Augustine, Lanfranc, Anselm, Becket
Pope Gregory the Great (the Gregorian
Chanter) orders a reluctant Augustine off to England to convert the
Brits to Christianity. Augustine bases himself with a monastic
community known by the name of "Saints Peter and Paul" in
Canterbury, and quickly persuades King Aethelbert of Kent to become the
first of the (Germanic) Anglo-Saxon Kings to be baptized,
which happens on Whitsunday (Pentecost) 597.
As the conversion process starts
rolling across the other Anglo Saxon kingdoms, Augustine sets about a
codification of the law for the first time. As well as the usual
injunctions against murder, adultery etc, the code contains an extensive
list of the tariffs applicable for each crime .... with regard to
delimbing the most expensive crime by a factor of ten is to wipe out a
bloke's tackle. If you want to wipe out the bloke himself, then
the best bargain by far is to pick a Welshman.
Saint Augustine dedicates the first Canterbury Cathedral.
740 - 760
Saint Cuthbert is Archbishop (not the same
Cuthbert as the one
shrine in Durham led the pilgrimage ratings for 400
960 - 988
Saint Dunstan is Archbishop.
Saint Augustine's Monastery outside the town walls and the cathedral
church in Canterbury town itself (which had its own separate monastic
foundation) both grow
until they are sacked in 1011 by Vikings, who martyr the Archbishop Alphege by tying him to a stake and using him for oxbone throwing
practice (after they had gnawed the meat off of course).
Repaired just before the
Norman Conquest of 1066, the cathedral and its city are both
largely destroyed by a huge fire in 1067. Rebuilding, and
the English Church in general, are going nowhere under
the ineffective Anglo Saxon Archbishop Stigand,
and there is general relief when he is deposed in 1070 and replaced by
the energetic, intelligent and widely respected Italian Lanfranc
(from Pavia), the Abbot who had put the
Abbey of Bec in Normandy on the map of
1070 - 89
Archbishop Lanfranc (c1007 - 1070 - 1089 (82)) gets stuck into
building a new Cathedral and associated monastery, and also gets
stuck into most of the Anglo-Saxon Bishops, who find themselves
replaced by Norman appointees (Wulfstan
of Worcester being a notable exception).
In the process, Lanfranc leaves no doubt that the centre of power in the
Church has moved from York to Canterbury, where it resides from now on.
1089 - 1109
Back in Bec, there is another
Italian abbot (this time from
Aosta in NW Italy) named
Anselm (1033 - 1089 - 1109 (76)), and when Lanfranc
dies Anselm reluctantly agrees to take over the job of Archbishop of
Canterbury, a post he holds for 20 years from 1089 to his death in 1109.
Anselm spends a significant amount of this time in exile from England -
William II (Rufus) and then from his successor Henry I - mainly
because of disputes over the relative powers of Church and State. One suspects that he
is quite happy being away from England - he was reluctant to take on the position in the first place, and later explains to Eulalia, the Abbess of Shaftesbury, how harassed he feels by it
(also, he is Italian!). His real love
is philosophy - he is regarded, along with
(354 - 430) and Erigena (an Irish philosopher of the 800s) who both preceded him, and
Peter Abelard (1079 - 1142) and
(1214 - 1292), who came later, as one of the leading medieval
philosophers and a major contributor to the development of
At a more concrete level, Anselm decides to greatly extend
Lanfranc's cathedral so that there is more quire,
presbytery, and other east end stuff (for monks' use only) than
there is nave (for the rest). The new quire et al is
eventually consecrated in 1130.
During this time the
First Crusade (which Anselm
opposes) bloodily takes over Jerusalem
on July 15 1099,
and establishes the crusader kingdoms which are to last for 200
years before being finally closed down.
Anselm's elevation to sainthood took a bit longer than Thomas
Becket's - 383 years (1494), and 611 years after his death
(1720) he was recognized as a
Doctor of the Church.
29 December 1170
Gisants of Eleanor of Aquitaine
and husband King Henry II in
Canterbury's special moment
happens when Archbishop Thomas Becket (c1118 - 1162 - 1170 (52)) is murdered (attacked,
beheaded and brained) on 29 December 1170 in this, his
own cathedral, by four knights responding to the urgings of
Plantagenet King Henry II (1133-1154-1189 (56)).
A dramatic modern
sculpture overhangs the Canterbury Cathedral spot where Archbishop Becket was cut down
Becket has not been a popular, saintly or even particularly likeable person, but the manner of his
death fires up huge public interest, and within two years
he has become a mega Euro Celebrity, is credited with a heap of miracles
(illustrated later in several whole window ensembles in the cathedral) and
Graphic representations of his killing appear in
places as far away as Palestine, Sicily (Mosaic in Monreale Cathedral),
Spoleto (Umbria -
fresco in the church of Saints John and Paul) and the
pilgrimage churches of France such as Chartres (an entire window
sponsored by the Guild of Tanners dedicated to Becket's life), as well
as many English churches such as
Saint Augustine's at Brookland in the Romney Marshes,
in an explosion that far surpassed what happened with any other medieval
event or person except Saint Francis and Saint Martin.
