17 June 2022
Visiting Canterbury was as an easy decision. Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in England and it is most famous for the murder of the Archbishop, Thomas Beckett.
Things to do
- Visit one of Britain’s oldest cathedrals that has become one of Europe’s pilgrimage centres, see the place Thomas Becket was murdered
- Admire the beauty of the medieval stained glasses in Canterbury ‘Cathedral
- See the impressive Westgate Tower – an important entrance to the city for hundreds of years
- Take a stroll along the River Stour which flows through the heart of Canterbury
Getting to Canterbury
Canterbury is easy to get to. It is about an hour and half from London by car and quicker by train at just less than an hour. I drove down to Canterbury from London as I wanted to combine the trip with visits to neighbouring towns in Kent – Dover, Herne Bay, and Whitstable.
Booking entry ticket and tour guide
I booked my entry ticket online which was simple and straightforward.
My top tip: book the Cathedral’s own tour guide when booking your entry ticket.
I took advantage of the tour guide on offer at very little cost. I had visited just as the covid restrictions were being lifted and expected the queue to be very long. But surprisingly, the queue was not. I visited with my partner and it turned out that we had the tour guide to ourselves. Our guide was a charming older lady who was very glad to be taking the tour again after the long absence due to the covid restrictions. As this was a guided tour, our guide followed a set route which I guessed must have been well tried and tested. This lady knew her stuff – lots of fact and details – and she was professional. As always, my challenge was remembering all the information imparted!
The 'must see' in the Cathedral
The Martyrdom is definitely the big draw of people to visit the Cathedral. It marks the place where the most famous Archbishop, Thomas Becket, was murdered in 1170 by four knights who claimed to have carried out this murder on King Henry VIII’s command. The Martyrdom has become the Cathedral’s claim to fame, amongst other things, as one of Europes pilgrimage centres.
The Great Cloister and Chapter House
Our Guide drew our attention to the intricate carvings of faces and animals on the arched ceilings, some of them were of medieval heads and coat of arms. These carvings were interesting though I could not work out the importance of some of them. Nevertheless, they were a work of art. The work by stonemasons to preserve them continue till today.
The Cloisters were simply stunning. They serve to connect different parts of the monastery when the Cathedral housed monks. The detail of these carvings are amazing.
The Chapter house was used by the church for meetings to discuss for business matters. So both the Great Cloisters and the Chapel House were at the heart of monastery life.
The Candle in the Trinity Chapel
The stained glass windows
I couldn’t resist taking photos of these beautifully crafted stained glass windows. Each one was used to tell a story at the time most people could not read.
The most famous of these stained glass windows are life size figures, each one distinct, depicting the ancestors of Christ. They were not on display during our visit but our guide told us about them and how precious they were. Six of these windows had never left the Cathedral since the 12th century but they were allowed to be exhibited in the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The Ancestors windows are thought to be amongst the oldest stained glass windows in the world! That is an amazing British history and heritage.
St Augustine's chair
The Water Tower
The Water Tower was shown to us from the outside as this was the best place to appreciate it. The water tower was a sophisticated system of water pipes that served the monks who were expected to wash at twice daily – at the beginning of the day and before meals. This was during the time when bathing was seen as a luxury.
From here, we visited the herb garden and the dormitory ruins nearby. I found these two photos interesting – one is about random words – “unbroken”, “unbounded”, “everlasting”, “Interminable”, ‘Immortal” and so on. Why? And what was the purpose? Our Guide was just as baffled as we were.
It seemed that the Guide followed a set route and presentation of the top ten things to see. So she took us round all of them and talked about each. The Crypt was not opened to the public at the time of our visit.
Whilst we saw the Squire and the Tomb of the Black Prince in the Trinity Chapel, I did not take any photos. By this time, I had had enough of taking too many photos. I wanted to avoid the time consuming task of filtering the important ones to write about.
Overall, the visit to Canterbury Cathedral was interesting with fascinating history and architecture. I learned a lot about British history, religion and to some extent the life in the olden days. The Cathedral’s history plays an important part of British history . I will not now forget who the famous Archbishop of Canterbury was and what the Ancestry windows are.
Every town I know seems to have a old gate at the entrance that served to defend the city. I had read about this medieval gate in Canterbury called Westgate. Similar to the gate in Rye, it is solid, well built and magnificient. This Westgate is naturally one of the most photographed structures in Canterbury. And so it should be. For one reason, you can’t miss it as you walk from the high street to River Stour.