – pilgrims used to go up them on their knees.
At the top of the steps, on the left, can you see a painting of the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket on the all and picture of him in the first stained glass window? In the middle of this chapel stood the shrine of Thomas Becket from 1220 until 1538 when King Henry VIII destroyed it.
Around the Trinity Chapel are a series of twelve “Miracle Windows,” that were completed in 1220 to tell the stories of the miracles which occurred when people prayed to Thomas Becket. He became a saint in 1173.
Your tour is almost finished, on your way back you will pass two new large windows, these are the Bossanyi Windows, the newest in the Cathedral, dating from 1956. Salvation if on the left and Peace is on the right. Compared to the other windows in the church some people think these additions are much too modern to be included.
It is best to see the Cathedral and make your own decision.
Canterbury is a popular tourist destination: consistently one of the most-visited cities in the Kingdom it is, however, a relatively small city, when compared with other British Cities and that just adds to the charm, Canterbury become a true day trip from a base such as London
Everyone can find their own Canterbury be it walking the cobble stone streets walked by thousands of religious pilgrims over the centuries, or going to see a new attraction such as The Canterbury Tales, one of Kent’s most popular attractions, featuring a stunning reconstruction of 14thc century England inside the historic building of St. Margaret’s church, based on the tales and characters of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
There is an American connection within Canterbury, this was where Robert Cushman in 1620 negotiated the lease of the mayflower for the purpose of transporting religious pilgrims to America.
Whenever you go expect crowds, the city will most likely be thronged with visitors to the Cathedral and the city itself.
Don’t be put off by the admission fee, of five pounds, history is expensive to preserve, by comparison this is less than the cost of a movie most likely much more fulfilling.
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