Canterbury is the veritable birthplace of English Christianity. It was here, during the 7th century, that St Augustine and his followers spread the Gospel throughout England. Canterbury has been one of Europe's most celebrated places of pilgrimage since the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170. St Thomas's shrine was the cathedral's chief glory until plundered in 1538. Nobody knows what became of the saint's remains. A wall plaque now marks the spot where he was murdered by four knights in 1170, and the worn hollows in the so-called Pilgrims' Steps attest to the number of people who visited his shrine.
Following the Roman invasion of AD 43, Durovernum Cantiacorum, as it was then known, Canterbury became a trading centre on the old Watling Street - the most direct route between London and mainland Europe. Remains of Canterbury's Roman origins are now as much as 12 ft below ground in places, which include the foundations of Britain's largest Roman Theatre, a mosaic pavement and part of a hypercaust (under floor heating) system.
Today the town is a jumble of narrow, winding streets, still partly encircled by its massive Norman walls (standing on Roman foundations) and dominated by the cathedral's majestic tower, the city centre still retains much of the atmosphere experienced by the medieval pilgrims and celebrated in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
At St Dunstan's Church in Whitstable Road on the western side of town, there is a relic of another St Thomas - the head of Thomas More, decapitated in 1535. It is claimed to reside in a vault, marked by a tablet, which has been sealed there since 1978.
Canterbury is best seen on one of the walking tours that leave the Visitor Information Centre all year round. The tour takes about 90 minutes but does not normally include the cathedral, which must be seen separately. There are also regular tours of the cathedral lasting about an hour.
Tourist Information Centre:
|18 High Street, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2RA - Tel: 01227 378100|
See the city's treasures including many important Roman and Medieval relics discovered during excavations of the city, such as gold, silver, pottery, bottles, coins, brooches and statuettes of gods, including the famous Canterbury Cross. Letters on a spoon and a bowl in the Museum support the theory that Christianity had reached Canterbury during the Roman occupation. Displays also include children's TV characters Bagpuss and friends in the Rupert Bear Museum.
Opening times: all year, Mon-Sat 10.30am to 5pm. Jun~Sep 1.30pm to 5pm (closed Gd Fri & Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: Stour Street, Canterbury CT1 2NR - Tel: 01227 475202 - Website
Facilities: Parking, shop, toilets, disabled facilities.
An underground museum that reveals an fascinating part of the original Roman town below the city streets, including the remains of a house with fine mosaics. Visit a reconstructed Roman market place and see many interesting finds discovered during the excavations. Includes several hands on exhibits and touch screen computer animations.
Opening times: all year, Mon-Sat 10am to 5pm (Sun (Jun~Oct) 1.30pm to 5pm (closed Gd Fri & Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: Butchery Lane, Longmarket, Canterbury CT1 2JR - Tel: 01227 785575 - Website
Facilities: Parking, shop, toilets, disabled facilities.
Experience Canterbury during the Middle Ages, within a 14th century reconstruction of Geoffrey Chaucer's medieval England. Discover stories of chivalry, romance and intrigue as you relive Chaucer's tale of pilgrimage from London to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket.
Opening times: all year 10am to 5pm (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: St. Margaret's Street, Canterbury CT1 2TG - Tel: 01227 479227 - Website
Facilities: Parking (200 metres), café, shop, toilets, disabled facilities.
The last of the Canterbury's fortified gated towers sits astride the London road with the River Stour alongside. Rebuilt in 1380 by Archbishop Sudbury, it was used as a prison for many years. Arms and armour are displayed in the guardroom, and there old prison cells in the towers.
Opening times: all year: Mon-Sat; 11-12.30 & 1.30-3.30 (closed Gd Fri & Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: St. Peter's Street, Canterbury CT1 2RA - Tel: 01227 789576 - Website
Facilities: Parking (100 metres), shop.
Located a few hundred yards east of the city wall, is stated to be the oldest church in England.
The abbey ruins include the tombs of early saints and a unique uncompleted rotunda built in the 11th century by Abbot Wulfric. In its early years the abbey was regarded as the greatest centre of learning in England.
Opening times: all year, Apr~Sep, daily, 10am to 6pm; Oct~Mar, Wed-Sun, 10am to 4pm (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: Canterbury CT1 1TF - Tel: 01227 767345 - Website
Facilities: Parking, shop, disabled facilities.
Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church are together designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Work started on the Cathedral in 1070 by Archbishop Lanfranc, who shipped in stone from France. Parts of this early fabric survives, including the crypt, which is the largest Norman crypt in the world, and areas of the cloister walls. From 1174 onward, William of Sens and William the Englishman constructed the early-Gothic choir and eastern end of the cathedral, built as a shrine to the Martyr - St Thomas Becket. A beautiful new nave, which soars to a vault 80 ft high, was completed in 1400, and its magnificent central tower was finished a century later. Called the Bell Harry Tower, after the original bell given by Friar Henry of Eastry in 1316, although it was replaced in 1726.
The cathedral is renowned for its stained glass windows, which are some of the oldest in the country, dating from the 12th century. Among the cathedral's glories are its medieval Miracle Windows, including one of the finest portraits of Archbishop Becket, whose martyrdom in 1170 made Canterbury a famous place of pilgrimage.
Opening times: times vary see website for details Admission Charge
Location: City Centre - Tel: 1227 762862 - Website
Facilities: Gift shop.
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