NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most significant Christian structures in England, with a rich history that spans over a millenium. It is situated in the heart of Canterbury, a city in the county of Kent.

Canterbury Cathedral | History

Early Christian Influence | 6th century
Around 580 the local king, Ethelbert of Kent (Æthelberht), married Bertha, the daughter of Charibert I, the king of the Franks. Bertha brought her Christian faith with her, and the marriage played a crucial role in the spread of Christianity in England.

She was allowed to continue practicing her faith and had a private chapel within the walls of Canterbury. This arrangement provided a place for Christian worship and laid the groundwork for the arrival of Saint Augustine. Æthelberht allowed his queen to restore an ancient Christian church to the east of the city. The church, St. Martin, is still there and claims to be the oldest Christian church in England.

In 597, St. Augustine – a monk sent by Pope Gregory the Great (Gregorio) – arrived with his companions in Kent to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Queen Bertha welcomed St. Augustine and allowed him to use her old Roman church, St. Martin’s, for worship.

Canterbury’s significance as a religious center continued to grow. In the late sixth century, King Æthelberht founded St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, adjacent to the exisiting church of St. Martin. The abbey became an influential religious institution and a burial place for kings and archbishops. In the seventh century, the original church of St. Martin was expanded and rebuilt as the Canterbury Cathedral, which became the center of the Archbishopric of Canterbury and a place of pilgrimage.

Establishment of Canterbury Cathedral | 7th century
The foundations of Canterbury Cathedral were laid in the late sixth century or early seventh century. The cathedral was initially dedicated to St. Savior but later rededicated to St. Augustine.

Archbishopric of St. Augustine | 597 AD
St. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597 AD after converting King Æthelberht of Kent. This marked the establishment of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, making Canterbury the primary seat of the English Church. This event marked the reintroduction of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England.

Viking Raids and Rebuilding | 9th – 11 centuries
Canterbury Cathedral faced Viking raids during the ninth century, leading to the destruction of the original church. Archbishop Odo initiated the rebuilding of the cathedral in the late tenth century.

Norman Conquest and Gothic Architecture | 11th – 12th centuries
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Archbishop Lanfranc initiated further rebuilding in the Norman Romanesque style. This work continued under Archbishop Anselm and later archbishops. In the twelfth century, the cathedral underwent a transformation into Gothic architecture under the direction of William of Sens and William the Englishman.

Thomas Becket and the Murder | 12th century
One of the most significant events in Canterbury Cathedral’s history occurred in 1170 when Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the cathedral by followers of King Henry II. Becket’s shrine became a major pilgrimage destination.

The murder of Thomas Becket and the subsequent pilgrimage to his shrine influenced Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a literary work from the fourteenth century, depicting a group of pilgrims traveling to Canterbury Cathedral.

Reformation and Dissolution | 16th century
During the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Canterbury Cathedral faced challenges. The shrine of Thomas Becket was destroyed, and the cathedral experienced periods of neglect.

Restoration and Renovation | 19th – 20th centuries
Extensive restoration work took place in the ninteenth and twentieth centuries to repair damage and enhance the cathedral’s structural integrity. The restoration work included efforts to recapture the Gothic architectural style.

World Heritage Site and Modern Era
Canterbury Cathedral, along with St. Augustine’s Abbey and St. Martin’s Church, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Today, it continues to serve as the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a place of worship, pilgrimage, and historical significance.

See also
Normans | The Legend of King Arthur