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In 597 Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to evangelize Britain, with instructions to establish sees at London and York. Augustine was, however, welcomed by Bertha, the Christian wife of Ethelbert, king of Kent, and established his first church in Ethelbert's capital, Canterbury. This became the center of his missionary activity and consequently took the place of London. From the thirteenth century the archbishops were regarded as permanent papal legates, and by the fourteenth century they had established precedence over the archbishops of York as Primate of All England. Many archbishops played significant parts in national history. The diocese of Canterbury consists of most of Kent and part of Surrey, but the province of Canterbury covers England south of Cheshire and Yorkshire, and the archbishop is also regarded as head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.*

Augustine consecrated a Roman-British basilica as his cathedral and founded a Benedictine monastery beside it, which was reorganized by Lanfranc* as the priory of Christ Church. After its destruction by the Danes in 1067, the cathedral was rebuilt in Norman style under archbishops Lanfranc and Anselm* and consecrated in 1130. Archbishop Becket* was murdered in the cathedral in 1170, and after a fire in 1174, the choir was reconstructed in Transitional style, with a magnificent shrine for Becket, dedicated in 1220. Thousands of pilgrims visited it from all over Europe, bringing great wealth to cathedral and city. From 1376 the Norman nave was reconstructed and transepts added. The central tower (Bell Harry Tower) was begun about 1495, also in Perpendicular style. Edward the Black Prince and Henry IV were buried in the cathedral. In 1538 Becket's shrine was destroyed and the priory dissolved, to be replaced by a dean and twelve canons, appointed by the Crown.

A.P. Stanley, Memorials of Canterbury (1855); W.F. Hook, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury (1860-76); R. Willis, Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral (1945); M.A. Babington, Canterbury Cathedral (1948); J. Shirley, Canterbury Cathedral (1970).