In Anagni, the "City of the Popes", the
English Saint took over a barrel vaulted oratory under the duomo which
dated back to pre-Christian use for the worship of Mithra.
Becket "portrait" window in the north ambulatory -
made in the early 1900s using fragments of medieval stained glass
crypt tomb (and later above ground shrine) in Canterbury Cathedral, and
dozens of Limoge Chasses picturing his murder and containing Becket "relics", give new
meaning to the commercial possibilities of pilgrimage and medieval celebritydom.
Limoge Reliquary Châsse
for Saint Thomas Becket, this one now in the Louvre Museum, Paris
Before his fateful return to England in 1170, Becket had been put up for
three years by the monks of Sens Cathedral and the
Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, in Burgundy
and whilst there had dumped on Henry big time from the pulpit of the
Ste-Madeleine in nearby Vézelay.
BOOKS ABOUT THOMAS BECKET AND HENRY II
1174 - 1184
Anselm's quire is completely destroyed by a fire in 1174, and the
rebuild, completed in 1184, is essentially what is there today,
820 years later. The still existing stained glass window
panels depicting Methuselah and Adam, by the same master artist,
date from the time of this rebuild.
1207 - 1228
Cistercian Abbey Church of Pontigny, N Burgundy
Cardinal Archbishop Stephen
Langton (1150 - 1207 - 1228 (78)) spends the first seven years
of his archbishopric also enjoying the hospitality of the
Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, in Chablis country
in Burgundy, the abbey which 40 years' earlier had
opened it doors to Thomas Becket. Langton is the appointee
Pope Innocent III, and
the problem is that
Henry II's son King John
has someone else in mind for the job and won't let Langton (a
Lincolnshire lad) back into
You don't have to be a genius to predict the outcome of
the arm wrestling between King John ("sans terre") the loser and the
Most Powerful Pope Ever, but events drag on for much longer than
anyone could have anticipated.
John moves first by seizing all the possessions of the
archbishoprics of Canterbury and York. In 1208 Innocent
retaliates by imposing an interdict. This means that the
priests of England are ordered to go on strike - they are not
allowed to conduct any church services, hear confessions or
administer sacraments (including the Last Rites). Imagine
the impact of that in a medieval world!
year later Innocent steps up the pressure further and
excommunicates John, one of whose responses is to turn on the
(Cistercian) Abbeys of England with a vengeance and impose crippling levies.
It takes another four years to resolve the standoff in
Innocent's favour, after which the
priests go back to work, Langton is allowed in to England,
John agrees to large annual payments to the Pope, church possessions are returned and noone offers a helping hand
to several Cistercian Abbeys which are financially crippled - it
isn't just Kings who are a bit iffy about powerful monasteries.
more from the 1911
John may have had a premonition
about Langton, because the Archbishop
becomes a major force in the negotiations between King and Barons that
leads to a most unwilling John having to sign
Magna Carta at Runnymede
in June 1215.
The nursing and eventual reissuance of Magna Carta (by the 18
year old Henry III in 1225) is also largely down to Langton.
are to be found in
Lincoln Castle and the British Library
In 1224 Archbishop
Langton also helps Henry III draw up an historic peace treaty
with Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, the Welsh prince and leader, which
is signed in
The largely forgotten unsainted Archbishop Stephen Langton, to whom Cathedral and Country
owe so much, is buried in a stone tomb then just outside the
pilgrim's entrance to the south quire aisle, in an area later
occupied by the SW transept and St Michael's Chapel - memorial chapel for "The
Buffs" - the Royal East Kent Regiment. Maybe it is a mark
of his greatness that his tomb was left in place and intact, even though it
was built over, and the feet end projects, unsigned, through the east wall of the Chapel.
1207 - 1213
As part of "the troubles"
the monks of Canterbury are banished to the Abbey of St-Bertin
in St-Omer. The 37 large roundels showing zodiac signs,
monthly labours, cardinal virtues and sins and some heraldic
inset in the
floor of Trinity Chapel just to the west of the shrine, could well owe their origins to
craftsmen and materials from St-Bertin.
7 July 1220
After two years' notice
had circulated throughout Europe, the "Translation" of Saint
Thomas eventually took place on 7 July 1220 "before such an
assembly as had never been collected in any part of England
before". Cardinal Archbishop Stephen Langton presided over
the "Translation" of the Martyr's remains from the Eastern Crypt
to the completed Shrine in the Trinity Chapel, in a ceremony of
such splendour that it was to dazzle the Christian Church in
Northern Europe for the next three centuries.
Langton had, with all the monks of the Priory, opened the tomb
in the Crypt on the night before. On the next day, the
Archbishops of Canterbury and Reims and Hubert de Burgh, Grand Justiciary of England, carried on their shoulders the chest
containing the bones up to the Shrine, behind the High Altar.
All the bishops of the Province of Canterbury were present and
the procession was led by the young King Henry III, then aged
(extract from part of an
unattributed document kindly provided by the Canterbury Cathedral
Overnight, the Canterbury
Shrine takes over from Shrine of
Saint Cuthbert in Durham as England's
numero uno pilgrimage destination of choice.
1234 - 1240
Saint Edmund (Rich) (1170
- 1240 (70)) is
Archbishop, after earlier being a professor at the Sorbonne then
Oxford. Ironically he is eventually buried at the
Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, though
not this time because he lived there - he was just passing
by (probably sampling a few bottles of premier cru Chablis) on his way to Rome, when he died. He is canonized in
1247 - the first academic to become a saint? His rather ordinary tomb is
still there in the apse of Pontigny Abbey, which is the sole survivor of the
The Black Death wipes out
over half the population of England (and Europe generally), and subsequently large
areas of built on and cultivated lands return to the wild as
there is no-one around to live on and work them. Many
surviving villagers desert their homes and build new villages
(which is why one comes across several surviving village
churches in fields). Labour
becomes scarce and related institutions such as the Cistercian
Lay Brothers fade away.
Tomb and likeness of Edward, Prince of Wales ("The Black Prince") (1330 - 1376
(46)) erected on the south side of the Canterbury Cathedral Saint Thomas Becket shrine.
Edward, a destructive piece of work, was never to become king as
he died befopre his father Edward III.
1377 - 1405
Cathedral Nave is
demolished and replaced and the Great
Cloister is reconstructed, whilst in far away Florence the
Italian Renaissance is born.
1380 - 1390
Geoffrey Chaucer writes the
(incomplete) Canterbury Tales about a horizontally unchallenging
pilgrimage from Rochester to Canterbury, where there is more
drinking and story telling than walking. This is actually a
typical pilgrimage than
the long distance efforts to Rome
Santiago de Compostela which
are associated with the mythology of the Middle Ages.
The tomb of King Henry IV
(1367-1399-1413 (46)) and his second wife, Joan of Navarre, is
erected on the north side of the Becket shrine.
The West Transepts are completed, leaving
a spot over the crossing in the middle for ......
the Bell Harry Tower.
North side -
cloister, chapter house and Bell Harry
Completed in 1498, making it a
comparative youngster, Canterbury's famous Bell Harry Tower
is just under 235ft (72m) high. For comparison the
main tower of Lincoln Cathedral, the
tallest Cathedral tower in today's Europe, is 271ft (83m) - it was built
in the 1300s 150
years before Bell Harry and, together with its spire (no longer there), reigned for 200 years as the
tallest building in the World.
In Italy, the situationally gross (in
Architetto Dottore Professore Paradosso's view)
campanile in the Piazza San Marco, Venice, is 325ft (99m),
but not built too well as the original fourteen hundreds model
fell down in 1902,
and was replaced with a copy which the Venetians foolishly put in the
same place even after this "tap on the shoulder". The
perfectly proportioned and positioned "Torre del Mangia",
the tower of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, completed around the same
time as Lincoln in 1348 (as the Black Death
moved in), is 286ft (88m) high and on par with Lincoln and Canterbury in beauty (Paradosso
The Siena Campo, Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del
1538 - 1541
Henry VIII's Commission for the
Destruction of Shrines go to work on Canterbury in 1538. It is reported that
they need 26 wagons to carry off
the loot from the Saint Thomas Shrine - which includes the gold crown of Scotland donated by Edward
I. The loot is destined for the King's coffers, which is a good
indicator of why Henry was so enthusiastic about his shrine closure
The photo below shows the
Shrine of Saint Alban in the Abbey Cathedral of
the same name. In the background is the original
medieval wooden gallery structure, from the upper level of which the "duty monk(s)" would keep
watch to ensure that none of the loot stacked around the shrine was
nicked. There was a similar gallery structure - long gone - at
Canterbury and other major shrines.
Alban's Cathedral - Reconstructed shrine and original
wooden medieval gallery.
The King is also enthusiastic about
Saint Thomas Becket - enthusiastic about giving him his come uppance for
treasonably challenging the God given authority of an English King.
So Becket's bones are disinterred, tried in a court of law, found guilty, decanonised and
burned. The King also orders the destruction of all Becket
memorabilia and "portraits" in England.
The Cathedral's Christ Church Priory is shut
down soon afterwards. Contrary to what several web sources say it was not the
last such closure in England - that privilege belonged to
Abbey in March 1540. Ironically, the surviving nave of Waltham Abbey, on
par with the nave of Durham Cathedral for the Norman elegance of its
stone, columns and arches, was funded by Becket guilt money from Henry II.
Canterbury Cathedral governance is
reconstituted with a Dean and Chapter in charge (of greatly
diminished assets), and the King's School Canterbury is set up,
new Royal Charters.
1649 - 1659
years - much more brutally destructive of the fabric of English
churches then Henry VIII (who was after the loot, not trying to
make a statement !) - specialities included statue denosing and stained
glass smashing, plus the demolition of many monastic buildings.
Canterbury loses quite a bit of stained glass, but is better off
than, for example, Peterborough, where the cloister and
associated chapter house, dormitory, refectory etc are reduced
to rubble à la French Revolution.
Peterborough Abbey / Cathedral - the empty
space where the cloister would have been before Cromwell's men arrived
Link to the 1897 book by Hartley Rivers "The
Cathedral Church of Canterbury"