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Why is the Bishopric of Canterbury located in London?

Why is the Bishopric of Canterbury located in London?

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As far as I understand the seat used to be in Canterbury and then was transferred to London but kept the title. Is that true and when did this happen?

Thanks. Actually I found the answer I was looking for.


Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket ( / ˈ b ɛ k ɪ t / ), also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London [1] and later Thomas à Becket [note 1] (21 December 1119 or 1120 – 29 December 1170), was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II, King of England, over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonised by Pope Alexander III.

Suggested Itineraries for days out in Canterbury

Each itinerary would take approximately 1 day to complete, but can be adapted to fit a half day visit if necessary.

One: the past is history

Take a walking tour of Canterbury with an official guide (Tel 01227 459779) finishing at the Visitor Information Centre in the Buttermarket. From there it’s a short stroll across to the Canterbury Heritage Museum in Stour Street and where you can see the city’s 2000-year history – from Romans to Rupert Bear – unfold. Enjoy a hearty lunch at a local pub or restaurant and then walk it off with a visit to the unmissable and unequalled Canterbury Cathedral.

Two: the city from a different perspective

Walk along the city walls to the ruins of Canterbury Castle in Castle Street. Stroll down Castle Street to the High Street, stopping en route for a cappuccino at Castle Arts Gallery and Café. Then on to the Visitor Information Centre in the Buttermarket (Cathedral Entrance) to pick up a Queen Bertha’s trail leaflet and perhaps buy a few postcards and stamps. Return to the High Street and head for the West Gate Museum and an unrivalled view over Canterbury from the battlements. After a spot of lunch, head for the Buttermarket and follow Queen Bertha’s Trail through Canterbury’s UNESCO World Heritage Site (Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church).

Three: St Augustine and the birthplace of Christianity

Follow the special St Augustine walking tour offered by the Guild of Guides (must be pre-booked, see page 25) ending at St Augustine’s Abbey. Enjoy lunch in a local pub or restaurant and then head back into the city centre and enjoy a stroll around the cathedral precincts and a visit to the cathedral. Enjoy a cream tea in one of the nearby coffee shops.

Four: Journeys Underground and pilgrimages

Explore the hidden Roman Canterbury that exists beneath street level with a visit to the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane. Then travel forward in time at the Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction, where you can experience the sights, sounds and smells of medieval Canterbury in the company of Chaucer’s band of pilgrims. Have lunch in one of the excellent local pubs or restaurants, then make your own pilgrimage to the Cathedral. Why not stay to Evensong and hear the world famous Cathedral choir sing in this magnificent setting?

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury’s transformation from village to proper city happened during the Roman era when in 55 BC Julius Caesar decided to make the city a commercial forum.

The county was firstly conquered by the Jutes, and subsequently by the Angles and Saxons. Kent became a Saxon kingdom at the end of the VI century. Even Canterbury, the main town in Kent (and one of the few Roman cities that was not abandoned following the invasions), had been assigned a Saxon name that is still preserved: Cantwarabyrig, ‘the city of the men of Kent’.

At that time, England was still predominantly pagan. The evangelisation of the country began in Canterbury, and since that moment, the city has become the spiritual capital of the island.

This had been the primary objective of the Church of Rome and, later, also that of England.

In 597, the monk Augustine landed on the coast of Kent, sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the Saxons. He was amicably received by King Aethelbert, still a pagan, although married to a princess of the Franks of the Christian religion, Bertha. On a hill, outside the Roman city walls, the queen had founded a church dedicated to St. Martin, which still exists and is considered the oldest consecrated church in England.

Shortly afterward, the king and his subjects converted to Christianity. Augustine, who had already founded a monastery, then decided to build a larger church within the city walls. The Pope gave this church the status of a cathedral, so Canterbury became the first episcopal seat of England, and the monk Augustine was its his first bishop.

At the end of the VII century, the city was recognised as the primatial seat of England. The monastery of Augustine disappeared during the Viking invasions, which devastated England in the IX and X centuries. It was rebuilt in 978 by Archbishop Dunstan, who consecrated it to its founder, who, in the meantime, had been canonised by the Church.

The cathedral was also rebuilt on two occasions: after the Danish attack of 1013 and after the Norman conquest of 1066.

In 1067, the first cathedral was destroyed by flames and later, it was enlarged by William the Conqueror (1070-1077).

