My visit to Canterbury Cathedral, Oct. 2015
Canterbury Cathedral is , after 15 centuries, still a working, living church, where services take place in the Quire every day. It is also open every day but Sunday to visitors, and I was one of, no doubt, thousands who walked through this auspicious place this month.
In 597 AD Pope Gregory the Great sent a monk, Augustine, to England as a missionary. He established a seat there and became England’s first Archbishop. Canterbury, then called Londrinium, had been established in 300 AD by the Romans.
With the Eastern Crypt, the Western Crypt, The Nave, the Quire, The Trinity Chapel, and a number of smaller chapels, tombs of Royals and not so regal members of the country, statues, effigies, it takes a good three hours to see everything in the main Cathedral; there after is the Cloister House, the Chapter House, the Bell Tower, and the gardens and grounds.
Outside the Cathedral statues of Kings, Queens, and those associated with the building and forming of this wonderful place of worship over the last ten centuries are sculpted. The recently unveiled statues of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in brilliant white stone are a sharp contrast to the weather-worn granite of many centuries depicting their medieval and more recent colleagues.
The Crypt is the oldest part of the now standing Cathedral, dating back to the 11th Century, the Romanesque (Norman) architecture is a contrast to the Quire and Trinity Chapel which were rebuilt in the Gothic style in the 12th century after a disastrous fire.
The Nave – with movable chairs (apparently never had pews, as in olden times, pilgrims gathered and the people stood) is used for convocations, special events, Sunday services on major festivals, concerts. The beautifully ensconced pulpit rises high above the crowd; the altar is approx. 10 steps high, and along side it there are a good 20 steps to the Quire, where the regular Sunday services take place, pews are mounted along the length of the north and south walls for the congregation and the choir stalls are behind the pews, and yet another even higher altar stands. Behind the Quire is The Trinity Chapel, a smaller chapel secure within the walls of the Cathedral, with a magnificent stained glass window – likely three stories high on the outside East wall (notably, this wall is well protected by the walled gardens, priory, dormitories and schools of the Cathedral community). A candle burns constantly on the stone floor of Trinity Chapel where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered by Knights of Henry II. In 1170. The tomb of St Thomas was moved to Trinity Chapel in 1220 but was then demolished and removed on the order of Henry VIII, centuries later.
The magnificent stained glass windows which illustrate miracles, and stories associated with St Thomas, stand high on the east and west sides of the Cathedral, and protected by outer glass. The majority of windows throughout the Cathedral, however, are clear glass now, having been shattered during the battles and wars, most notably the Second World War.
Hourly prayers are said from the pulpit in the Nave each day the Cathedral is open by the Chaplain, an awe-inspiring moment in my visit.
The Chaplain was available after prayers for questions, etc. and I approached him bringing greetings from St George’s in Hamilton, Canada; I told him I was a member of the Reformed Episcopal Church and we were part of the Anglican Church in North America, he walked me to the altar floor in the nave and pointed out the symbol of the Anglican Global Communion. There was an opportunity to leave prayer requests on the altar for Sunday’s service, I left a note requesting ‘A Prayer for the people of St George’s, Hamilton, Canada. I also chatted with ladies who were decorating the church with flowers – there are five different ‘stations’ throughout the cathedral where the huge displays of orange and purple flowers were being arranged.
Oh, to be in Canterbury on a Sunday — my next visit, perhaps!
An information leaflet tells us it costs more than 18,500 British pounds PER DAY to maintain the Cathedral, which amongst other magnificent costs, employs 14 full time stonemasons and 7 stained glass conservators to safeguard the Cathedral for future generations.
“A vibrant Christian community where prayer has been offered for more than 1400 years. For millions of Anglicans worldwide, this is their Mother Church.”
Some information quoted from ‘Welcome to Canterbury Cathedral’ brochure