Canterbury, in Kent, has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries. Canterbury's other important monuments are the modest Church of St Martin, the oldest church in England; the ruins of the Abbey of St Augustine, a reminder of the saint's evangelizing role in the Heptarchy from 597; and Christ Church Cathedral, a breathtaking mixture of Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170.
Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church
Statement of Significance
St Martin’s Church, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, and Christ Church Cathedral together reflect milestones in the history of Christianity in Britain. They reflect in tangible form:
The reintroduction of Christianity to southern Britain by St Augustine, commencing at St Martin’s Church where Queen Bertha already worshipped, and leading to the conversion of King Ethelbert.
The successive architectural responses to Canterbury’s developing role as focus of the Church in England – adaptation of Roman buildings, the development of Anglo-Saxon building in mortared brick and stone, and the flowering of Romanesque and Gothic.
The development, under St Augustine and the monks from Rome, of early Benedictine monasticism, which spread from its cradle in Canterbury throughout Britain and had a profound impact on English society.
The Abbey scriptorium, which was one of the great centres of insular book production, and whose influence extended far beyond the boundaries of Kent and Northumbria. The development of literacy, education, and scholarship at the Abbey meant that Canterbury became the most important medieval centre of learning in the country.
Canterbury’s importance as a pilgrimage centre based on Augustine and its other early saints was transformed by the murder and canonization of Archbishop Thomas Becket, whose Cathedral shrine attracted pilgrims from all over Europe.
The wealth and power of the Cathedral in the 12th century, when the offerings of large numbers of pilgrims helped the building of the magnificent enlargement of the east end, with its exceptional stained glass windows and the rebuilding of the choir and transepts following the fire of 1174. These features form one of the finest examples of Early Gothic art.
The Cathedral’s rich panorama of Romanesque, early Gothic, and late Gothic art and architecture.
The establishment of Canterbury as the seat of the spiritual leader of the Church of England.
Criterion (i): Christ Church Cathedral, especially the east sections, is a unique artistic creation. The beauty of its architecture is enhanced by a set of exceptional early stained glass windows which constitute the richest collection in the United Kingdom.
Criterion (ii): The influence of the Benedictine abbey of St Augustine was decisive throughout the High Middle Ages in England. The influence of this monastic centre and its scriptorium extended far beyond the boundaries of Kent and Northumbria.
Criterion (vi): St Martin’s Church, St Augustine’s Abbey, and the Cathedral are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the introduction of Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
Canterbury, in Kent, has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for almost five centuries. St Martin's Church, St Augustine's Abbey and the cathedral are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the introduction of Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The influence of the Benedictine abbey of St Augustine was decisive throughout the high Middle Ages in England. The influence of this monastic centre and its scriptorium extended far beyond the boundaries of Kent and Northumbria. Christ Church Cathedral, especially the east sections, is a unique artistic creation. The beauty of its architecture is enhanced by a set of exceptional stained glass windows which constitute the richest collection in the United Kingdom.
Within the urban perimeter of Canterbury, three distinct cultural properties are on the World Heritage List: the modest St Martin's Church; the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey; and the superb Christ Church Cathedral, a breathtaking mixture of Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170. These three monuments are milestones in the religious history of the regions of Great Britain before the Reformation.
St Martin's Church, to the east, located outside the walls of Roman Durovernum, existed in 597 when the monk Augustine was sent from Rome by Gregory the Great to bring Christianity to the Saxon kingdom of Kent. The church was built for the most part before the 8th century. It undoubtedly includes a Roman structure from the 4th century. Of the church located within the city walls, which St Augustine made his cathedral (probably at the very spot where Christ Church now stands) nothing has been conserved. However, ruins of the abbey are still visible, halfway between St Martin's Church and the cathedral. The abbey was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. In 978 the primitive institution, veritable cradle of Benedictine monasticism in England, was restored following the Scandinavian invasions. The abbey buildings virtually disappeared in their entirety following the dissolution of the Community by Henry VIII in 1538. The Royal Palace that stood in their place was located against the northern side aisle of the nave. It included the gutter wall and a few old portions, but this structure, too, has disappeared.
Two distinct structures seem to appear in Christ Church Cathedral, a major building of medieval architecture. To the east, partially covering a huge Romanesque crypt with admirably carved capitals, is some of the most beautiful architectural space of early Gothic art: the choir, the east transept, an unfinished apse, on either side of which stand Romanesque chapels dedicated to St Andrew and St Anselm, Trinity Chapel and the circular Corona Chapel. The two architects, William of Sens, a Frenchman, and William the Englishman, worked at the site from 1174 to 1184.
To the west the nave and the facade, with their very pure Perpendicular style, provide balance to the constructions on the eastern side. The architecture and remarkable stained glass and furnishings of Canterbury Cathedral thus provide a complete panorama of Gothic art, from its earliest beginnings to its culmination and decline. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC