Icons of England
  • Introduction
  • The Icons
  • Nominations
  • News
  • Learn & Play
  • Your Comments

Canterbury Cathedral

932 of 1170 nominations


Canterbury Cathedral

Is this an icon?


Canterbury Cathedral

In AD597, Pope Gregory the Great sent the missionary Augustine to England. He was given a church at Canterbury by Bertha, wife of King Ethelbert, who was already a Christian. When he was consecrated Bishop, Augustine made his seat – or cathedra – there, and became first Archbishop of Canterbury. Henceforth, the Cathedral became the centre of the Church of England.

The most famous Archbishop of Canterbury was Thomas Becket, who was murdered in the cathedral on 29 December 1170 by four knights seeking to ingratiate themselves with Henry II. Sadly, Becket's tomb in the Cathedral was destroyed during the Dissolution. Another Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, compiled the Church's first two Books of Prayer, during the reign of Henry VIII.

During the Civil War, the Cathedral was ransacked again, this time by the Puritans, but it was repaired and re-established when the monarchy was restored in 1660.


Your comments

Canterbury Cathedral has for centuries been the primary cathedral of England, and is the shrine of one of England's foremost martyrs, Thomas a Becket.

Jacquelyn J. Baumberg

Ever since the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, Canterbury has attracted thousands of pilgrims, and this tradition of visitor welcome continues to the present. The Cathedral, one of the great holy places of Christendom, lies at the centre of the historic city in the heart of Kent, and is a designated world heritage site. During the 20th century, major restoration of the Cathedral fabric has taken place, also a revival of pilgrimage (ecumenical) and a great renewal of liturgical services and Cathedral music. In 1982, Pope John Paul II visited Canterbury, and, with Archbishop Runcie, prayed at the site of Thomas Becket's martyrdom. The Cathedral enjoys a special relationship, both historic and contemporary, with Abbaye Notre Dame, Le Bec-Hellouin, in Normandy. Archbishop Lanfranc, previously Prior of 'Bec', laid out the monastic plan of the Cathedral in 1070, and his successor, Anselm, Abbot of Bec, followed him in 1093. Both lie buried in the Cathedral. Today, visitors frequently travel between the two communities as the monks did in the 11th century. Thoms Becket was appointed Archbishop by Henry II to bring the Church under the control of the monarchy. However, Thomas took his new role very seriously, becoming very ascetic. He refused to carry out Henry's demands, which led to friction and his eventual death. There was an outcry from the people when he was killed and Henry had to carry out a very public penance. Thomas was named a saint only three years later, in ll73. The play, "Murder in the Cathedral", was written for the Canterbury Festival in 1935, as a combination of theatre, liturgy and verse. T. S. Eliot, an Anglo-Catholic, was deeply alarmed by the rise of Fascism in central Europe at the time, and wrote the play to inspire individuals to take a stand against the perversion of Christian ideals for use by the Nazi regimes. I grew up in Kent, and have great memories of visits to Canterbury.
Jacquelyn Taylor Baumberg

T.S.Elliot's "Murder in the Cathdral" epitomises everything that Canterbury Cathdral and the ensueing Church of England stands for.
Christine Shaw McLaughlin

View All Comments (3)



My favourite Icon of England has to be the Cornish Pasty.

Ian Baldry