Cantorber, Cantorbile, Cantorbire, Cantorbyre, Dorobernia; Latin: Durovernum
A cathedral city in Kent, near England’s southeast coast, which was called Durovernum by the ancient Romans, and was the Saxon capital. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, it was founded by King Hudibras in the tenth century BC. The archepiscopal see was founded in AD 597. In Arthurian romance the Archbishop of Canterbury was one of Arthur’s advisers; he survived his final battle but was subsequently murdered by Mark of Cornwall. The inclusion of an Archbishop of Canterbury in Arthurian saga is probably an anachronism, rather than an assertion that there was a bishopric of Canterbury in pre-Saxon times. According to the Scandinavian Breta sogur, Arthur was buried at Canterbury.
The Celtic church was established at Canterbury in Roman times, but in the fifth century, when the Romans left and the heathen Saxons and Jutes replaced them as the rulers of south-east England, Christianity was extinguished in the city.
Around 580 the local king, Aethelbert, married Bertha, a Christian princess. She brought a chaplain with her, and, though Aethelbert retained his pagan beliefs, he allowed his Queen to restore an ancient Christian church to the east of the city. The church, Saint Martin, is still there and claims to be the oldest Christian church in England.
Canterbury became the home of British Christianity after 597, when Pope Gregory (Gregorio) sent Saint Augustine to England. Bertha welcomed the missionary to Canterbury, and before long her husband had accepted Christianity and was baptised in the church of Saint Martin. Augustine built an abbey in 598, to the east of the city wall, around Aethelbert’s pagan temple, which became the church of Saint Pancras. A former Celtic Christian church was remodelled as a cathedral and on his death Saint Augustine was buried in his abbey.
Formerly called Dorobernia, Canterbury served as Vortigern’s capital and as the Christian seat during Arthur’s reign (the Welsh Triads list it as one of the three archbishoprics). According to Geoffrey, Canterbury was managed by Duke Kimmarc in Arthur’s time.
It might be a court city, but I cannot find any entries that Arthur held court here. Mordred had himself crowned king and apparently held his parliament here, and also retreated here after the battle of Dover. Mordred’s alliance with the Saxons works in with an identification of Kent as Saxon (Sessoin) territory. The name may also be applicable to the “Saxon shore” of Britain.
Chrétien de Troyes gives Canterbury a brief mention in Cligés, when messengers from London and Canterbury reach Arthur in Brittany with news of Count Angrs’ rebellion. As the seat of the Archbishop, this city is a major Christian religious center.
I wonder whether folk were going on pilgrimage to Canterbury in the days of Arthur, before the martyrdome of Thomas à Becket.
In the Arthurian romances, the Archbishop of Canterbury was one of Arthur’s advisers, though this is an anachronism as the archiepiscopal see was not founded until AD 597. The Archbishop was said to have been present at Arthur’s final battle and to have survived it, only to be subsequently murdered by King Mark of Cornwall. The Scandinavian Breta Sogur states that Arthur was buried at Canterbury, though this assertion is not found in any other Arthurian work.