In 1174, a fire almost completely destroyed the cathedral. The French architect William of Sens took care of its reconstruction, having decided to entirely rebuild the building in the Gothic style (already dominant in France).

Thus, Canterbury had the first Gothic cathedral in England, a splendid building with a double cross plan and three naves, especially notable for its length: 168 meters. This side of the cathedral also preserves the only original stained-glass windows, which survived the iconoclasm of the Anglican reform and the bombings of the Second World War.

The building was expanded more and more, year after year, thus creating the famous Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral is famous because of a murder that took place within that building: Thomas Becket, the archbishop, and the former chancellor was assassinated by the king’s men due to a conspiracy. In fact, Becket refused to accept the Constitutions of Calderon in which ecclesiastical power was limited. Initially, Becket was a close friend of King Henry II before becoming archbishop. He was exiled in France for 6 years after a conflict with the sovereign. Upon his return, in the year 1170, the tensions resurfaced and it is said that the King exclaimed publicly: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”. Four knights decided to support the king and left for Canterbury. On the evening of December 29, the knights followed Becket inside the Cathedral and killed him, in a place today called ‘The Martyrdom’. Until 1220, the remains and the tomb of Becket were on the east side of the Crypt, and only two days after his killing, pilgrims began to arrive in large number at the Cathedral, especially when the legends of various miracles were spread. Thomas was canonised in 1173. In 1220, the tomb of the saint was transferred in the new Trinity Chapel, created specifically for Becket: he remained there until 1538. The assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket made the Cathedral one of the top pilgrimage destinations in Europe. The assassination was recalled by the playwright Thomas Stearns Eliot in his theatrical masterpiece Murder in the Cathedral.

In 1540, monasteries were dissolved the king removed the Prior and the monks. Monasteries were dissolved because of an ideological conflict between the Pope and Henry VIII: in fact, the king desired to break the sacred bond of Christian marriage in order to attain divorce from his consort Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. This conflict culminated in England’s separation from the Church of Rome. Such break may have also been inspired by the Evangelical Reformation which was spreading across Europe during those years.

One of the most famous tomb within the Cathedral is that of Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of King Edward III. He was young when he died, and therefore never managed to succeed his father on the throne. However, Edward was a brave and daring fighter in the wars against France. It is said that the French coined the nickname ‘Black Prince’ due to the fear he inspired in his enemies and his indomitable ardor in battle.

When he died, Edward asked to be buried in the Crypt.

In front of the tomb of the Black Prince other two royal figures are buried: King Henry IV and his Queen, Joan of Navarre.


The Cathedral can be considered the result of the fusion between two architectural styles: the French – Norman style (in the eastern side of the Cathedral a Romanesque style prevails with blind arches and rough surfaces) and the English style (in the western side of the cathedral the Gothic style is characterised by numerous pointed arches and pinnacles).

The Cathedral of Canterbury is the first important example of English Gothic architecture, which is evident in the construction of the choir, the nave, the triforium, and the clerestory.

The Cathedral is built in Caen stone (i.e. a stone mined in north-western France, near the city of Caen), which gives the building a creamy-yellowish colour. A large staircase unites the eastern and western side of the church.

The Canterbury Tales

The pilgrimages to the tomb of Thomas Becket brought great prosperity to the city and its cathedral for centuries. The incredibly famous Canterbury Tales, written in the XIV century by Geoffrey Chaucer, narrate the journey of a group of pilgrims from London to the sanctuary of Thomas Becket.

In the mid-XVI century, the religious reform of Henry VIII, which involved the abolition of religious orders and the cult of saints, ended this prosperity and reduced the importance of Canterbury.

Not even the cathedral was able to escape the change: the anti-papal uprisings, especially during the English revolution of the XVII century, caused the destruction of sacred images, stained glass windows, and tombs, including that of St. Thomas Becket. The Anglican reform also implied the closure of the abbey of St. Augustine. Most of the abbey buildings were abandoned and today they are in ruins. The cloister and the chapter house still exist and they were integrated into Saint Augustine’s College, founded after the reform.


[1.] Dudley, C. J. (2010). Canterbury Cathedral: Aspects of Its Sacramental Geometry. Xlibris Corporation.

[2.] Farmer, D. H. (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.

[3.] Foyle, J. (2013). The Architecture of Canterbury Cathedral. Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers.

