All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in November 2021.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in November 2021.
You may wish to see an introductory page to this section or one covering the town first.
Bell Harry seen from a mound in Dane John Gardens (left) and from the town (centre/right)
I will begin with the Church itself that which as Erasmus (Peregrinatio Religionis Ergo) hath it "tanta majestate sese erigit in caelum ubi procul etiam intuentibus religionem incutiat". That is, raiseth itself aloft with so great a majesty and statelinesse that it striketh a sensible impression of religion in their mindes that behold it afarre off.
William Somner - The Most Accurate History of the Ancient City, and Famous Cathedral of Canterbury, being an exact Description of all the Rarities in that City, Suburbs and Cathedral - 1661
As we proceed, the view of the church opens finely upon us as we see (..) that stately tower, called Bell Harry steeple, which, for the elegant proportions of the building itself, and of its ornaments, is perhaps the completest beauty of that kind any where to be seen. (..) This noble building was begun by prior Selling, and finished by his successor, prior Thomas Goldstone in 1495.
William Gostling - A Walk in and about the City of Canterbury - 1779
Bell-Harry tower at Canterbury (..) is unbuttressed, and has projections at the corners: these are strongly marked with upright ribs at the angles, and the vertical line is even more vigorously emphasized.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Gothic Architecture in France, England and Italy - 1915
Christ Church Gate (largely restored in the XXth century, after the statues were destroyed in 1643 and the towers were torn down in 1803) and detail of its main passage
We will enter the precinct of the cathedral (..) at Christ-church-gate, the principal one of its precinct, and
answering the most populous part of the city. (..) "A very goodly, strong,
and beautiful structure, and of excellent artifice", (says Mr. Somner) built in the year 1517, as appears by
this now scarcely legible inscription: "Hoc opus constructum est anno Domini millesimo quingentesimo (decimo) septimo" - How the word "decimo" came to be overlooked by him, we can only guess, for the words are all at
length in capitals, a span long, taking up the depth
and almost the length of a cornice a little above the
arch, which runs along the front of the building, and
turns round the two octagonal towers, at the corners of it.
Age indeed has made the cornice and inscription
pretty near of the same colour, so that it does not take
the eye, though it is legible enough with a little attention. Gostling
A modern restoration has brought back the gate to its assumed original aspect.
(left) South-western portal; (right) detail of the western portal with 2015 statues by Nina Bilbey
Christ Church Cathedral Canterbury in Kent, a breath-taking mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries. Following the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 and his subsequent canonisation it became a place of pilgrimage. (..) The wealth and power of the Cathedral in the XIIth century resulting from the offerings of large numbers of pilgrims helped the building of the magnificent enlargement of the east end (..) and the rebuilding of the choir and transepts following the fire of 1174. (..) The coherence and almost perfect homogeneity of its choir, east transept, unfinished eastern tower, and Romanesque side chapels are still evident and these were seen at the time of inscription as one of the most beautiful architectural spaces of Early Gothic art.
From the UNESCO synthesis of the universal value of Canterbury which in 1988 was included in the World Heritage List.
This page focuses on the oldest part of the Cathedral, the eastern one, which was less affected by destructions during the Civil War and by modern restorations and additions.
Eastern part of the Cathedral with Becket's Crown at its end
Canterbury for a long while had no relics so attractive
as his (those of St. Swithin at Winchester), and the monks were furiously jealous of the
abbey in the older capital, which threatened their
ecclesiastical supremacy. (..) They regarded the martyrdom of Becket as a
blessing in disguise, enabling them to eclipse all other
places of pilgrimage in England, and almost in Europe. (..) The vast concourse of pilgrims to Canterbury
after the murder of Becket demanded the eastward extension of the cathedral to "Becket's crown".
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913
The opinion of a Dissenter on St. Thomas Becket: Thomas Becket, or Thomas a Becket, as some call him, arch-bishop of this see, and several arch-bishops before him, plagued, insulted, and tyranniz'd over the Kings of England, their soveraigns, in an unsufferable manner. The first of these, having made himself intolerable to King Henry II, by his obstinacy, pride and rebellion, was here murther'd by the connivance, and as some say, by the express order of the king, and that they shew his blood upon the pavement to this day. He was afterwards canoniz'd, and his shrine made the greatest idol of the world; and they show the stone-steps ascending to his shrine, worn away to a slope, by the knees of the pilgrims, and ignorant people who came thither to pray to him, and to desire him to pray for them. (..) The immense wealth offer'd by votaries, and pilgrims, for several ages to the altar, or shrine of this mock saint, Thomas Becket, was such, that Erasmus Roterdamus, who was in the repository and saw it, relates of it, That the whole place glitter'd and shone with gold and diamonds. All this immense treasure, with the lands and revenues of the whole monastery were seiz'd upon, and taken away by King Henry VIII, at the general suppression of religious houses.
Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies - 1724-1727
Interior seen from Trinity Chapel at the eastern end of the Cathedral
One remarkable feature of the English cathedral or abbey church is its great length, which forms a distinctive characteristic of the national style as compared with that of France. It is no doubt less marked in the earlier work than the later, when the choirs of Canterbury and Winchester were lengthened by Prior Ernulf and Bishop de Lucy. But it is not the length of the choirs more than that of the naves that makes our great cathedrals remarkable. Abroad there are no such long drawn naves (..). This may be accounted for by the peculiar constitution of our ecclesiastical establishments. In England there was no antagonism between the bishops and the regular clergy (..). Here the two were united; the bishop was not only the pastor of his diocese, but the head or abbot of the convent or college, and the abbey church was his cathedral. The great church of each diocese consequently was shared between the monks and the churches townsmen; a solid wall pierced by a door in the centre divided it into two parts, and the eastern part was the monks' choir, while the people had the nave for their church with its own altar against the screen. Jackson - Byzantine
(left) Trinity Chapel; (right) Becket's Crown
Before his tomb could be erected, his votaries came
in such numbers, that the chapel, designed for their
reception, was by much too small for that purpose; the monks therefore acted very prudently in leaving
that unfinished, and translating the body to the chapel
of the Trinity, which would receive hundreds of people at a time, and where his shrine, with its ornaments, might be seen on all sides. (..) A large arch at the east end opens into the
place called Archbishop Becket's crown, where is a chapel which appears to have been that
of our Lady. The building is circular, the ribs of the arched roof
meeting in the centre (as those of the crown royal do)
may have given it the name it bears. Here also is a double triforium. (..) The whole chapel indeed has been
plentifully adorned with paintings; and remains of the
same kind of ornament were to be seen in many other
parts of the church, till it was thought that whitewash
would look better. (..) Whatever might be the reason of it, the enthusiastic
mob of the grand rebellion (the Civil War) did not play their game in
this part of the church. The monuments here were
not defaced by them; a great deal of the painted glass
is still remaining.
See the church dedicated to St. Thomas Becket in Rome and the inscription which celebrates his canonization in the Cathedral of Segni in 1173, three years after his death.
The two transepts: (left) Romanesque; (right) Gothic
Generally speaking Romanesque architecture came to an end in England in the last quarter of the XIIth century. Bishop Godfrey de Lucy began his presbytery at Winchester in the early English style in 1202, or perhaps a few years sooner. More than 20 years before then William of Sens had re-built the choir at Canterbury, in which the pointed arch was used for the main arcade, though the round arch was retained elsewhere. Jackson - Byzantine
Tower of the Romanesque transept and detail of its decoration; you may wish to see the towers of the Cathedral of Laon
In the slender jamb-shafts of the windows and the rich interlacing wall-arcades we see an advance of the style towards greater delicacy and refinement. Some of the colonnettes are twisted, some octagonal, and others are enriched with diaper ornament. Some of the capitals are rudely carved, but most are of the cushion form though often relieved by fluting. Jackson - Byzantine
The cloyster is a very beautiful square building, curiously arched with stone. (..) The north side has more remains of antiquity than any of the others, (..) because is what remains of a former cloyster. Gostling
Ceiling of the Chapter House
The Chapter House is very lofty and spacious, being about ninety-two feet long within side, thirty-seven broad, and fifty-four high from the pavement to the middle pannel of the cieling, which is said to be of Irish oak, and is composed in squares so large, that twelve of them reach the whole length of the building, and seven, joined with proper angles, form the breadth almost like an arch. These large squares are not plain, but filled with small pannels framed in a well fancied pattern, with escutcheons and flower-work, painted, carved and gilt. The roof is so judiciously contrived, that no girders prevent the having a fair and open view of the cieling without any incumbrance. Gostling
Great Cloister: Romanesque (left) and Gothic (right) sections
King Henry VIII, put a stop to the works and oblations at once, seizing on the treasures and estates of the monastery, and providing for the members of it as he pleased; establishing the cathedral on a new foundation of a dean, twelve prebendaries, with other officers and servants, many of which preferments were bestowed on the monks, while others had pension or provision assigned to them elsewhere. The church now recovered its ancient name of Christ Church. Gostling
Water Tower; the image used as background for this page shows a relief of a human head in the inner side of one of its arches
At this angle we see on our left hand a circular
building, about seventeen feet diameter, ceiled in form
of a cupola. (..)
The foundation of it is in the garden of the preacher's house, and seems to have
been designed as a master-piece of workmanship, tho' executed with little judgment.
It is a vault raised on stone pillars instead of walls,
forming a circle, and supporting arches adorned with
indented mouldings about two feet deep. Four other
pillars stand in the middle so as to leave a space between them. (..) Several baptisteries abroad (e.g. Battisterio Lateranense) are built separate from the churches to which they belong; (..) I shall therefore
venture to suppose this the old baptistery. Gostling
Today the building is believed to be the place where the monks washed their hands en route to the Cathedral. It was built in the 1160s. Its lower section retains the chevron or saw tooth decoration which can be noticed also in other Romanesque buildings, e.g. the Holy Cross Hospital Church at Winchester.
Ceiling of the Gothic transept and Bell Harry
Return to page one and see some other historical monuments of the town.
Plan of this section:
Aquae Sulis (Bath Spa)
Isca Augusta (Caerleon)
Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester) and nearby Fishbourne Palace
Portus Adurni (Portchester)
Venta Belgarum (Winchester)
Verulamium (St. Albans)
Roman Villas on Vectis (Isle of Wight)
Roman Villa of Lullingstone
Roman Villa of Bignor
Roman Villas in Dorset/Somerset