Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian
structures in England, it is the Cathedral of the Anglican Archbishop
of Canterbury, the Primate of All England and leader of the Church
of England. As well as being the mother church of the Diocese
of Canterbury (east Kent) it is focus for the Anglican Communion.
The formal title is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of
Christ at Canterbury. The Cathedral's first Archbishop was St.
Augustine, previously Abbott of St. Andrew's Benedictine Abbey
in Rome, he was sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great, arriving
in 597 AD.
The Head of the Cathedral is the Dean, currently the Very Rev'd
Robert Willis, who is assisted by a Chapter of 24 Canons, four
of whom are Residentiary the others being honorary appointments
of senior clergy in the diocese. There are also a number of Lay
Canons who altogether form the Greater Chapter which has the legal
responsibility both for the Cathedral itself and also for the
formal election of an archbishop when there is a vacancy-in-see.
By English law and custom they may only elect the person who has
been nominated by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister.
St. Bede the Venerable (History of the English Church and People)
records how the Cathedral was founded by St. Augustine, the first
Archbishop. Archaeological investigations under the Nave floor
in 1993 revealed the remains of this first Saxon Cathedral which
had been built across a former Roman road by way of foundations.
Augustine also directed the foundation of a Benedictine Abbey
of Ss. Peter and Paul to be built outside the city walls. This
was later rededicated to St. Augustine himself and was for many
centuries the burial place of the successive archbishops. The
remains are in the care of English Heritage and form part of the
World Heritage Site along with the ancient Church of St. Martin,
which appears to contain Roman work, although this is disputed.
The main phases of building shown below, personal dates are those
of office not life:
S1 Early building perhaps with a Roman core and dedicated to
St. Saviour, to be associated with Augustine.
S2 Second building on same axis added by Abp. Cuthbert (740-60)
added as a baptistry and dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
S3 Abp. Oda (941-58) renewed the building greatly lengthening
S4 Abps. Lyfing (1013-20) and Aethelnoth (1020-1038) added a
western apse as an oratory of St. Mary.
N1 Abp. Lanfranc (1070-77),the first Norman archbishop, rebuilt
the ruinous Saxon church.
N2 Abp. St. Anselm greatly extended the Quire to the east to
give sufficient space for the monks of the greatly revived monastery.
The crypt of this church survives as the largest of its kind in
N3 Following the disastrous fire of 1174 which destroyed the
Eastern end, Guilliaume de Sens rebuilt the Quire and later William
the Englishman added the immense Trinity Chapel as a shrine church
for the relics of St. Thomas the Martyr, that is Thomas Becket.
N4 Prior Thomas Chillenden (1390-1410) rebuilt the Nave in the
Perpendicular style of English Gothic. ca. 1430 the short central
tower was demolished and rebuilt at a height of 297 feet.
Critical to the history of the Cathedral's buildings was the
murder of Thomas Becket in the Cathedral on Tuesday 29th December
1170, the second of four murdered archbishops (see also Alphege).
The income from pilgrims visiting his shrine, which was regarded
as a place of healing, largely paid for the subsequent rebuildings
of the Cathedral and its associated buildings.
The Cathedral community was reorganised as Benedictine Abbey
during the reforms of Abp. St. Dunstan. It ceased to be an abbey
during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when all religious houses
were suppressed. Canterbury surrendered in March 1539, the last
abbey to do so and reverted to its previous status of 'a college
of secular canons'.
A curious bird's-eye view of Canterbury Cathedral and its annexed
conventual buildings, taken about 1165, is preserved in the Great
Psalter in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. As elucidated
by Professor Willis, it exhibits the plan of a great Benedictine
monastery in the 12th century, and enables us to compare it with
that of the 9th as seen at the abbey of Saint Gall. We see in
both the same general principles of arrangement, which indeed
belong to all Benedictine monasteries, enabling us to determine
with precision the disposition of the various buildings, when
little more than fragments of the walls exist. From some local
reasons, however, the cloister and monastic buildings are placed
on the north, instead, as is far more commonly the case, on the
south of the church. There is also a separate chapter-house, which
is wanting at St Gall.
The buildings at Canterbury, as at St Gall, form separate groups.
The church forms the nucleus. In immediate contact with this,
on the north side, lie the cloister and the group of buildings
devoted to the monastic life. Outside of these, to the west and
east, are the halls and chambers devoted to the exercise of hospitality,
with which every monastery was provided, for the purpose of receiving
as guests persons who visited it, whether clergy or laity, travellers,
pilgrims or paupers.
To the north a large open court divides the monastic from the
menial buildings, intentionally placed as remote as possible from
the conventual buildings proper, the stables, granaries, barn,
bakehouse, brewhouse, laundries, &c., inhabited by the lay
servants of the establishment. At the greatest possible distance
from the church, beyond the precinct of the convent, is the eleemosynary
department. The almonry for the relief of the poor, with a great
hall annexed, forms the paupers' hospitium.
The most important group of buildings is naturally that devoted
to monastic life. This includes two Cloisters, the great cloister
surrounded by the buildings essentially connected with the daily
life of the monks,---the church to the south, the refectory or
frater-house here as always on the side opposite to the church,
and farthest removed from it, that no sound or smell of eating
might penetrate its sacred precincts, to the east the dormitory,
raised on a vaulted undercroft, and the chapter-house adjacent,
and the lodgings of the cellarer to the west. To this officer
was committed the provision of the monks' daily food, as well
as that of the guests. He was, therefore, appropriately lodged
in the immediate vicinity of the refectory and kitchen, and close
to the guest-hall. A passage under the dormitory leads eastwards
to the smaller or infirmary cloister, appropriated to the sick
and infirm monks.
Eastward of this cloister extend the hall and chapel of the infirmary,
resembling in form and arrangement the nave and chancel of an
aisled church. Beneath the dormitory, looking out into the green
court or herbarium, lies the "pisalis" or "calefactory,"
the common room of the monks. At its north-east corner access
was given from the dormitory to the necessarium, a portentous
edifice in the form of a Norman hall, 145 ft. long by 25 broad,
containing fifty-five seats. It was, in common with all such offices
in ancient monasteries, constructed with the most careful regard
to cleanliness and health, a stream of water running through it
from end to end.
A second smaller dormitory runs from east to west for the accommodation
of the conventual officers, who were bound to sleep in the dormitory.
Close to the refectory, but outside the cloisters, are the domestic
offices connected with it: to the north, the kitchen, 47 ft. square,
surmounted by a lofty pyramidal roof, and the kitchen court; to
the west, the butteries, pantries, &c. The infirmary had a
small kitchen of its own. Opposite the refectory door in the cloister
are two lavatories, an invariable adjunct to a monastic dining-hall,
at which the monks washed before and after taking food.
The buildings devoted to hospitality were divided into three
groups. The prior's group "entered at the south-east angle
of the green court, placed near the most sacred part of the cathedral,
as befitting the distinguished ecclesiastics or nobility who were
assigned to him." The cellarer's buildings were near the
west end of the nave, in which ordinary visitors of the middle
class were hospitably entertained. The inferior pilgrims and paupers
were relegated to the north hall or almonry, just within the gate,
as far as possible from the other two.
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