The Cathedral is an integral part of Canterbury and is a big draw for visitors and locals alike. I have been to the Cathedral lodge quite a few times to deliver cakes but I had never had the time to have a look around the cathedral itself, so my mother in law, Irene, and I set off to see the Cathedral and to have a tour around The Canterbury Tales to find out more about the famous Thomas Becket.
Canterbury Cathedral is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the head Bishop and principle leader of the church of England. At present the Archbishop is Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby and I was very honoured to have been asked to make his daughter, Katharine’s wedding cake a few years ago, for her marriage at the cathedral.
There was a little flurry of excitement the day we visited as Michael Portillo, from BBC Two’s Great British Railway Journeys, was filming by the Trinity Chapel in the Cathedral. They had finished filming by the time we got there but we did bump into him on the way through the Cathedral and he stopped to say hello to Irene which was nice.
The Cathedral is having urgent restoration and conservation repairs at the moment and has some scaffolding inside and out . It must be an endless job to keep the cathedral under good repair and apparently costs £18,500 a day to upkeep, so there is a small entry fee, but worth it as there is so much to see.
The cathedral was originally built in 597 but was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. It was extended at the beginning of the 12th Century and then rebuilt again after a fire in 1174.
The architecture is simply breathtaking – notably the pulpit in the main part of the cathedral and the stain glass windows are absolutely amazing- telling stories in pictures all the way around the Cathedral.
We walked through the cathedral entrance and through to the Quire, where the choir seats are situated and then up to the Trinity Chapel. The Cathedral has three choirs that sing regularly. The Lay Clerks, The Boy Choristers and The Girl’s Choir. There has been a permanent boys choir there for nearly 600 years and they sing in the cathedral every day.
We were lucky enough to see the ringing of the bell inside the Cathedral at precisely 11am. Each weekday morning you can hear 6 rings on the HMS Canterbury bell in the south east transept. It is rung by either a verger or any one who has served in the Royal Navy. Following this there are prayers for all those who have died in conflict and then the page will be turned in the Buff’s Book of Remembrance. The book lists over 7000 men who died in service after 1914.It was very moving and a lovely way to remember those who fought for us.
We had a look around the Crypt which is the oldest part of the Cathedral. It is a quiet place for prayer and reflection so no photographs are allowed. The crypt dates back to the 11th Century. The Eastern Crypt used to have the tomb of Thomas Becket from 1170-1220 until it was moved to the Trinity Chapel.
We walked around the outside of the Cathedral and had a look at the old herb garden and saw the old Romanesque Water Tower, used by monks to wash in the morning and before meals.
Outside we went past a huge 20 ft high, wooden horse statue. It was built to commemorate the eight-million horses that died during the First World War. The Canterbury War Horse is a place of quiet contemplation, reflection and remembrance.
We the had a stroll around the Cloister which connects to the different parts of the monastery. It’s absolutely stunning and looking up you can see hundreds of carved shields, faces and animals.
In the Martyrdom we saw the shrine to Thomas Becket.
Becket was made the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161 by Henry II. He had been a life long friend of Henry II and Chancellor to the King. He was made Archbishop along with being chancellor, so that Henry II could apparently try to take more control of the church and state together. However on being made The Archbishop, Thomas Becket resigned his job as chancellor and declared his allegiances to the church and refused to co-operate with Henry II’s ideal to have the church under his control. There followed a long period of disagreements between the two men, including Becket being exiled to France for a period of time. In 1170, after Becket had returned from exile, the King found out that Becket had excommunicated three of his Bishops and apparently uttered the words “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest!”. This was apparently overheard by 4 knights who then took it upon themselves to murder Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.
It was said that miracles started happened after the death of Thomas Becket and many people used to come on a pilgrimage to Canterbury to see the shrine and to feel the healing powers for themselves. The Cathedral became one of Europe’s most important Pilgrimage centres because of this.
Two years after his murder he was officially made a saint by Pope Alexander III in 1173.
After going around the Cathedral and learning about Thomas Becket we walked through the town to go to The Canterbury Tales.
The Canterbury Tales is all about Chaucer’s tales of 5 colourful stories told by some of the 30 pilgrims, as they embarked on their walk to Canterbury Cathedral from Southwark. Tales of love, infidelity, intrigue, courtship and death. It’s an interactive experience with actors, sounds and smells and I would highly recommend a visit. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Canterbury Cathedral is a must visit if you are coming to Canterbury. It is stunning inside and out and steeped in history. A great place for peace and reflection and well worth the entry fee.