‘There you have it, the murder at Canterbury Cathedral,’ I pointed perhaps a little too eagerly for Brendan of the Travel Pop, who had come back with a relived face after searching successfully for a bathroom for too long. The red blood glinted evilly at us making out the words ‘Thomas.’
We were in the Martyrdom of Canterbury Cathedral, just to the side and underneath the main Quire of the historic building. We were in the at one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage centres, inextricably linked with the murder of its most famous Archbishop, Thomas Beckett, in 1170. After a long dispute with his estranged friend King Henry II, he was brutally murdered in the place called The Martyrdom, that would forever mark its place in history. Soon after, miracles were said to have taken place and Thomas Beckett was canonised when it was realised that he suffered in his life for wearing a very itchy hair shirt under his tunic. (Shouldn’t I be getting a sainthood for wearing one of my aunt’s knitted sweaters then?)
So, sure, in those medieval days, everyone was betraying each other and lopping heads off. So other than the murder of Thomas Beckett, why is Canterbury Cathedral so popular today?
Historic Canterbury Cathedral
I haven’t finished the history lesson yet! Canterbury Cathedral is so old, yes even older than established British History (starts from 1066 at the Battle of Hastings). In 597AD, Pope Gregory the Great thought that the Celts and the Saxons should stop faffing around with their gods and conform them to Christianity. Therefore he sent a monk, Augustine, to England, where he established his ‘Cathedra’ seat in Canterbury and started building a monastery. Soon, he became England’s first ever Archbishop. Awesome eh?
The murders of the Archbishops started earlier than Thomas Beckett, I’m afraid. Those pesky Danes and Vikings who harried England kidnapped Archbishop Alphege, before damaging the Cathedral, and killed him in Greenwich in 1012. He was the first of five Martyred Archbishops. Yes, there’s indeed more. This job should come with a risk assessment!
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Cathedral was destroyed by fire. The first Norman Archbishop, Lanfranc, redesigned the building similar to that of Caen’s where he was Prior. This design remains and is now celebrated as one of the oldest Christian buildings in Europe.
Thomas Beckett became the second of the Martyred Archbishops after King Henry II said the fatal words ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ As a result, Thomas Beckett’s shrine became a place of healing and income was generated from the pilgrims who paid their respects and badges depicting Thomas at the shrine. This was probably England’s first marketing campaign! The income was used to build new enclaves, keep the upkeep of the Cathedral and line the Archbishop’s coffers.
This is also the birthplace of Anglicism, where its members view this Canterbury as their Mother Church. Why not Rome? Well, a shouty and impatient King Henry VIII (what’s are Henrys’ problems with Canterbury?) in the 1500s decided he wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon as she failed to give him a male heir, and marry her lady in waiting, Anne of Boleyn. Of course, the Catholic Church disapproved of this and simply said ‘no.’ Did King Henry VIII accept defeat? As if! He ordered the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ and Canterbury Cathedral was sacked and made the new headquarters of the Church of England. Who was head? Certainly not the Archbishop! It was King Henry VIII and guess what? He could say himself that he could get divorced, which ultimately he did and married Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately, she didn’t give him any male heirs. However, we do have one thing to be thankful of as a result of the change in religion…their daughter became Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. So what happened to Thomas Beckett Shrine? It was destroyed and now only the blood-red symbol marks the place to serve a reminder to the murder that shocked the world.
The Stunning Nave
I can’t really describe in words the stunning atmosphere of the Nave as you first walk into the Cathedral. This 14th Century perpendicular Gothic architecture has pillars soaring literally up to heaven. First used as an informal gathering place for pilgrims while worship took place in the Quire, it’s now used for the Sunday Eucharist on major festivals and concerts. Check out the pic.
Gigantic Glass Windows
Bathed in colour, you will astound yourself of the sunlight that is manipulated to show the majesty of the Cathedral. It’s just wonderful!
The Queer Quire and the Trinity Chapel
Walk along the cosy quire that just screams history at you from all the intricate designs within. Before you know it, you climb up the steps to the Trinity Chapel where major figures of history are buried. Royal tombs belonging to King Henry IV (Henry again!) and Edward, the Prince of Wales (The Black Prince) can be found here. But your eye may catch the lone flickering red candle on the floor. This also symbolises Thomas Beckett, whose name will never be forgotten as long the candle keeps burning.
Harry Potter and the Cloister
You may be forgiven if you think you have walked on the set of Harry Potter. The Cloister was the inspiration of Hogwarts and a set was built to imitate this section. The Cloister showcases beautiful carvings of heraldic shields and fascinating faces and animals within the arches. In times past, the Cloister was the connection for different parts of the monastery and you can see why people rave about this section. Strolling around, you do feel you are taken into another world and time.
The Latest Murder
There was a murder on the day I visited Canterbury Cathedral. Don’t worry, no was harmed. It was the murder of my belief that the city of Canterbury was not worth visiting. My last post on Canterbury had me raging that I was betrayed by the city for leading me on that Canterbury was indeed truly and authentically historic. (It wasn’t). That was before I entered the Cathedral. Walking out with new-found appreciation for the city conserving this tremendous piece of history, I knew that I wanted to return. I could easily spent another whole day in Canterbury Cathedral and I hadn’t even seen it all yet. So, as I stood again at the entrance, I brutally assassinated my belief with sharp-edged thoughts and the city’s betrayal of the city was forgiven and forgotten.
As the train rumbled out of Canterbury, I could still see the Cathedral tower still peeking out of the skyline. Canterbury, with the trials and tribulations of my expectations reflecting British history, you still remain strong in my expectation that Canterbury is truly a historic and beautiful city. Just get rid of the chavs and we’re even.