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Visiting Canterbury Cathedral

Last week I visited Canterbury Cathedral in Kent for the first time in years with my Dad and my son. I love Canterbury, with its historic buildings and quirky shops I could quite happily move there. Canterbury Cathedral is beautiful, it is currently undergoing some renovations bit it is certainly as must-see!

Canterbury as a city has it's origins in the Roman settlement of Durovernum Cantiacorum, established in the first century AD after the Roman invasion of 43 AD.

The name was taken from the Cantiaci tribe that inhabited the area at the time of the Roman invasion. The name of the county of Kent also derives from them. Canterbury has city walls, which are a sequence of defensive walls built around the city. The city walls were built by the Romans, probably between 270 and 280 AD. These walls were constructed from stone on top of an earth bank, and protected by a ditch and wall towers.

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England. It forms part of a World Heritage Site. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of whom was my 8th great grand-uncle Thomas Herring. He was archbishop between 1747 and 1757 and his name is engraved on the wall. Finley was very impressed to find out that he had such an important ancestor.

How old is Canterbury Cathedral?

Canterbury Cathedral took 343 years to build and was founded in 597 making it the oldest cathedral in England at 1,425 years old.

What is Canterbury Cathedral famous for?

In 1170 Canterbury Cathedral was the scene of the murder of Thomas Becket, the archbishop. Many pilgrims subsequently visited his shrine, and those of the 14th century were immortalised by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales.

Is it free to enter Canterbury Cathedral?

No, it cost us £14 per adult but currently kids go free (aged 17 and under) until 31 October 2022. You can buy your tickets in the visitors centre, which is the main entrance that gets you into the cathedral grounds.


The main body of the Cathedral is called the Nave. The Nave is a place where people have gathered together throughout the ages. The Compass Rose represents the Mother Church and points to the four corners of the world. It was built using two different architectural styles, the first part of the Cathedral was built in the Romanesque style. This style is defined by the completely rounded arches.

Stained Glass Windows

Canterbury Cathedral houses the most important collection of early medieval stained glass in the country.

New research indicates that some stained glass windows from Canterbury Cathedral may be among the oldest in the world. The panels, depicting the Ancestors of Christ, have been re-dated using a new, non-destructive technique. The analysis indicates that some of them may date back to the mid-1100s.

There are a set of really striking modern stained glass windows by Hungarian refugee artist Ervin Bossanyi, dating from the 1950s.

The Cloisters

In the Cloisters there are beautiful carvings of heraldic shields, faces and animals.

The Cloister and Chapter House were at the centre of monastic life. The Cloister connected the different parts of the monastery, and the Chapter House was used by the monks to assemble daily to discuss day-to-day activities and read a chapter of their Benedictine rule.

St Gabriel’s Chapel (Crypt)

Here you will see the oldest Christian murals in the country. The Chapel was walled in to provide support for the tower above, but the wall was demolished in 1950 to reveal these beautiful 12thC wall paintings. This is a quiet area, where you cannot used your phones or take photographs. There are currently some old artefacts on display in cabinets.

The Quire

Rebuilt after the fire of 1174, the Quire is the first Gothic building in England. The Quire is the heart of the Cathedral where many services used to take place, including daily evensong and the main Sunday worship. The benches either side are called the ‘Quire stalls’ and the Cathedral choir sing here.

Trinity Chapel

The Trinity Chapel is the highest part of the Cathedral visitors can access and was built to house the shrine of Archbishop Thomas Becket. The stained glass windows around the outside of the chapel are called the ‘Miracle Windows’ because they tell the stories of some of the miracles said to have happened shortly after the death of Saint Thomas in 1170.

Nature Trail

As we entered through the visitors centre, Finley was offered a children's nature trail quiz. This is completed outside within the cathedral grounds and there are clues left out on boards and questions to answer in exchange for a badge afterwards.

The Canterbury War Horse is 20 feet tall, its wooden frame is a dominating presence at the eastern end of the Cathedral Precincts. The horse was built by the students and staff of Canterbury College with support from local businesses.

There is also a huge tree in the grounds, originally planted as London planes more than 150 years ago and having survived two world wars, they are now known as “baobabs.” An unknown viral infection has caused the trees to develop striking bulbous bark and unusually wide trunks, similar to the African trees of the same name.

How long did we spend in Canterbury Cathedral?

I would say give yourself at least two hours to fully enjoy the cathedral. If you are parking in one of the nearby car parks, I would suggest giving yourself four hours so you can have a wander around the shops and maybe grab a bite to eat too.

Built in the 17th century, the Crooked House’s strange appearance has sparked a few stories. Today, it is the home of Catching Lives Bookshop, which sells second-hand books to raise money for the homeless and vulnerably housed.

If you are staying in Kent, there are plenty of other things to do in Canterbury. You can visit St Augustine's Abbey, see the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, explore Canterbury Castle and the City Wall trails, visit England's oldest church - St Martin's or visit the Roman Museum.


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