Along with the nearby St. Augustine's Abbey and St. Martin's church, Canterbury Cathedral is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such it is a great destination for anyone with an affinity for the past, from the casual fancy of an everyday tourist to the specialized interests of the professional historian. Canterbury has served as the seat for the Christian church in England since Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission to the Anglo-Saxon peoples. The man chosen to lead this mission, St. Augustine, established the cathedral at Canterbury in the year 602 AD and became its first archbishop. The original structure is no longer standing, having been rebuilt almost entirely early in the Norman period. The design of the current cathedral mostly dates to the its 1077 dedication. Under the direction of Archbishop St. Anselm from 1093 to 1109, the choir section at the eastern end was substantially enlarged and an enormous and ornate crypt constructed beneath it. During the long history of Canterbury Cathedral the church has seen the baptisms, weddings, and burials of some of England's most famous royals, as well as its share of scandals and assassinations.
Despite all of its fame and history, Canterbury Cathedral is still a living, working house of worship. Christians have been worshiping here for fourteen hundred years, and the church hosts daily services even today. One of the most famous people associated with Canterbury is Thomas Becket, who held the office of Archbishop in the twelfth century. He was murdered right in the cathedral for daring to defy the wishes of King Henry II, and since then Canterbury has been a prime pilgrimage destination for thousands of followers who wish to pay respect to the martyrdom of St. Thomas.
Canterbury Cathedral and the surrounding complex was, for quite a long time, inhabited and administered by monks. In past ages, monasteries were centres of learning and advanced knowledge unavailable to most of the common folk. Books of any sort were considered treasured possessions and often were quite valuable. The cathedral houses vast archives of documents. It has the archives of the Cathedral itself, the records of the diocese of Canterbury and various parishes of the bishopric, and others. Some of the documents date back to the eighth century. The Canterbury Cathedral Library, which welcomes all researchers with an interest in their extensive collections, has many ancient and rare books. It houses more than 30,000 books published before 1900, with a great many works on the subjects of history and theology.
Of course, when one thinks of Cathedrals and artwork the first thing to spring to mind is the ornate stained glass works that are so common. And while the stained glass windows of Canterbury are beautiful and, in some cases, seven or eight hundred years old, the artistic value the Cathedral encompasses much much more. There are intricate carvings and paintings to appreciate and in a sense, the entire building is a work of art. The medieval builders of these ornate types of Cathedrals were the best of the best, and they were all trying to build a church that would astound and amaze visitors. With the possible exception of certain palaces belonging to the richest of nobles, cathedrals were the largest and most ornate structures in the western world.
The modern Canterbury Cathedral takes great pride in its musical programs. It hosts a professional choir of twelve members: four basses, four tenors, and four countertenors. The Choristers of Canterbury Cathedral consist of a group of thirty boys whose ages range from eight to thirteen. The Cathedral holds all of its musicians to the highest of standards, and the audition process is quite exclusive. Concerts and events featuring other choral groups and orchestras are also held at Canterbury Cathedral, lending a lofty atmosphere to any musical piece.
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Article Added on Monday, April 19, 2010
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