Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
Highlights of Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
Introduction to Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
Located in the town of Kent, Canterbury Cathedral, St. Martin’s Church, and St. Augustine Abbey are all ecclesiastic buildings that represent important milestones in the history of Christianity in Great Britain. From the grandeur of the cathedral that’s been the seat of the head of the Church of England for five centuries to the modesty of St. Martin’s, to the ruins of the Abbey, the three structures each offer something a little different for visitors who are interested in religious history and architecture.
Guide to Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
A visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is quite common for those on guided tours of London and its surrounding areas. All attract guests with a keen interest in architecture as well as those interested in the history of Christianity and/or of the Church of England.
A tour of Canterbury Cathedral should include a close look at both the interior and exterior of this ecclesiastic wonder. Explore the nave, built in the 14th century; the so-called Martyrdom, which is the location where Thomas Becket was murdered; the eastern and western crypts, the latter being the oldest remaining portion of the cathedral; the Warrior’s Chapel, where visitors can join in morning prayer; the 12th century Gothic choir; St. Augustine’s Chair; the Trinity Chapel and its “miracle” windows associated with the acts of Thomas Becket; and – the most modern piece of the cathedral – the four 1952-built stained glass windows in the southeast transept. They replaced windows destroyed during World War II.
During a visit to St. Martin’s Church, travelers can view evidence of old Roman bricks and tiles in sections of the structure that are clearly very early. A blocked doorway in the chancel area is thought to be the original entrance to the queen’s church back in the 6th century. Other parts of the church, including the nave, were built during the Gregorian period and the Perpendicular-style tower came several centuries later.
A visit to The Abbey of St. Augustine provides a chance to view the ruins of this early structure, which dates from the 6th century though much of it was rebuilt during the Norman period. Little remains of the abbey, and the ruins can be confusing, but the audio tour helps visitors ascertain what they are seeing. Remains of associated buildings are also available for viewing.
Video of Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
History of Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
Each of the buildings lumped together into the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church has its own unique history but all merge in some way or another.
When St. Augustine arrived in Kent in the late 6th century, sent from Rome by Pope Gregory, it was his goal to convert the English to Christianity. The local king, Ethelbert – who was married to a French Christian woman, had already provided a private chapel for his wife (historians believe it was an existing Roman church) and it was at this location – St. Martin’s Church – that she welcomed Augustine. The king was eventually baptized at St. Martin’s – though no date is recorded – and many believe that this particular event was the impetus for the conversion of England to Christianity.
The modest church of St. Martin’s eventually paved the way for a much grander structure, the Canterbury Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury. History shows that St. Augustine first used an old Roman church for worship as remains of it were found during an excavation in 1993. This smaller church was replaced by something larger in the 10th century, basilican in form and resembling St. Peter’s in Rome. However, it was partially destroyed in the Danish raids on Canterbury in 1011 and then completely destroyed by fire in 1067.
This was just after the Norman Conquest and the first Norman archbishop took on the task of rebuilding the entire church. The new cruciform building was designed to resemble the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, France, the church from which the new archbishop had come to England. The magnificent new cathedral was dedicated in 1077 though further additions were made in 1096, doubling the size of the cathedral. It quickly became one of the grandest Romanesque structures in the world.
The most important historic event at the cathedral, however, took place when Henry II’s knights murdered the archbishop Thomas Becket inside the church in 1170, making him a martyr. Income from pilgrims (including many whose travels were outlined in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) who came to honor Becket paid for the subsequent rebuilding of the cathedral.
Throughout the next several centuries, fires and other disasters and the whims of the archbishops called for the reconstruction of many parts of the cathedral. For example, the Norman nave and transepts were replaced in the 14th century and chapels were added in the 15th century. The Norman-built northwest tower was demolished in 1834 due to structural concerns and was replaced with a twin of the southwest tower. That was the last major change made at Canterbury Cathedral.
St. Augustine’s Abbey, historically connected to the other two structures though not physically connected, was a monastery established in 597 outside of the city walls of Canterbury to the east of the city. Many believe that the King of Kent’s wife, a Christian named Bertha, was integral in the founding of this monastery. In addition, the abbey was meant to be a burial place for the Kings of Kent and the Archbishops of Canterbury.
A larger abbey was built in the 10th century (the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul) with all the remains of the original building essentially disappearing by 1100. More additions and renovations continued until about 1500. Unfortunately, the monastery – like all others – was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538 and was subsequently dismantled, though some of the structure remained and was converted to a palace. The palace survived until a great storm in 1703, when it was left mostly in ruins. Today, the foundations of the main abbey building can still be observed by visitors.
Getting to Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church
St. Augustine Abbey is open daily during summer months, Wednesday to Sunday in the spring, and only on weekends the remainder of the year. There is an admission fee to explore the ruins, which includes the aforementioned audio tour.
Visitors to Canterbury Cathedral number in the millions each year. Guests may enter daily from about 9 am to 5:30 pm. The cathedral is an active church with many services including five on Sundays and others during the week. Visitors need to be respectful of those worshipping at any given time. There is a charge to enter, except during services. Audio tours are available in seven languages.
St. Martin’s limits the hours that the church is open to the public. Again, it is still a functioning church where worship is held frequently. Join them on a Sunday for services so that you’ll be sure to get in.
To get to Canterbury from London, take the train from Victoria Station to Canterbury East Station. Trains to Canterbury West station are also offered and operate from both Charring Cross and Victoria. Both are close enough to walk to points of interest including the churches. The abbey, however, is outside the city walls so the walk is a little longer but still attainable.
Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church News
Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church Tours
Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church Weather