Last modified on December 5, 2019, at 00:10


Canterbury (derivation from Cantwaraburg = fortress of the people of Kent – from the Old-Celtic for Kent + O.E. wara = people + burg (fortified place)) is a cathedral town in Kent England on the River Stour, 100 km (60 miles) southeast of London.

It is very old and was an important Iron Age settlement when the Romans arrived and made it a regional centre (Durovernum) in the 1st century A.D., There is evidence of its importance throughout the Roman occupation until the turn of the fifth century – including walls, temples and, possibly, early Christian churches which may have existed into the early Anglo-Saxon era. One such church, St. Martin's was included with the cathedral and St. Augustine's Abbey as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

It became the capital of the pagan kingdom of Kent; at that time the most powerful in the lower half of England. In 602 St. Augustine of Canterbury, under the patronage of the Kentish king's Christian wife, founded a church and monastery there and it is from there that Christianity spread through Anglo-Saxon England. When Kent lost its dominance, first to East Anglia then to Wessex, the See of Canterbury retained its position as the leading centre of the Church in England. This would continue with the post-Reformation Church of England.

The town would prosper with its ecclesiastical importance. Centuries before the cathedral became one of the most important places of pilgrimage after the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170, the pre-eminence of such men as St. Dunstan in the 10th century, St. Anselm (d.1109) and others brought patronage to the town.

Construction of the present Canterbury Cathedral began in 1070. Parts were rebuilt after a fire in 1174 with the reconstruction focused on the “pilgrim trade”. The town suffered relatively little from Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Reformation, then continued to grow as the centre of the Anglican communion.

The ancient centre of the town was extensively damaged by bombing during World War II but enough remains for it to warrant the constant stream of visitors it receives.

Its literary fame is secure as the destination of the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (As an aside... The word "canter" to describe that easy gait of horses not in any particular hurry but not exactly dawdling either is a shortening of the term "Canterbury gallop" - a description of the gait used by a group of pilgrims riding to Canterbury.)

Reference: ”Brewer’s England and Ireland” 2005. p198