Canterbury Cathedral Tours

Get a Guide for this Historic Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral tours, with a qualified guide, will help you get the most out of your visit and make sure you see all the highlights of this most overwhelming of British cathedrals.

Our Cathedral Tour Guide
Our guide, Nan Miller, met us promptly in the lobby of our hotel, as arranged. It helped that we were staying at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge Hotel, which is right in the Cathedral Precincts and owned by the Cathedral. Nan took us straight to the main South West Doorway, and pointed out two figures either side of the door. ‘One,’ she said, ‘is King Ethelbert of Kent, who wasn’t a Christian, but the other figure is his Queen, Bertha, and she was Christian. She was the daughter of the King of Paris. Ethelbert converted and gave land for a church to be built here, where the Cathedral now stands, and that is how Canterbury Cathedral came into existence.’

Canterbury Cathedral, photo (c) Donna Dailey for http://www.beyond-london-travel.com/Canterbury-Cathedral-Tours.html
Canterbury Cathedral, photo (c) Donna Dailey for http://www.beyond-london-travel.com/Canterbury-Cathedral-Tours.html

Thomas Becket
‘In 1066,’ Nan continued as we walked down the nave (left) to the centre of the Cathedral, ‘William invaded and brought some Benedictine monks from Normandy here to Canterbury. The most dramatic event in the Cathedral’s history is, of course, the murder of Thomas Becket, and miracles occurred at his tomb almost immediately after he died. This brought pilgrims to the cathedral, and he was canonised a little over two years after his death, which is remarkably quick. It normally takes much much longer.’

Nan led us so that we were standing under the Cathedral tower, and asked us to look up. You have to lean so far back we almost fell over. The height is astonishing – and then Nan said something which astonished us. What we can see is only half-way to the top of the tower. Out of our sight up there is a human treadmill, like a large version of a hamster’s wheel. Men used to go round the treadmill, which dates from before 1500, in order to lift bricks up to the tower.

Canterbury Cathedral, England, photo (c) Donna Dailey from http://www.beyond-london-travel.com/Canterbury-Cathedral-Tours.html

The Channel Tunnel
After a tour of the Cloisters (right), with more fascinating facts, Nan took us into the Chapter House, a building we could have easily missed if we’d been wandering around on our own. We gazed up in wonder at the 15th-century oak roof, and learned that a significant modern event took place in here some 25 years ago: the signing of the agreement for the Channel Tunnel between England and France. Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand met in what was considered the perfect neutral venue, in neither Paris nor London, but partway between the two in a sacred place and close to the rail route connecting the two cities.



Canterbury Cathedral, photo (c) Donna Dailey for http://www.beyond-london-travel.com/Canterbury-Cathedral-Tours.html

The Death of Thomas Becket
Nan then took us to the spot where Thomas Becket was slain, and tells the story of his murder with a dramatic flourish. She asks if we want the gruesome truth of his death, or the censored version. We opt for the truth, and gruesome it is indeed. In the Crypt we saw the place where his tomb stood for 50 years. Suspended here is also a striking sculpture by Anthony Gormley, called Transport. It’s made from ancient nails that were taken from rotting timbers in the roof. The Dean asked the artist if he could do something with them. The result is a powerful piece, seeming to float in the air like an Angel.

In 1220 Becket's body was moved to the newly-rebuilt Trinity Chapel east of the Quire (above) and placed in a shrine there. The tomb was destroyed on the orders of King Henry VIII.

Canterbury Cathedral, England, photo (c) Donna Dailey from http://www.beyond-london-travel.com/Canterbury-Cathedral-Tours.htmlThe Tomb of the Black Prince

Canterbury Cathedral Tour Highlights
Our tour of the Cathedral lasted for 90 minutes, but it seemed more like 10 minutes as it was so packed with information and history that the time flew by. We saw gorgeous stained glass both ancient and modern, the tomb of the only King to be buried here, King Henry IV, the tomb of the Black Prince (above), and 12th-century wall paintings which the Puritans failed to destroy.

We saw and learned things that we would never have done by walking round the Cathedral on our own, even with the best of guidebooks. A human guide like Nan brings the past to life, and we really felt that the centuries slipped away and we were involved in the life of the Cathedral from its inception to the present day. It was a journey of murders and miracles, of art and commerce, of pomp and of prayer. We had been privileged pilgrims indeed.

Canterbury Cathedral, England, photo (c) Donna Dailey from http://www.beyond-london-travel.com/Canterbury-Cathedral-Tours.html

All Photos (c) Donna Dailey

Booking Canterbury Cathedral Tours
Canterbury Cathedral official guides can be booked through the Cathedral (see below) for any number of people, from 1-500 or even more! The cost per guide is £50, in addition to the cost of admission to the Cathedral precincts. For larger groups you will need one guide for every 15 people.

Canterbury Cathedral Tours: More Information
For more information on Canterbury Cathedral tours, visit the Canterbury Cathedral website. Here you will also find a very useful Welcome brochure that you can download, to prepare for your visit.

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