The History of Canterbury Cathedral

The History of Canterbury Cathedral

While the City of Canterbury has much to offer visitors, for many people Canterbury is the cathedral. The stunning gothic structure, which stands at the heart of this medieval city, draws a constant stream of visitors and pilgrims and dominates the city’s skyline leaving a lasting impression on all who view it. Standing, in one form or another, since the 6th Century, the Cathedral has a long and fascinating history as well as being an interesting illustration of architectural evolution.

Founding of Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral can trace its origins back to 597 AD when the missionary St Augustine was sent to the city from Rome, Augustine founded the cathedral on its current site, laying the foundations for what would become the stunning Norman church that stands today. The church began to evolve with the arrival of the Saxons who enlarged and rebuilt Augustine’s original structure (which today lies beneath the current nave)

Canterbury Cathedral – A Norman Church

The structure as it exists today owes much to a large fire which destroyed much of the Saxon cathedral in 1070, after which the church was rebuilt by the Normans. The building evolved over the next 150 years with additions such as parts of the quire, windows and stained glass being added up until the 12th century. During this time the cathedral served as home to a monastery, but this was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1540, with responsibility for the building passing to the Dean and Chapter, where it remains to this day.

The English Civil War and Canterbury Cathedral

In the 17th Century, during the English Civil War, the Cathedral was sacked by the puritans who vandalised the stained glass windows and used the nave to stable their horses. Repairs taking several years were undertaken following the end of the civil war and the restoration of 1660. The present day symmetry of the west end of the Cathedral results from the demolition of the North West Tower in 1830. The tower had become unsafe and was repleaced with a structure that echoed the tower at the South West.

Canterbury Cathedral Firewatchers

During the Second World War. The city of Canterbury suffered massive destruction at the hands of enemy bombers. Much of the Burgate area was razed to the ground, but, thanks to the selfless dedication of a team of “firewatchers” who patrolled the cathedral rooves during air raids and disposed of incendiary devices, the cathedral itself escaped any major harm. The work of the firewatchers is now commemorated with a floor plaque in the cathedral itself.

Cantebury Cathedral Today

The present day cathedral remains a site of both religious and architectural pilgrimage. The church continues as a significant site of worship, while the upkeep of the building is an ongoing task, with dedicated stonemasons working to repair or restore the historic facades.

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