Video Audio Book

Best viewed in 4K full screen.

Today the focus is Canterbury Cathedral, England’s oldest  cathedral.  Hopefully, you read the June 20th blog post explaining how in 597 Pope Gregory sent then Prior Augustine, accompanied by several monks, to the Kingdom of Kent to reestablish Christianity in Britain.  Augustine’s goals included founding additional bishoprics throughout the land and Augustine became the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the multiple dioceses.  Eventually, there would be another Archbishop in York, but the Archbishop of Canterbury was considered “superior” and to this day is ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Church.
King Ethelbert of Kent gave Augustine lands on which to build a cathedral and establish a large and important monastery.  This cathedral building was destroyed several centuries later when the Normans conquered England and replaced it with a Norman structure (the Normans replaced every cathedral in England).  The Norman structure has been remodeled and expanded several times.  Architecturally, one can see examples of Norman and all three phases of Gothic, culminating in the massive nave built in the last Gothic phase of Perpendicular.
Canterbury is famous for another event – the 1170 martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry II.  Thomas and King Henry were friends (as much as one can be friends with a monarch) when Becket served as the Lord Chancellor, one of if not the highest ranking office in the land.  When Archbishop of Canterbury Theobald died, Henry proposed Thomas Becket to take his place.  Becket strongly resisted, advising the king that if he became archbishop, his loyalty would be to the church instead of the king.  Henry did not take Becket’s advice and the anticipated disagreements ended in tragedy.  
Among other conflicts, one event was the catalyst for Becket’s martyrdom.  At the time, any English clergy accused of a crime were tried in an ecclesiastical court, rather than a secular court which tended to hand out harsher punishment.  Henry challenged and Becket defended this practice.   Eventually, Becket fled to France (recall that we saw a stained glass window dedicated to Becket in Sens, and Vezelay Abbey where Becket threatened the English with excommunication and an interdict). Upon Becket’s return to England, King Henry reportedly lamented, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”   These were likely not the King’s actual words, but four knights ended up going to Canterbury, probably intending to arrest the Archbishop.  In the end, they murdered Becket while he was in the north transept, cutting off the top of his head.  
The news of the Archbishop’s murder in his own cathedral shocked the English citizens and Christian Europe.  Soon, miracles were widely reported resulting in Becket’s canonization in little over two years.  Becket shrine soon became a major pilgrimage destination until it was destroyed by King Henry VIII’s men in 1538.  But, that is another story altogether, to be told in a later time.  For now, the travel blog photo will show a single candle that perpetually burns in the location of the original shrine.


Click image to start player.