Easy to reach by bus or by train from London, or on a guided tour, Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey are among England's top religious visitor attractions. Canterbury Cathedral is undoubtedly one of England's best cathedrals, with the Archbishop of Canterbury being the head of the Church of England. Close by the Cathedral is one of the oldest monasteries in England, St Augustine's Abbey, and the two of them together are both part of Canterbury's UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Canterbury Cathedral is easily visited on a day trip from London and is a popular inclusion on group tours in England, being one of the country's top religious visitor attractions. Many visitors know something of the cathedral's history, but are less familiar with the abbey ruins. The two sites together put each other into perspective – the cathedral that survived and thrived, and the ruined monastery that is almost in its shadow. Looking at the cathedral it is easier to imagine what St Augustine's Abbey might have looked like in its prime.
The first Cathedral was founded here in 602AD by St Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent by Pope Gregory in Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. The present building dates back to the late 11th century, and some parts of this structure, such as the magnificent crypt and probably the marble Chair of St Augustine, still survive.
Canterbury Cathedral continued to be improved, expanded, and changed, over the following centuries. As recently as the 19th century a new tower was built, to replace an earlier one that had been removed. Today it remains an overpowering and truly breathtaking building.
So much has happened in the Cathedral in over 1400 years since it was founded that it is hard to pick out highlights. The Crypt has been mentioned, and all visitors will want to see the Martyrdom, the spot where the then Archbishop, Thomas Becket, was martyred in 1170. As well as the tombs of many Archbishops, visitors will also want to see the tombs of Edward the Black Prince, and of King Henry IV with his wife, Joan of Navarre. The collection of stained glass, some surviving from the 12th century, is also an undoubted highlight of Canterbury Cathedral.
The original Abbey was also founded by St Augustine of Canterbury, in 597AD, but he named it after SS Peter and Paul. In 978 a new Abbey was built and dedicated to SS Peter and Paul and St Augustine. Over the centuries this 10th-century Abbey was built over and added to, especially in the 13th and 14th centuries. By the early 16th century it was one of the most important Abbeys in England, but in 1538 during King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries the Abbey was closed, partially torn down, and the remainder used for a time as a Royal Palace. Eventually this too fell into ruin, creating the atmospheric remains that still stand here today.
For further information on Canterbury Cathedral, including Visitor Information, visit the official website of Canterbury Cathedral. To prepare for a visit a copy of the Canterbury Cathedral brochure can be downloaded from the website. For further information on what you can see on a personal guided tour of Canterbury Cathedral, go to our Canterbury Cathedral Tours page.
The monastery ruins of St Augustine's are looked after by English Heritage, and for Visitor Information visit the St Augustine's website page on the English Heritage website.
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