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Canterbury, city and district, Kent, SE England, on the Stour River. Tourism, services, and retail are the city's main industries. There is also some light manufacturing. Canterbury is famous as the long-time spiritual center of England. In 597, St. Augustine went to England from Rome to convert the island peoples to Christianity. He founded an abbey at Canterbury and became the first archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England. The early cathedral was burned and rebuilt several times. After the murder (1170) of Thomas à Becket and the penance of Henry II, Canterbury became famous throughout Europe as the object of pilgrimage, and the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer relate the stories told by a fictional group of pilgrims. The present cathedral was begun under Archbishop Lanfranc, the first Norman archbishop. Constructed from 1070 to 1180 and from 1379 to 1503, it is a magnificent structure, its architecture embodying the styles of several periods and various architects. Noteworthy are the 15th-century tower (235 ft/72 m high); the long transepts; the screen separating the raised choir from the Perpendicular nave; the east chapel (called the Corona or Becket's Crown), which contains the marble chair in which the archbishops are enthroned; Trinity Chapel, which held the shrine of St. Thomas until 1538, when Henry VIII ordered it destroyed and the accumulated wealth confiscated; the chapel in which French Protestants worshiped in the 16th cent. and where services are still held in French; the northwestern transept (where a stone slab commemorates the exact site of Thomas à Becket's murder); and the tombs of Henry IV and Edward the Black Prince. During World War II the cathedral was the object of severe German reprisal raids (June, 1942), which destroyed the library and many other surrounding buildings; the cathedral itself received no direct damage. The city of Canterbury is also of great historical interest, with a 14th-century gate and remains of the old city walls; St. Martin's Church (established before St. Augustine's arrival and known as the Mother Church of England); the old pilgrims' hostel called the Hospital of St. Thomas; and several old inns. Christopher Marlowe was born at Canterbury and educated at King's School there before going to Cambridge. Other schools are the Univ. of Kent at Canterbury, and theological, art, and teacher-training colleges.
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Canterbury (England)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The ancient town of Canterbury, in southeast England, was the center of the dissemination of Christianity throughout the British Isles. Christianity appears to have been introduced to the land in the fifth century, during the last years of the Roman occupation. Today, outside the wall to the east of the old town, is the church of Saint Thomas, the oldest parish church in England, which has been in continuous use since the sixth century. The local ruler, King Ethelbert, had married a Christian, and he allowed his new queen, Bertha, to include her personal chaplain, Bishop Luidhard, in her entourage. The bishop operated from Saint Thomas’ Church.

In 596, Augustine (d. c. 604), a Catholic priest, arrived in England under orders from Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604) to convert the Anglos. Shortly after his arrival, he obtained control of a former Pagan temple, which he refurbished as a church that he named in honor of a Christian martyr, Saint Pancras. Only ruins of this church remain today.

A year after settling in England, Augustine traveled to France where he was consecrated as a bishop. Shortly after his return to his new home, the king accepted Christian baptism and gave Augustine a building adjacent to the royal palace as the new seat of Episcopal office. Once refurbished, the building was consecrated, around 603, as the Church of Christ of Canterbury. Augustine would later be canonized and is today remembered as the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

In Augustine’s later years, the king gave land adjacent to Saint Pancras for the erection of a monastic center. The project was completed by Archbishop Laurence, who followed Augustine. In later years, Saint Dunstan (d. 988) would name the abbey in honor of its founder. The monastery flourished as a major British educational center until the sixteenth century.

A new era for Canterbury followed the conquest of England by William the Conqueror (1027–1087). In 1070, Lanfranc, who came to England with William, became the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury. He set about a thorough reorganization of the British church that included the appointment of Normans to many high clerical positions and the establishment of Canterbury as the chief center of the church in Britain (over against its primary rival, York). He also had the original church torn down and rebuilt the cathedral, beginning in 1067. He patterned the new building on a model favored in Italy at the time. He also used the subsequentdedication of the new cathedral to show his favoring of Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073–1085) over his rival for the papal office.

Over the years, Canterbury would become the site for numerous historical events. In the cathedral, Thomas à Becket (d. 1170) was murdered in response to his opposition to King Henry II’s attempt to control the clergy. Becket’s supporters quickly gathered his remains and treated them as they would a martyred saint. Those relics remain a treasured possession of the cathedral. The pope canonized Becket in 1173. Canterbury, already a site for pilgrimage, became more so in the next centuries, thus setting the stage for the famous set of stories about pilgrims on their way to Becket’s tomb by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400), gathered in the Canterbury Tales.

In 1538 the monastery at Canterbury fell under Henry VIII’s orders to dissolve all the British monasteries. Its destruction (only ruins remain) did not reach the cathedral, although it weakened its support community. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556) led the Protestant cause, only to be arrested in 1553 after Mary I (r. 1553–1558) came to the throne. After Cranmer was executed, Reginald Pole (1500–1558), who led the Catholic restoration in England, became Archbishop, but he died the next year. Succeeding Elizabethan Archbishops like Matthew Parker (1504–1575) and John Whitgift (c. 1530–1604) led the effort to establish a middle ground between continental Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

With the overthrow of the Anglicans and the rise of the Puritans (Presbyterians), bishops were dismissed from their office. In 1642 Puritan forces despoiled the cathedral, and it was largely abandoned until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In the late seventeenth century, it reemerged as the headquarters of the Church of England and the center of the spread of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In the twentieth century, several of the archbishops of Canterbury have become world famous for their leadership in the international ecumenical movement and in redefining relationships between the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and Eastern Orthodoxy.


Brooks, Nicholas. The Early History of the Church of Canterbury. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1984.
Gameson, Richard, ed. St. Augustine of Canterbury and the Conversion of England. Stroud: Sutton, 1999.
Knowles, David. Thomas Becket. London: A. &. C. Black, 1970.
Taylor, Martin I. The Cradle of English Christianity: The Coming of St Augustine and St Martin’s Church, Canterbury. Canterbury: St Martin’s and St Paul’s PCC, 1997.
Woodman, Francis. The Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral. London: Routledge, 1981.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a city in Great Britain, in the county of Kent, England. Population, 33,000 (1971). It has small leather, food, and electrical-engineering enterprises and printing industries.

Canterbury arose on the site of a Celtic settlement that had been replaced by a Roman camp. In the sixth century it became the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent. The country’s oldest bishopric and abbey, founded in 597, are in Canterbury. The archbishop of Canterbury is head of the Anglican Church.

The town has a comparatively regular layout and a wealth of medieval structures (churches, hospitals, residences). The cathedral, built from 1070 to 1503, is the main Anglican church; it has a Romanesque crypt, an Early Gothic choir (1175–84; architect, Guyom of Sans), a Late Gothic nave (c. 1377–1411), and the Corona, a chapel rotunda (built c. 1200 to replace the apse). The Royal Museum houses an art gallery and antiquities of Kent.


Cook, G. H. Portrait of Canterbury Cathedral. London, 1949.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a city in SE England, in E Kent: starting point for St Augustine's mission to England (597 ad); cathedral where St Thomas à Becket was martyred (1170); seat of the archbishop and primate of England; seat of the University of Kent (1965). Pop.: 43 552 (2001)
2. a regional council area of New Zealand, on E central South Island on Canterbury Bight: mountainous with coastal lowlands; agricultural. Chief town: Christchurch. Pop.: 520 500 (2004 est.). Area: 43 371 sq. km (16 742 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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