Thomas Becket

Canterbury’s role as one of the world’s most important pilgrimage centres in Europe is inextricably linked to the murder of its most famous Archbishop, Thomas Becket, in 1170. When, after a long lasting dispute, King Henry II is said to have exclaimed “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”, four knights set off for Canterbury and murdered Thomas in his own cathedral. A sword stroke was so violent that it sliced the crown off his skull and shattered the blade’s tip on the pavement. The murder took place in what is now known as The Martyrdom. When shortly afterwards, miracles were said to take place, Canterbury became one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage centres.

2020 marks an important dual anniversary for the extraordinary figure of Thomas Becket. It will be 850 years since his dramatic murder on 29 December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, and 800 years since his body was moved on 7 July 1220 from a tomb in the Cathedral’s Crypt into a glittering shrine. The events of 1220 were orchestrated to relaunch the cult of Becket, and ensured that Canterbury became the principal pilgrimage destination in England and one of the major pilgrimage sites within Europe. More about Becket and the events planned for 2020 here

5. St Bride’s Church

St Bride’s Church designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672. Image Credit: Tony Hisgett / Commons.

Another of Sir Christopher Wren’s designs from the ashes of the 1666 Great Fire, St Bride’s is the tallest of Wren’s churches after St Paul’s, standing at 69m tall.

Located in Fleet Street, it has a long association with newspapers and journalists. It was largely gutted by fire during the Blitz in 1940.

St Martin

Thanks to St Martin’s first biographer, Sulpicius Severus, we know a great deal about the life of this humble saint. Martin was born in AD 316 in Pannonia, today part of Hungary and was baptised at eighteen years old, rejecting the old religion adhered to by his mother and father. Reluctant to join the Roman army, he was obliged by law to take the military oath, which he then felt compelled to obey. As a soldier posted in Amiens in France, the eighteen year old Martin rode through the city gate one bitter winter’s night and saw an almost naked beggar huddled against the stonework. Martin cut his cloak in two with his sword and gave half to the beggar. That night, in a dream, Christ appeared to Martin in the form of the beggar to thank him and next day Martin rushed to be baptised.

Martin could never quite reconcile war with his Christian beliefs and eventually he gave it up to become a “soldier of Christ”. Hounded out of his hometown, he became a recluse on an island near Milan where he founded a monastery called Ligug for the disciples who came to him. It is whilst on the island that he is said to have performed the first of many miracles.

When the Bishop of Tours, France, died, the townspeople tricked Martin into visiting the town so that they could make him Bishop. On taking up the post, he insisted on living as a monk in a cell, rejecting the offer of a palace. Martin lived to be over 80 years old and through his travelling from house to house and speaking to people about God, many people found Christ. St Martin’s day is on 11 November, which is the day he was buried in the Cemetery of the Poor in Tours.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral was one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in Medieval England. There has been a cathedral at Canterbury since 597 when St. Augustine baptised the Saxon king Ethelbert. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the most senior religious figure in the land and he was based at the cathedral. While the cathedral had huge significance at both a religious and political level in medieval times, its importance as a centre of pilgrimage greatly increased after the murder of Thomas Becket there in 1170.

Little actually remains of the original cathedral or of the Norman cathedral built by Lanfranc who was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by William the Conqueror in 1070. However, written accounts by the likes of Bede do give us an idea of what the cathedral looked like in its original form. The monk Eadmer described how the cathedral looked before the fire of 1067 and how it looked after the rebuilding was completing under the supervision of Lanfranc. Gervase provided a written account of what the choir section of the cathedral looked like during a period of reconstruction in the late 12th Century.

The sheer size of Canterbury Cathedral meant that money was always needed to pay for its upkeep. There were times when not sufficient money was available. The nave built by Lanfranc survived a fire that hit the cathedral in 1174 but it fell into disrepair and decay. In the late 1370’s the condition of the nave was such that Archbishop Sudbury ordered work to begin on a new nave. Henry Yeveley, a master mason to Edward III, was put in charge of this. The work took twenty-five years to complete and can be seen today. Previous work in the nave limited the length and width that Yeveley could work to. But there was no such limitation with regards to height – except for the obvious engineering reasons of the time – and from floor to vaulting, the nave is nearly 80 feet high. In the late 16th Century a stone girder was placed above the altar to ensure the stability of the cathedral’s huge central tower.

