Tales of Canterbury
Friday, 7th August 2009 by Evan Brammer
Canterbury, England has been the stage for many dramatic scenes throughout history. One of the first Christian missionaries brought faith to the people of the city in the 11th century. The national church was founded in that place, and later another famous Christian was brutally martyred at the order of the Crown.
Since that time, every year thousands upon thousands of tourists and pilgrims visit the city to breathe in its historical significance, view its magnificent architecture, and pay their respects at the tombs of the faithful. See if you recognise any of these scenes.
Augustine was sent on mission from Pope Gregory the Great to convert the King of Kent to Christianity. Arriving in Canterbury at the end of the 6th century, he found some success with both the King and the locals. Subsequently he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Early into the 7th century he began work on one of England’s oldest and most treasured buildings: Canterbury Cathedral.
The Cathedral sat as the Pope’s eyes and ears in England until the 16th century when Henry VIII broke away from Rome and the Church of England was founded. Today, Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of power for the national church.
Death in the Cathedral
The city and cathedral have played a major role in literature as well. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s beloved work, The Canterbury Tales, a group of pious (and some not so pious) pilgrims set out from London to make their way to the Cathedral to pay their respects to St. Thomas Becket – whose remains were once entombed within its grounds.
Though a fictionalised account, Becket himself was a real archbishop who was murdered in 1170 at the order of Henry II who disagreed with him over the church’s rights. There are many stained glassed windows, as well as other monuments, paying homage to the martyr. Archbishop Becket’s body was buried in a tomb within the cathedral, though his bones were later destroyed – also by order of the king.
Most other Archbishops, however, are buried in St. Augustine’s Abbey, just east of the cathedral’s grounds.
Though it was originally named the Abbey of St. Peter and Paul, it was later renamed to reflect St. Augustine himself. You can see from the satellite photos that most of the abbey’s walls and structures have long since worn away or have been destroyed.
The Oldest School in England
Standing at the edge of the abbey, is another remarkable building – which is believed to be the oldest school in England.
The King’s school has been educating the next generation for just over 1400 years. It was founded on the same grounds as St. Augustine’s Abbey in the 6th century by Augustine himself. Many of the school’s classes, with its 800-odd pupils, are taught within the ancient buildings of the Abbey.
An Unrelated Castle
The last of Canterbury’s great historical buildings shown here isn’t really related to any of the others mentioned, but it makes it into this post of the basis that it is also old and pretty cool looking!
Canterbury Castle was of the three original castles built in this area. The present stone structure replaced a wooden castle from 1066. The newer one was built after the Battle of Hastings and used to guard the important route taken by William the Conquerer.
Kind of in the spirit of the Darwin Awards, someone leased the castle to a gas company in the 19th century. The building (because it was filled with gas most likely) caught fire and the top floor was destroyed. The city planners must have a sense of humour as the Castle sits at the crossroads of Castle Street and Gas Street.
The city of Canterbury is quaint and lovely, steeped in history and an enormous success with tourists. In fact, we’ve only barely uncovered some of the city’s treasures. What is your favourite spot in Canterbury?