Despite being one of the oldest Christian structures in England, the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral in Kent is still a working, living, breathing church and an important place of worship. Every day is bookended by morning and evening prayers; the Eucharist is also offered daily.
Today, the cathedral stands as a place where prayer to God has been offered daily for over 1,400 years; nearly 2,000 services are held each year, as well as countless private prayers from individuals. Founded in 597 by St Augustine on behalf of Pope Gregory the Great, the cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The cathedral was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077, with the east end greatly enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late 14th century, when they were demolished to make way for the present structures.
The first thing that strikes visitors to the cathedral is the immense wealth of stained glass throughout the building. Many of its jewel-like medallion windows survive from the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The Miracle Windows depict stories often involving ordinary local people, whose names are still known today. The cathedral also has a number of important Victorian windows, as well as 20th century works including the vivid stained glass crafted by Erwin Bossanyi in 1957. The oldest window, however, dates from the cathedral’s rebuilding in 1176, depicting Adam.
Well worth experiencing in all their enormity and grandeur are the Chapter House, the largest of its kind in Europe; the 14th century Romanesque Nave; 11th century Crypt and the rebuilt Quire, Corona and Trinity Chapel – the latter housed Thomas Becket’s shrine from 1220 until it was destroyed in 1538 during the Reformation by order of Henry VIII.
Each corner of the cathedral depicts a history long lost and leaves the most atheistic of visitors feeling a profound awe amid the quiet contemplation and prayer.
Words: Vicky Sartain