The tools that a master mason had to work with were limited – hammers, chisels, crude measuring devised, wooden scaffolding etc. However, for all these limitations, the professional skills shown at Canterbury are best seen in the central tower, known as the Bell Harry Tower. The ceiling, where men would have worked on their backs on top of less than stable scaffolding, is both highly decorative yet functional. The tower is 235 feet high and the weight of it is contained and distributed through the fan-shaped vaulting, which ‘carries’ the weight to the foundations. The immaculate geometric ceiling of Bell Harry is one of the great glories of medieval architecture – done for the ‘greater glory of God’.

At the eastern end of the cathedral is a massive stained glass window that shows stories from the Bible. Beneath it is the patriarchal chair (cathedra), made of Purbeck marble, on which since the 12th Century all archbishops have been enthroned. It was originally thought that this chair was the one used by St. Augustine as his cathedra, but it is now accepted that the chair came about during the time when the choir was reconstructed. It was in the vicinity of the cathedra that the scalp of Thomas Becket was displayed.

The murder of Becket in 1170 led to a major growth in pilgrims coming to Canterbury. As a result, Canterbury itself had to change to accommodate the many pilgrims who came to Becket’s shrine within the cathedral. In 1220, Becket’s remains were moved from the crypt to Trinity Chapel. As pilgrims approached his shrine, they would have seen a wooden case and then:

“the shrine appeared, blazing with jewels and gold the wooden sides were plated with gold, and damasked with gold wire, and embossed with innumerable pearls and jewels and rings, cramped together on this gold ground.” (Contemporary account)

Among these jewels was the ‘Regale’ ruby that was later taken by Henry VIII.

Accurate figures for the number of pilgrims who went to Canterbury are not easy to gain but it is said that in 1420, 100,000 pilgrims made their way on their knees along the nave to Pilgrim’s Steps.

The Life and Death of William Laud

William Laud was a significant religious and political advisor during the personal rule of King Charles I. During his time as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud attempted to impose order and unity on the Church of England through implementing a series of religious reforms that attacked the strict Protestant practices of English Puritans. Accused of popery, tyranny and treason, Laud was considered one of the key instigators of the conflict between the monarchy and Parliament, which ultimately paved the way for the English Civil War.

Laud was born in 1573 in Reading, Berkshire. The son of a wealthy clothing merchant, he began his education at Reading Grammar School, before attending St. John’s College at the University of Oxford, where in 1593 he became a fellow. Whilst completing his studies at Oxford, Laud was ordained as a priest in April 1601, which initiated the start of his prolific religious and political career. With the support of his patron George Villiers, a prominent noblemen and royal favourite of both James I and Charles I, Laud promptly rose through the ecclesiastical ranks of the Church of England and was appointed Archdeacon of Huntingdon (1615), Dean of Gloucester (1616), Bishop of St. Davids (1621), Bishop of Bath and Wells (1626) and Bishop of London (1628).

Laud’s real political significance began in 1625, when Charles I came to the throne. As an immediate royal favourite, Laud was able to capitalise on Charles’ support through advocating the theory of the Divine Right of Kings, arguing that Charles had been chosen to rule by God. The assassination of one of the King’s main advisors and Laud’s patron, the Duke of Buckingham in 1628, intensified the influence of Laud who promised to protect Charles from these ‘bad Christians’ who threatened the Crown. This coincided with Charles’ deteriorating relationship with Parliament and the beginnings of his Personal Rule (1629- 1640), in which Parliament was suspended for eleven years. Laud was then appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, which kick-started the Laudian reforms on the Church of England.

During the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, the Church became progressively Calvinist in doctrine, which corresponded with the increasing number of Puritans in England. Despite this, Laud openly criticised the nature of the Church throughout his career, arguing that church dogma had become too Calvinist, services too stern and the Crown too involved in religious matters. Laud found backing in his quest for reform from the King and prominent noblemen, as a result of their growing support for Arminianism. This was a strand of Protestantism that rejected some of the key Calvinist doctrines, such as predestination, and instead focussed on the belief that salvation could be achieved through free will.

After his appointment to Archbishop, Laud immediately ordered that the Prayer Book had to be used without additions or omissions. This was a much stricter approach to services and attacked local church customs and sermons. Despite Laud reverting the doctrine back to that of the Reformation, he failed to consider that he was impacting a generation that had no experience of this kind of service, causing tension between the Archbishop and the laity.

