Canterbury Cathedral | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury, England, United Kingdom

About Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is one of England’s most famous cathedrals, both because of its prominent history dating back to the sixth century AD and due to the famous murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett which took place there.

Origins of Canterbury Cathedral

In 597AD, a missionary called St Augustine travelled to Kent from Rome, having been sent by the Pope to convert the Angles to Christianity. Settling in Canterbury, he soon established a seat or “cathedra” there within the Roman Walls. This marked the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral.

The remains of this original incarnation of Canterbury Cathedral lie underneath the current nave of the cathedral.

Norman Times

In Norman times, the community of Canterbury Cathedral became a Benedictine monastery. Canterbury Cathedral itself also underwent a change at this time as, in 1070, it was completely rebuilt following a fire.

Murder of Thomas Beckett

In 1170, Canterbury Cathedral became the site of an infamous crime; the murder and martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Beckett.

Beckett, who had been made archbishop in 1162 by King Henry II, soon began to clash with the monarch, particularly as to whether his loyalty lay with the King or the Church.

Frustrated at Beckett’s refusal to bow to his will, the King famously said “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Having overheard the King, four of his knights took his outburst quite literally and murdered Beckett at Canterbury Cathedral’s north-east transept. Beckett was later canonized.

Sixteenth Century Onwards

Canterbury Cathedral continued to operate as a monastery until 1540, when Henry VIII disbanded it as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. He also destroyed the shrine to Thomas Beckett, a place of pilgrimage now symbolised by a lone candle.

Over the next few centuries, Canterbury Cathedral was renovated, rebuilt in parts and underwent many changes. Some of these were due to damage, such as that caused to the building during the English Civil War. Some of the oldest parts of the Cathedral –such as its crypt – date back to the twelfth century.

General tours and audio guides available. Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site.