Canterbury Pilgrimage

Canterbury in Kent, in the southeast of the country, is the spiritual capital of England. Its religious history begins with St. Augustine, who was sent from Rome in 597 AD by Pope Gregory to convert the English from paganism. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose modern successor is the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Canterbury is also important because of St. Thomas Becket, another Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170 at the hands of the king's knights. Miracles were reported around Thomas' tomb almost immediately and it soon became one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe. Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' written in the 14th century, is about a group of pilgrims telling each other stories to pass the time on their pilgrimage from London.

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest Christian churches in England and it continues to play a central role in English Christianity. Originally founded in 602 AD by St. Augustine, it still functions as the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. 

The grandeur of the architecture reflects Canterbury's historic and religious importance, as does the magnificent collection of medieval stained glass windows depicting miracles experienced at Thomas' shrine, biblical scenes, prophets and saints.


St. Augustine was a Roman missionary sent to England by Pope Gregory to convert the Anglo-Saxons. The mission was a success: in 597 AD, Augustine baptized King Ethelbert of Kent. In 602 AD, Augustine dedicated a cathedral church on this site to Christ the Savior. It was in fact probably an existing church building from Roman times. A monastery was also established in connection with the cathedral. In 1011, Canterbury was destroyed by invading Danes, the cathedral was set on fire, and Archbishop Alphege was taken hostage. Murdered at the Danish camp in Greenwich, the archbishop became a martyr and saint and his life story is told in a medieval stained glass window in the cathedral.

When the Norman Lanfranc was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, he reorganized the monastery, asserting the primary of Canterbury over York, and rebuilding the cathedral, which had been destroyed by fire. The new cathedral was dedicated in October 1077.

In 1093, Anselm became Archbishop of Canterbury. It is to him, along with the priors Ernulf and Conrad, that we owe much of the Romanesque architecture and art that survives today. He built the huge and beautifully decorated crypt beneath the east end. An extensive choir with ambulatory, consecrated in 1130, was then built over the crypt. 
St. Thomas Becket was murdered on Tuesday, December 29, 1170, by order of King Henry II. That same year the Romanesque choir was devastated by a fire but rebuilt through the income generated  from pilgrims visiting the Shrine of St. Thomas, which was reported almost immediately to be a place of miraculous healing. William of Sens, credited with pioneering the Early English Gothic style, began the rebuilding work on the choir in 1175. His successor was William the Englishman, who contributed the Trinity Chapel and Corona at the east end. These were designed specifically to house the relics of St. Thomas Becket, which were originally interred in the crypt.

In 1538 King Henry VIII, declaring himself head of the Church of England, ordered the destruction of the Shrine of St. Thomas. It ceased to be an abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries  when all religious houses were suppressed and in 1539 reverted to its previous status of "a college of secular canons".

St. Thomas And The Trinity Chapel

East of the choir is the large Trinity Chapel, surrounded by an ambulatory. It is reached by stone stairs on either side, which have been worn down from the feet (and sometimes knees) of centuries of pilgrims. The Trinity Chapel was built specifically for the Shrine of St. Thomas, which stood here from 1220 to 1538, when it was destroyed. It has been left empty and a single candle burns over the site of the shrine. The floor of the Trinity Chapel, near the west end, has a set of interesting inlaid marble roundels representing the signs of the zodiac, months of the year, virtues and vices,  added in the early 13th century to embellish the shrine, whilst the ambulatory of some of the most interesting stained glass here. Most of the glass is original, ranging in date from about 1180 to 1220 - a total of eight windows depict the Miracles of St. Thomas Becket. The first window, in the north ambulatory, depicts some of the events leading to his martyrdom, the rest telling stories of people who experienced miracles by praying to the saint or visiting his shrine. Many scenes take place around Thomas' tomb, which is shown in its original position in the crypt. At the east end of the cathedral is a chapel known as the Corona ("crown"), because it once housed the relic of St. Thomas' head.

Opening Hours:

Easter - September 30th: Mon-Sat 0900-1830hrs
October 1st - Easter: Mon-Sat 0900-1630hrs
All Year: Sun 1230-1430hrs & 1630-1730hrs

Please note that the east end of the Cathedral, including the Quire, will close every day in preparation for Evensong from 16.30 (Monday-Friday) and from 14.30 (Saturday & Sunday).


  • £4 adults
  • £3 concessions
  • Tours: £3.50 adults, £2.50 students and seniors, £1.50 children
Note: Admission is paid at the entrance to the cathedral precinct, so unfortunately you can't even see the exterior without paying.

Getting There

Canterbury is conveniently located close to London and a Eurostar train station, which whisks passengers under the English Channel to Paris and Brussels.

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