Moreover, one of Laud’s most controversial actions was his determination to restore church buildings to reflect the aesthetic grandeur of the pre-Reformation church. His conscious effort to reinstate the ‘beauty of holiness’ ensured that traditional clergy vestments, images and stained glass windows re-emerged in churches and cathedrals in order to reflect the divinity of God’s presence on earth. The blatant reference to the Catholic traditions of celebrating icons and elaborate church designs angered Puritans and intensified their concern that Laud was reviving Catholic practices within the established church. This became a particular issue in the early 1630s, when Laud ordered parishes to replicate the imagery of cathedrals, most notably the position of the communion table. The order decreed that the communion table should be made out of stone, not wood, and had to be placed against the east wall of the chancel surrounded by railings, therefore the laity had to kneel at the rails in order to receive communion. The emphasis on Catholic spirituality and superstition was an immediate concern to Puritans who considered the changes intrinsically linked to the Roman Catholic Mass: consequently, protests against the order occurred immediately.

To enforce these changes and punish non-conformists, Laud conducted visitations of parish churches. The visitations were intrusive and ensured that every aspect of the aesthetic and doctrinal policies were in place. Laud’s persistent attack on non-conformists was intensified in 1637 when Puritan writers, William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick were sentenced to have their ears removed and cheeks branded after publishing writings against Laud. This was considered a shocking and unnecessary punishment which accentuated the resentment staunch Protestants felt towards Laud and the Church, and created Puritan martyrs out of the victims.

William Laud and Henry Burton (1645)

Laud’s final and most damaging error involved his relations with Scotland, when in 1637 he attempted to impose the Anglican Book of Common Prayer on the Scottish Presbyterian Church. For many Scotsmen, this was perceived as an attack on their religion, intensifying their discontent with Charles as King and his constant intervention in Scotland. In response to Laud’s order, the National Covenant was signed in 1638 by leading Scottish officials. This attacked the Pope, removed many Anglican bishops and refused the new Prayer Book. By 1639, the threat of war with Scotland appeared increasingly likely. Unable to gather the troops capable of challenging this invading army, Charles was forced to call Parliament for the first time in eleven years, in order to secure funding for the conflict.

King Charles I

However the ‘Short Parliament’ of 1640 was dissolved after less than two months, when Parliament refused funding until the King dealt with their grievances. This instigated a wave of violent protest against the monarchy and Laud, including rebellions in Ireland and Scotland which completely destabilised the King’s power and resulted in the ‘Long Parliament’ of 1640, and the start of the English Civil Wars. Defenders of Parliament and Puritan leaders detested the Laudian reforms and blamed Laud for manipulating Charles and sought to seek revenge. This lead to Laud’s arrest and eventual trial in 1644. Many politicians hoped that, due to Laud’s age, he would simply die in prison to avoid executing the anointed Archbishop of Canterbury. However, to the disappointment of many Parliamentarians, Laud survived the trial and was later beheaded at Tower Hill on 10th January 1645 after being found guilty of high treason.

By Abigail Sparkes
Postgraduate student at the University of Birmingham, currently studying for a Master’s Degree in early modern history.

The Tower of London Today

The Tower of London has been a tourist attraction in the city since the late 19th century, but while Simon Fraser was the last person executed by beheading at the prison, in 1745, for his role in the Scottish Jacobite Rebellion, the facility retained its role in crime and punishment well into the 20th century.

Eleven German spies were executed at the Tower of London during World War I. Interestingly, although London suffered numerous attacks during that conflict, only one bomb was dropped on the Tower. It landed in the moat.

The facility wasn’t so fortunate during World War II. The Tower complex suffered significant damage during multiple bombings, with several buildings destroyed.

The Tower of London still fulfilled its role as a prison in that conflict, however, with Hitler’s second in command, Rudolf Hess, incarcerated there in 1941, after he was captured in Scotland.

Hess was later transferred to another prison. He was eventually tried at Nuremberg and given a life sentence. He died in 1987.

Watch the video: What is the Archbishop of Canterbury? Part 1 (June 2022).


  1. Mir

    In my opinion, mistakes are made. We need to discuss.

  2. Portier

    I think this technique is no longer relevant, there are newer methods.

  3. Bralar

    It seems to me that this has already been discussed.

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