Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and the most popular Christian buildings in England. Located in Canterbury, Kent, it serves as the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby) who is leader of the Church of England, as well as worldwide leader of the Anglican Church. Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597 and rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. Prior to the English Reformation, Canterbury Cathedral was part of the Christ Church, a Benedictine monastic community and was also the seat of the archbishop. The cathedral was designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, arrived in Kent as a missionary to England from Rome in 596. Augustine and a group of monks were sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert slaves to Christianity. Augustine was provided with a church in Canterbury by King Ethelbert, whose wife was already a Christian. Augustine founded the cathedral in 597 and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The early cathedral was replaced in the 9th century by a larger structure which is believed to have had a central tower. The arrangement of the Saxon cathedral resembled St Peter’s in Rome. Little is known about the cathedral since it was badly destroyed by fire in 1067. The cathedral was rebuilt beginning in 1070, using a design based on the Abbey of St Etienne. The stones used in the construction were mostly from France, and the new building was dedicated in 1077.
A notable part of the history of Canterbury Cathedral was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, who was in a conflict with King Henry II. Following the murder, Canterbury Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage, eventually resulting in the need for further expansion of the cathedral.
The Canterbury Cathedral is a breathtaking mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. The exterior of the cathedral is decorated using blind arches which are embellished with decoratively carved columns. The main entrance was built in 1424 and bears statues of notable archbishops. The choir was damaged by fire in 1174 and boasts of a new Gothic style. The Trinity Chapel, located east of the choir, is raised above the rest of the interior and surrounded by an ambulatory. Another interesting feature is the eight windows which encircle the ambulatory. The windows depict the Miracle of St Thomas Becket. Other monuments include the modest Church of Martins, which is considered the oldest church in England, and the Christ Church Cathedral.
Like other World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom, Canterbury Cathedral is protected by the government. The Canterbury City Council manages and promotes Canterbury Cathedral as a heritage site. However, some of the cathedral's stonework is damaged and falling off, parts of the roof are leaking, and the stained glass windows are corroded. This damages is the result of years of weathering, pollution, and frequent use. A “Save Canterbury Cathedral” campaign was launched in 2006 to protect the cathedral, and has a goal of funding projects such as repairing the roof, stone carvings, and stained glass windows.