The Mother Church of the Anglican World
The present Canterbury Cathedral, greatly rebuilt in 1174 after fires destroyed earlier structures, was once England’s—and northern Europe’s—most sacred pilgrimage site. In 1170 one of the most important incidents in British history took place here: Archbishop Thomas Becket was cruelly murdered in the northwest transept of the cathedral by four knights of Henry II. He would be canonized three years later, encouraging a repentant Henry II to establish the cathedral as the center of English Christianity. The cathedral is famous for its outstanding 12th-and 13th-century stained-glass windows.
Much of Canterbury was destroyed during a 1942 WW II air raid, but the local people had removed the windows for safekeeping (the replacement windows were destroyed, but the cathedral itself remained unscathed). The original windows can once again be seen in place. The most important are considered to be those in the Great West Window, Bible Windows, and Miracle Windows. Located on the route from London to the port of Dover, Canterbury was already an important town in ancient Roman times.
It gained further favor when, in A.D. 597, St. Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the heathen Anglo-Saxons to Christianity; it would soon become the seat of the Primate of the Church of England, with St. Augustine its first archbishop. The great English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1335—1400) wrote Canterbury Tales about a group of pilgrims who traveled from London to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine in 1387, further immortalizing the town and cathedral.